According to the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) brochure, “More than 12,000 years ago, an immense flow of glacial ice sculpted a landscape of remarkable beauty across Wisconsin. As the glacier retreated, it left behind a variety of unique landscape features. These glacial remnants are now considered among the world's finest example of how continental glaciation sculps our planet.”
If you ask the Washburn County Jail Administrator, Captain Dan Brereton, he would heartily agree, seeing he has an up close and personal relationship with eight miles of this thousand-mile footpath that looks somewhat like a huge backward check-mark covering Wisconsin from Polk County in the northwest to the Green Bay area southeast.
The IATA trail wasn't begun until the 1950s when it was the dream of Milwaukee man, Ray Zillmer. He was determined to share his enthusiast vision of this area that was formed by the glaciers as a long park, wandering through the entire state from north to south.
The trail is unique because it crosses over many ownership types, including private land, city parks, state parks, county, and national forests. It also travels through thirty-one counties and is governed by the National Park Service, the same department who oversees the Grand Canyon.
As the IATA dips into the southern part of the state, it often formed 'kettles.' These are roundish shaped ponds and small lakes as the ice melted that look like a passing giant put down his kettle on the earth after pouring his tea and it left around mark when he picked it up and moved on.
The moraines are an accumulation of earth and stones deposited by the glacier as it passed through and stopped, hence the area located near the Madison/Milwaukee area that is home of Kettle Moraine State Park.
Meanwhile, the eight miles of the Hemlock Creek Segment on this magnificent trail in the Superior Lobe Section is under the supervision and construction of Dan.
Dan grew up in Lodi, Wisconsin, and yes he knew and is distantly related to the family of Tom Wopat, the dark-haired heart-throb from the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show.
Dan's mom was a cook at the school and kept an eye on her five kids and dad worked in the commercial dairy industry.
All of the kids were go-getters, and that included Dan. No matter the position, he would work his way up the ladder. He and his wife eventually moved to the tiny town of Florence, located at the east end of Highway 70 on the Michigan border.
There Dan built their house, joined the school board and got a part-time job as a jailor. Just one year later he was a full-time jailor with three kids in school and also a state school board member, championing schools in small rural areas.
He and his family loved northeastern Wisconsin but realized their educational wishes for their children were not going to fulfill there. They began to look around, and the Shell Lake Schools continued to rise to the top. When they visited Shell Lake, not only did they fall in love with the area, but with the excellent school system, they knew this was the place to settle.
Dan moved his family to town, got a part-time job at the W.C. Jail and commuted for three years between Florence and Shell Lake. In 2011, Dan was hired full-time by the Washburn County Sheriff, Terry Dryden, and promoted to Jail Administrator in 2013.
Not only did his job life take a turn for the better, but when he and his family visited the Grand Canyon and then Yellowstone Park and surrounding area, he found out that he loved hiking.
When he saw a newspaper article that a local public group hike was to take place in the fall of 2016, he decided to join in with the fifteen others who signed up to walk three miles on the IATA.
He learned there were twenty-one chapters, and the local Superior Lobe Chapter, lovingly called 'the Lobe Trotters,' had over one hundred and fifty members but only a hand full took responsibility for maintaining the 50 miles of trail in the segment.
Dan readily joined the organization, not to hike, but to do needed (and constant) maintenance on his eight miles which starts south of Birchwood down to the Murphy Dam Rec area in Rusk County.
He met other Shell Lake guys older than he was who had their own sections to maintain. Two of them are Mitch Fox and Dale Cardwell. "All of us are volunteers, and we give back to the community, it provides us with both physical and mental health benefits, and we are passionate about providing a quality trail for people to enjoy. I encourage anyone who is interested in the outdoors and would be interested in the benefits of being out here to contact us, we always need more help," Dan says.
He's only been on duty going on two years but has a ten-year plan mapped out for fixing and/or replacing the fifteen bridges/boardwalks that provide a solid and dry passage through his eight miles of creeks and floodplain. He already has quite an impressive bridge under his belt.
He admits that he's still got a lot to learn about how things work, but Dab's got lots of ideas that he hopes the Chapter will be happy about. Even when he's not building a bridge, he always takes all the tools he might need to keep his part of the trail in good hiking condition, seeing this trail is not only used during the summer months but also all winter for snow-shoeing.
Every Saturday you'll find Dan driving the forty minutes it takes to get to the head of his section, and once he starts, he works a long day.
Strangely, with all the works he's doing, he doesn't have time to do what brought him to the IATA in the first place, hike.
But you can bet that when he is ready to enjoy the trail, he'll hike his eight miles, trying to enjoy it and not taking notes on what he wants to do next.
For more information, Google the Ice Age Trail or go to their FaceBook page by the same name.