Author tells of Wisconsin hiking trails

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin is hiking heaven. From the ridges and marshes near Lake Michigan to the forests of the Northwoods and the moraines of eastern Wisconsin, there's plenty to see and experience when you're on foot.

A day hike is a great way to get a workout and reintroduce yourself to unspoiled nature.

Eric Hansen's new book ''Hiking Wisconsin'' (Globe Pequot Press, $16.95) is a first step in the right direction, offering detailed glimpses of 65 trails around the state.

''This time of year we're focused on paying bills. We need a reminder that there's another bill to pay -- nature's,'' Hansen said.

A trades teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Hansen, 53, has hiked each one of the trails in the book. Step by step, mile by mile, his descriptions are richly detailed.

Here's how he pictures Jerry Lake northwest of Medford:

''Wolves are raising pups in the area. Bald eagles circle over the rivers, otters leave their tracks below, and sandhill cranes trumpet across the marshes. Hemlock groves, birch stands, hardwood forests, verdant wetlands and clear running streams border the trail. What's to dislike?''

Some of Hansen's favorite areas are within a stone's throw of Northeastern Wisconsin. Well, almost. They include Point Beach State Forest, Moonlight Bay along Lake Michigan, LaSalle Falls near Florence and Emmons Creek near Waupaca.

''Moonlight Bay is one of my very favorites,'' Hansen said. ''It's the kind of hike that you love to show people. You can hike the whole loop (5.4 miles), or nibble away, walking a part of it and then turning around. There's no downside, except for the very remote possibility that you would be there under adverse conditions, high water or storm surges.''

It's probably a good idea to start planning your first outing. Mike Kirk of Waupaca, a member of the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, has been out scouting.

''On Easter Sunday, I went for a short hike around here with my 11-year-old daughter Anna,'' Kirk said. ''Hiking season will be here real soon, if we can just get a little dry weather.''

The Ice Age Trail covers 1,200 miles from Door County to Interstate Park on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. About half of the trail is developed.

This summer, Kirk will lead a group from the Fox Valley Sierra Club, which is developing a portion of the trail near Waupaca.

''Sometimes I'm surprised that more people don't know the trail, because it really is a special resource,'' he said. ''You can have a great time with your children. I think the key is to take it easy and make it interesting. You don't want to push them so hard that you take the fun out of it.''

Hansen has no qualms about sharing some of the lesser-known gems.

''Sure, there's the 'keep it secret because I want my own hideout viewpoint,''' he explains. ''But the reality is that without a fan club or a constituency, a place is going to get logged, dammed or bulldozed.''

Hansen said many people seem to need a recommendation from someone who's excited about a place before they're ready to venture out: ''We need a reminder that there's a snowy owl on the waterfront. Or that the marsh marigolds are often the first colors of spring as they come up near spring holes.''

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