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Building for the future
Ice Age Trail Alliance working to complete trail one segment at a time
Ice Age Trail Alliance working to complete trail one segment at a time

RINGLE — Gail Piotrowski discovered the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in the 1970s.

After spending some time hiking stretches of the trail near Rice Lake, Piotrowski reached a point in her life when she felt like she should start giving back to the trail.

Piotrowski, now a chapter coordinator for the trail’s Central Moraines Chapter, began volunteering on the Ice Age Trail in 2004 in northwest Wisconsin. After moving to central Wisconsin, she added volunteer experience while working on the Plover River segment, a multi-year project building six miles of trail.

“I got hooked on the people,” Piotrowski said. “The volunteers are just cool people. I liked what I saw.”

Following retirement, Piotrowski segment hiked the entire Ice Age Trail in addition to continuing her volunteer efforts.

“Getting out on these is what I love to do,” Piotrowski said. “I’m not super good at the heavy-duty work anymore and I’m not a kitchen person, but I can paint blazes all day.”

Ice Age Trail Alliance Director of Trail Operations Tim Malzhan said the Mobile Skills Crew event May 15-19 on the Ringle segment of the Ice Age Trail in Marathon County drew about 150 volunteers, including about 80 students from the D.C. Everest School District, who helped on Wednesday and Thursday. The work included creating boardwalks, stonework, signage, and tread construction, along with blazing trail.

“Blazing a trail, there’s a lot more to it than people think,” Piotrowski said. “People think you go up and set up blazes, but we have guidelines that you do the uphill side of the trail; you keep them eye-level, which is very subjective; the nature of the trees; the nature of the territory. You don’t want to put up too many blazes, that’s called blaze pollution, but you want to have them close enough that people can follow.”

Wendell Holl of Lodi said he tries to make all of the Mobile Skills Crew events. On the Ringle segment project, Holl was part of a stoneworking team, moving boulders to build a creek crossing, one of the segment’s highlights, Malzhan said.

“Stonework is a lot of strategizing and trying to be as efficient with the movement as possible,” Holl said. “All of these people are very dedicated people. This is what we do with our vacation time. This is how we have fun.”

Debbie Krogwold, Waupaca County chapter coordinator, said volunteers in the kitchen were making between 50 and 70 breakfasts, lunches and dinners to sustain workers for the Wednesday to Sunday event.

“Some people come to these just for the food and camping,” Krogwold said.

In addition to the trail-building work done at IATA Mobile Skills Crew events, volunteers are instructed in the finer points of construction and maintenance techniques, which goes a long way in creating repeat volunteers, Malzhan said.

“Regardless of what it is, if we don’t know why we’re doing something, it’s hard to be interested in it for very long,” he said. “When we start to know why, then we can start to go a little deeper underneath why and see it for ourselves.

“The education is really important to what we do with the Mobile Skills Crew events. I always say trail-building is people-building.”

In Marathon County, the IATA is working on a nearly seven-mile trail reroute from the Mountain-Bay State Trail across the Marathon County Solid Waste Facility to County Highway N, Malzhan said. Once completed, the new segment will get hikers off a forest road and a stretch of driveway that property owners Don and Linda Patterson have been allowing Ice Age Trail users to walk for 40 years.

“The existing trail has a lot of overlapping uses, and that’s really not what the Ice Age Trail is,” said Dave Caliebe, IATA trail program specialist. “We’re getting the trail to where it should be as a National Scenic Trail. We always strive to be better rather than just taking an easy route on an existing forest road.”

Malzhan estimates that from planning to completion, a mile of trail can take 100 hours. For the Ringle segment reroute, Malzhan said it took three years to decide where the pin flags would go to guide trail-builders.

The Ice Age Trail Alliance gets trail work done with the help of volunteers, who put in a total of 82,000 hours in 2018. Volunteers on the Mobile Skills Crew event on the Ringle segment were expected to put in about 3,000 volunteer hours over the course of the week.

“The trail is all hand-built,” Malzhan said. “It would be really hard to do this with a machine and still keep the character of the landscape of this part of the world.”

The Ice Age Trail stretches about 1,200 miles from the trail’s western terminus in Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls, Polk County, to the eastern terminus in Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, Door County. More than 500 miles of unmarked connecting routes link the blazed segments. By the end of 2019, Malzhan said he expects there to be about 675 miles of Ice Age Trail open and signed for use.

