The Ice Age Trail-Indian Creek Segment, Polk County. / Steve Meurett/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
“My favorite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been.”
– Diane Arbus
I find that a very true statement-though there is nothing wrong with returning to favorite places as well.
A “place” I’d never been is almost all of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail, although I’ve been able to knock off a couple segments this summer. The IAT is currently undergoing an update of it’s field guide, an ongoing process to be sure maps and segment descriptions are current. The update procedure involves editors hiking sections of trail, noting any changes from previous descriptions and adding additional information. It’s also important to describe the “feel” of the trail-intangible things that help characterize hiking a segment. Checking map accuracy, GPS waypoints and local points of interest are also part of the field editors duty.
A last minute request to hike a segment in Polk County in North West Wisconsin was forwarded my way in hope it could be completed before a September 1 deadline for the field guide. The 140 mile drive from home could fit into an early morning journey on a day off, so I agreed and hit the road before things got too hot during a recent heat wave. At 4 a.m., the traffic, even on Highway 53 headed north, was light and I was able to reach the segment terminus as daybreak arrived. The plan was to lock my mountain bike there, drive back around west to the trailhead, hike the section of trail taking notes, waypoints and photographs and pedal the bike back to the car.
The Indian Creek Segment of the IAT is the eastern portion of what once was the much longer McKenzie Creek Segment. There are ample parking areas at both ends of the trail and it’s well marked and maintained. All IAT trails have yellow blazes-either painted, plastic tags on trees or in open areas, carsonite posts, which make navigating easy. In some of the lower fern covered areas of Indian Creek, I’d check the blazes often to stay on course. This segment isn’t as glacially featured as others, with the first and last part of the trail fairly flat and easy, but there are some good glacial hummocks at the midpoint challenging hikers up steep climbs and descents.
The majority of the trail is on public land and the forest is mostly managed for larger stands of hardwoods by select cutting. Crossing 30th Street (a gravel town road) marks the midpoint and the start of a trek through open woods and dry (at this time) rocky creek beds. A short ridge climb puts the trail above a small picturesque water lily filled lake, the headwaters of Indian Creek, which flows north.
The habitat is ideal for wildlife, and I saw several deer and grouse and plenty of black bear sign-rotted stumps tore apart, fence posts raked and chewed on and berry filled scat. It is berry season, so it really wasn’t a surprise when as I stopped to make a photo, a movement of black caught my eye a short distance away. A year or two old bear slowly ambled through the brush toward me, unaware I was fumbling with the zoom on my camera. Realizing he’d need to be too close for a good image, I decided it’d be wise to talk loudly to announce my presence, at which point he stared, turned and trotted off. A pretty neat encounter to say the least!
The final mile of the trail consists of narrow hand carved trail, a short bridge crossing and an open mowed meadow, finishing at the trail terminus parking lot. From this point, the IAT continues a 1/2 mile south on Cty. Hwy. E, and then climbs into the woods east on the Sand Creek segment into Barron County. The bike was waiting and I had a 7 mile hilly ride ahead of me to return to the start-not a bad thing, my legs enjoying the change-spinning pedals and producing a little breeze on this hot morning as a relief.
The trailhead and waiting car are within the McKenzie State Wildlife Area off Ct. Hwy. O, perhaps another place I’ve never been to explore another time. For now, a quick change, a look over my notes and a slow drive back, stopping to investigate other nearby points of interest for the trail guide.
Location: The Indian Creek Trailhead is located approximately 19 miles north west of Cumberland between Cty. Hwys O and E. in Polk County. The trailhead is also accessible 10 miles east of Frederic, WI off Cty.Hwy. W.
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Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.