VERONA, Wis. — Badger Prairie County Park is a good place to hop aboard the still-developing Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
The 339-acre ridge-top park lies southwest of Madison. The federally designated trail is marked by yellow blazes on brown posts as it winds through a restored prairie with shrubby plants and grasses, oak savannahs and oak-hickory-maple forests.
The Ice Age trail is one of 11 federally designated trails, like the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, but it is not well-known. It offers solitude and glacial geology. Its southern border generally follows the southernmost extent of the glaciers that covered Wisconsin 10,000 years ago.
It is a land of eskers (glacier-created ridges), moraines (glacially deposited hills), drumlins (hills formed into teardrop shapes by drifting glacial ice), kettles (depressions or basins formed by melted ice), erratica (house-sized boulders moved by glaciers) and kames (steep-sided or conical hills formed from sediments).
If it’s scenic in Wisconsin, it’s probably glacial. You can use ColdCache or a GPS unit to identify geological features along the trail.
The trail is a work in progress — with about 675 miles built, linked by back roads.
More than 50 years ago, volunteers of the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation began creating an S-shaped footpath through Wisconsin forests and prairies.
Its Western terminus is in Interstate State Park near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border just outside of St. Croix Falls. The eastern terminus is near Green Bay on the Door County Peninsula in Potawatomi State Park that extends into Lake Michigan, with forests and limestone cliffs that rise above the waves.
The trail runs south and then west across southern Wisconsin before turning to the north and west. It goes through the Wisconsin Dells.
The National Park Service partners with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the grass-roots Ice Age Trail Alliance, based in Cross Plains, Wis., with its 5,000 members on planning, upkeep and administrative responsibilities. It is expected to be complete in 30 to 50 years, said Mike Wollmer, executive director of the alliance.
The trail — envisioned to be 1,200 miles in length — travels through 30 Wisconsin counties on federal, state, county and private lands. There are hundreds of trailheads and access points. It was designed to be a premier hiking trail and features some of Wisconsin’s most scenic landscapes.
It is primarily a hiking and backpacking trail. Snowmobiling and bicycling are allowed in a few areas that share the route with state rail trails. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also allowed on some sections. It is generally snow-free from mid-April to late October. Bugs can be bad in early summer.
Most long-distance hiking on the trail is done from late August to late October. To date, about 70 people have hiked the entire length of the trail in one hike or in segments.
Although the mile-thick glacier covered two-thirds of North America, it’s called the Wisconsin Glacier because that’s where it left the most evidence of its passage.
In the Verona area, the trail generally follows the Johnstown Moraine, a terminal moraine of the glacier’s Green Bay Lobe.
The Ice Age Trail includes some of the best trails in Wisconsin: the Pothole Trail in Interstate State Park, the Blue Hills Trail near Rice Lake and the East Bluff Trail in Devil’s Lake State Park.
For more information, contact the Ice Age Trail Alliance at 800-227-0046, www.ice agetrail.org.