“The theme of this year’s season is ‘Building for the 23rd Century,’” Malzhan said. “Our goal is to have sustainable trail, so we take the extra time to build it.”

Malzhan said the IATA considers the Ringle segment of the trail the landscape crossroads because of the different geologic stories the area tells.

“We’re pretty close right now to where the last continental ice sheet stopped,” he said. “When we leave here, (the trail) is going to seem like it’s always been here. Because of the work that’s involved with building trail, it blends into the surroundings so well.”

Eric Gabriel, the superintendent for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the volunteers are a big part of the reason so much of the Ice Age Trail has been completed.

“The volunteers are the core of and backbone of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail,” Gabriel said. “That these volunteers are out here doing the work connects communities to the trail. The trail goes through communities to make that connection physically, but it’s these people who come from nearby and far away who really connect our communities to this fantastic trail.”

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Groups aim accident stories at farm safety work

Farmers have a long history of telling each other stories about what works and doesn’t work on their farms, with old-timers sometimes leaning on line fences while exchanging those stories with neighbors. Some farm-safety groups are hoping to tap into that legacy as part of farm-accident prevention programs.

The Marshfield-based National Farm Medicine Center and three other Upper Midwest farm-safety groups have organized the “Telling a Story Project: Tell a Story, Save a Life” project to prompt farmers to share their farm-accident stories. The program is seen as an effective means of getting farmers to practice what they likely know where farm safety is concerned, said NFMC Communications Director Scott Heiberger, who’s among its organizers.

“People generally know how to stay safe,” Heiberger said. “Farmers generally know how to stay safe; a lot of the research has been done, so the researchers know how to stay safe, but there’s oftentimes a disconnect between knowing what’s safe and actually changing behavior and then carrying it out.”

As farmers work — even being aware of safety issues, they might not carry through with safe operations every time they do that work, he said. However, he added, the storytelling project’s organizers believe farmers hearing farmers’ stories could help keep safety more at the front of the workers’ minds.

Heiberger said farmers hearing those other farmers’ stories will help bridge what he sees as a credibility gap. He also said there are plenty of statistics and research available about farm safety, but that on-farm stories simply are more real than those numbers.

The stories are being shared in writing, in recordings and as photo-vignettes.

The program is funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The NFMC is working with the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health and the Upper Midwest Agricultural Health Center. It started in June, and Heiberger said it’s starting to get more attention.

The organizers say farmers aren’t expected to write or record their own stories, but that’s an option. The organizers are providing writers and recorders to gather the stories, as needed.

Heiberger said people with stories should get in touch with him or other organizers. Help is available to assist in developing the stories.

“The stories are the main thing,” he said. “If anyone has anything they think others would benefit from, I would encourage them to get ahold of me.”

There are no limits in how many stories — or the types of stories — that will be used in the project.

“We’re not going to worry, at this point, about having all areas of injuries covered,” Heiberger said.

Some of the stories might be surprising to people, he said. He used as an example a hydrogen sulfide-related accident that happened on one farm; another he cited involved an Iowa hog farmer who was washing the floor of his hog facility, and the wash-water broke methane bubbles in manure stored below to cause a fire hazard.

Information about the project is available at or by calling Heiberger at 715-389-7541.

“In most cases, it’s stuff that you look at it and go, ‘Yeah, I knew about that hazard but I haven’t changed my behavior,’” Heiberger said. “I think most of these stories are geared towards that. We’re trying to say, ‘Look, I know what the hazards are and you know what the hazards are; here’s what happens when you’ve done it 100 times and there was never a problem, and then, this time there was a problem.’”

Schultz is the assistant farm director at WAXX radio in Eau Claire and executive director of the Osseo-based nonprofit The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts

Photo by Nate Jackson  

Steve Kling, right, led a Coulee Graziers pasture walk May 16 on his Taylor farm while one of his Holsteins took an interest in his son, Nathan, who farms nearby.

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Like father, like son
New Auburn's Dachels land pieces in sculpture tour
New Auburn's Dachels land pieces in sculpture tour

Ben Dachel and his family have long had an interest in the sculpture tour that takes place each year in downtown Eau Claire.

Now, after years of prompting from his children, Eva and Abram, and the completion of a big project proposed by instructors from the New Auburn School District’s agriculture and music departments, the Dachel family is enjoying the 2019-20 Sculpture Tour Eau Claire from a different perspective.

Both Ben and Abram had pieces selected to be part of the 2019-20 Sculpture Tour Eau Claire.

Abram and Ben’s sculptures were two of 55 pieces selected for this year’s tour from more than 700 entries.

“We didn’t know how many entries we would be up against,” Ben said. “We were quite surprised when our stuff was picked. It was quite exciting.”

Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is in its ninth season. The 2019-20 Sculpture Tour Eau Claire includes 41 new sculptures and 14 permanent pieces installed throughout downtown Eau Claire.

The family had been enjoying the sculpture tour in Eau Claire since the event’s beginning, Ben said.

“I think we found it by accident,” he said. “We would take the map and follow the tour and put our vote in.

“Just about from the first year, the kids were saying, ‘Hey, Dad, we could make something like this.’ It took nine years before we finally did anything, but that’s how it started.”

Ben, 43, has been a full-time welder since 1996 and has owned Specialty Welding in New Auburn for about 10 years, where he does mostly stainless steel and aluminum TIG welding and general repair, he said.

But that typically hasn’t allowed much time to create art.

Then, four years ago, the New Auburn High School Agriscience Instructor Brenda Scheil and former band director Kendra Ohime approached the Dachels with old, used band instruments they were hoping to turn into something useful.

“They wanted to up-cycle them and turn them into something saleable,” Ben said. “They weren’t worth repairing, they weren’t worth selling, they weren’t worth much for scrap metal even.

“We made some fountains, we made some table lamps out of clarinets, flutes, saxophones.”

Ben said the family created about 40 pieces over the course of the winter and the items were sold the next spring at the Wisconsin Public Television Garden Expo in Madison to raise money for the school district’s music department.

“Through that whole process, my daughter Eva and my son Abram and I made this ‘Metal Man Band’ we called it,” Ben said. “One was holding some cymbals, one was playing a flute. When we packed it all up, there were some tears because we worked on it all winter and the kids didn’t want to see it go. But I reassured them, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make something for ourselves.’”

From there, the family made a metal man sculpture together, while Abram worked on a metal bird and Eva made several small birds for the family’s flower garden.

The sculpture Abram created that is now on display on the tour is found in front of Mayo Hospital in Eau Claire. Ben’s sculpture is in front of Brent Douglas, a floral shop located on South Barstow Street in Eau Claire.

Abram’s piece started as an FFA project on aquaculture, Ben said. Abram’s metal sculpture, titled “Fish of Steel,” weighs approximately 120 pounds. The New Auburn High School freshman said he wanted to create a sculpture using a mix of recycled and repurposed items.

“After collecting a variety of different items from flea markets, thrift sales and my dad’s scrap metal bins I came up with the idea of creating an underwater scene,” Abram said. “I had a lot of fun putting different items together to create a variety of fish and plants.”

Ben’s metal sculpture, titled “Life After Death,” weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. He said the idea for the sculpture came from the idea of our planet being destroyed and the need to take action to prevent that.

“I created the sphere with a portion ‘exploded out.’ However, I had the desire to create a more hopeful outlook of our planet,” he said. “I thought it would be perfect to plant a variety of plants into the sphere to represent Earth coming back to life.”

“I really enjoyed making it. I’ve had a hard time taking time to do something like art, but I always told myself, ‘When I retire, I’m going to make something.’ I guess I started a little bit early.”

Ben said Abram is working on another piece for an FFA project that he plans to submit for consideration in a future sculpture tour.

“I’ve always liked building things, then I got into welding and started making garden sculptures and it led up to me making lots of different metal art projects,” Abram said. “It’s cool for me to see the things I’ve made in other places besides our yard for people to enjoy.”

Ben also makes patterned fire bowls with a removable cooking-rack system and heat-tinted stainless steel wind bells, and he has exhibited at the Banbury Art Crawl in Eau Claire.

“People ask if I have a studio or showroom, but I just laugh and say, ‘No, I have a working shop,’” Ben said. “But sometimes, if I have time, there’s something outside, and yeah, it’s for sale.”

Photo by Heidi Clausen  

Threshing Table Farm often opens its farm gate to visitors through events such as special on-farm dinners and “Farmin’ After 5” through the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce.