Category Archives: History

Ray Zillmer: Ice Age Trail Founder

 

By Drew Hanson, http://pedestrianview.blogspot.com/

Ray Zillmer left for posterity Wisconsin’s greatest trail, the organization that promotes and protects it, the Badger State’s first and still only backcountry huts and a backpack full of conservation and exploration accomplishments.

Born in Milwaukee, WI in 1887, Zillmer attended Harvard Law School and received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From 1914-1960, he practiced law in Milwaukee.

Ray Zillmer in Canadian Rockies

During the 1930s–1940s, Zillmer became an accomplished and respected explorer and mountaineer. In 1934 Zillmer was part of a team of five mountaineers who completed the first ascent of Anchorite Peak, British Columbia, Canada. He would go on to summit many other peaks and describe previously uncharted lands.

In the summer of 1938, he and a companion retraced the steps of Alexander MacKenzie’s 1793 expedition between the Fraser and Bella Coola rivers, through part of what is today Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park. He described the adventure in detail in his first of four articles published in the Canadian Alpine Journal.

The American Alpine Journal also published several of his exploration and mountaineering articles, including:

“The Exploration of the Source of the Thompson River in British Columbia”, 1940;

“Exploration of the Northern Monashee Range”, 1942;

“The Location of Mt. Milton and the Restoration of the Names ‘Mt. Milton’ and ‘Mt.Cheadle'”, 1943;

“The Exploration of the Cariboo Range from the East”, 1944;

“The Exploration of the Sources of the McLennan River”, 1946.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Mount Zillmer, Zillmer Creek and Zillmer Glacier in British Columbia’s Cariboo Range were all named in his honor.

Back in his home state of Wisconsin, in addition to being an accomplished attorney at law, Zillmer had a keen interest in natural history. He was well aware of Wisconsin’s rich array of landforms created during the Pleistocene. Indeed, North American geologists refer to the last phase of the recent ice age as the Wisconsin Glaciation. During this by-gone epoch, vast oceans of ice that covered northern latitudes would make today’s disappearing alpine glaciers seem like mere creeks of ice.

One of the unique areas of Wisconsin is the Kettle Moraine, a belt of ridges and depressions created by the combined action of two lobes of a Pleistocene ice sheet. It is the place where geologists first determined that Pleistocene ice sheets had lobes and that interlobate regions had their own set of landforms. Through the Izaak Walton League, Ray Zillmer was a leading advocate for the acquisition of land for the Kettle Moraine State Forest, which today covers 55,000 acres within a hundred-mile corridor.

For many years Zillmer led weekend hikes to explore the Kettle Moraine during fall, winter and spring. The hikes were memorable for the miles covered as well as the lunch which consisted of various cans of soup brought by fellow hikers, all combined into a single pot.

In the 1950s he worked closely with the Wisconsin Conservation Department (precursor to the DNR) to design backcountry huts for hikers in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. He then donated thousands of dollars to their construction. These nine shelters remain the only set of backcountry huts in Wisconsin.

Ice Age Trail map

Ice Age Trail map

In 1958 he established the Ice Age National Park Citizens Committee and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, later renamed the Ice Age Trail Alliance. His articles proposing an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin were published in 1958 by the Milwaukee Public Museum and in 1959 by Wisconsin Alumnus magazine. The proposed park and a long-distance hiking trail through it would follow the Kettle Moraine of eastern Wisconsin and continue west along the terminal moraine to the state’s western boundary. Bills were introduced in Congress to create an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin.

Zillmer’s insistence that long, narrow corridors of public land serve greater numbers of outdoor recreationists than the big national parks of his day and his proposal for a long-distance hiking trail in Wisconsin made an impression on Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson. Armed with this appreciation and later as a U.S. Senator, Nelson introduced legislation to designate the Appalachian Trail the first National Scenic Trail and introduced the National Trails System Act of 1968. Congress finally designated the thousand-mile Ice Age Trail a National Scenic Trail in 1980.

In 1933 the Wisconsin Izaak Walton League named Zillmer “Man of the Year” for his work on the Kettle Moraine State Forest. In 1959 he was presented a plaque by the National Campers and Hikers Association for his efforts to preserve natural areas for public use. A trail system in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest is named the Zillmer Trails and a park in St. Croix Falls is named Ray Zillmer Park, both in his honor. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1993. Today the highest award of achievement given by the Ice Age Trail Alliance is the Ray Zillmer Award.

Following his death in December, 1960 the Milwaukee Journal opined, “…the people of Milwaukee and of Wisconsin and the conservation movement nationally are deeply indebted to Mr. Zillmer. His vision, his boundless energy and his dogged determination in behalf of worthy causes to which he was devoted became legend . . . No community and no state ever has enough of men like Raymond T. Zillmer. And the loss of even one, inevitable as it may be, is cause for deep regret.”

 

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Sources:

“Our Greatest Trail”, Erik Ness, Wisconsin Trails magazine, April 2002, Vol. 43, No. 2

“Climb Anchorite Peak”, The Montreal Gazette, July 23, 1934.

Along Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, page 8.

“Scorning A Glacial Gift”, The Milwaukee Journal, August 21, 1988.

“Origins of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail”, Sarah Mittlefeldht, Wisconsin Magazine of History: Volume 90, number 3, spring 2007, page 7.

These American Lands, Dyan Zaslowsky and T.H. Watkins, Island Press, 1994, pages 258-259.

Ice Age Trail Alliance, http://www.iceagetrail.org/iata/history/

“The Wisconsin Glacial Moraines”, Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, 1942.

“The Wisconsin Glacier National Forest Park”, Lore, Milwaukee Public Museum, vol 8, edition 2, 1958.

“Wisconsin’s Proposed Ice Age National Park”, Wisconsin Alumnus, March, 1959

American Alpine Club, http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12196134700/print

 

Drew Hanson blogs at pedestrianview.blogspot.com

 

Shelter from the Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts: book review part 1

Book Review by Sam Demas:

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

(Part one of a two part book review)

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

With its highly-organized system of 1,000 backcountry huts New Zealand (NZ) — about the same size (area and population) as Oregon — is the hut capital of the world.  By comparison, the USA has about 110 huts operating within 17 different hut-to-hut systems; Switzerland and Norway each have about 500 huts.  Every nation’s approach to outdoor recreation — including how its citizens organize overnight stays in the wild — is based on local causes and conditions such as geography, size of the country, climate, terrain, history, economics, politics, and cultural values.  Shelter from the Storm is a richly illustrated, well-researched history of the causes and conditions that created NZ’s unique hut culture, and a beautiful tribute to the huts themselves.

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Shelter from the Storm – Introduction to a Book About History of New Zealand Huts

Below is a reprint of the “Introduction” to the book: 

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

Embedded below is the 14 page, beautifully illustrated “Introduction”, by Shaun Barnett, to the remarkable book Shelter from the Storm. In it he provides an overview of the benefits, history, and architecture of New Zealand huts. His “Introduction” gives the reader a feel for the book as a whole. For more on this book, see my two part book review of Shelter from the Storm click here for: part 1 and part 2. Continue reading

Shelter from the Storm: book review part two

Book review continued:

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

(Part two of a two part book review)

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

For part one of this review click here.  Following are some fascinating themes and stories that are skillfully elaborated in Shelter from the Storm, about New Zealand Backcountry Huts.

This book tells the story of how a geographically remote island nation came to create a robust international outdoor culture, and how a disparate collection of huts built for other purposes – I like the phrase infrastructure lying in wait — came to form the backbone of the world’s largest hut system. Continue reading

“On Trails: An Exploration” by Robert Moor

On Trails: an exploration by Robert Moor, Simon and Schuster, 2016

Book Review by Sam Demas

Robert Moor is intellectually intrepid in his exploration — as a writer and a walker – of the genesis, meaning and wonder of trails.  Trails of all kinds.  He writes in the spirit of intellectual adventure represented by authors like Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Robert Macfarlane, Annie Dillard, Jared Diamond, and Bruce Chatwin.  Through fluid writing, artful character sketches, long walks, and deep research, he opens our eyes to the fact that trails are everywhere one goes in the world, and that they all have stories to tell and wisdom to impart.  As Moor says, his book is a trail whose destination is a quest for the wisdom of trails. I’ve read (or listened to) this book several times in the past year and am finally sharing my enthusiasm with the readers of hut2hut.info. Continue reading

How America fell in love with camping: book review

Book Review of Under the Stars: how America fell in love with camping by Dan White (Henry Holt & Co., 2016)

by Sam Demas

This is a pretty good popular-level introduction to the development of recreational camping in the USA, which the author characterizes as “a Victorian passion that got out of hand.”  Unfortunately, a significant part of the author’s methodology is to take the reader along on a series of camping trips that he believes allow him to come close to living through what the people of the era experienced.  While Dan White is an experienced hiker and a very good story teller, I personally found the device of including his personal camping stories a bit tedious and beside the point.  Others will disagree. Continue reading

AMC Huts & Unification of White Mountain Trails

See Introduction below.  The primary content of this post is this link to a reprint of Chapter 36 “Unification of the White Mountain trails” from the book Forest and Crag (AMC Books, 1989) by  Laura and Guy Waterman.  This chapter is reprinted with kind permission of Laura Waterman and AMC Books.  Forest and Crag is the Waterman’s magesterial history of hiking and trailblazing in the Northeastern US.  Chapter 36 is preceded by a chapter on the Long Trail and followed by a chapter on the Adirondacks region.

 

Introduction to Chapter 36 reprint

by Sam Demas

Huts and trails:  you can’t have huts without trails, hut building usually follows trail building, and the presence of huts inevitably shapes patterns of hiking in a region.  How does this work?  The AMC’s system of eight huts and the network of trails in White Mountains of N.H. were developed concurrently.  Chapter 36 of Forest and Crag (Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 1989) offers a fascinating look at how a cohesive regional trail system evolved over a period of about 20 years, 1910 – 1930 along with the AMC huts, the first in the USA.

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Hut-to-hut at Mount Tahoma: a history and a love story

Hut-to-hut at Mount Tahoma: a history and a love story

MTTA is a labor of love. Bob Brown loved back-country skiing and wondered why he had to travel to Colorado to ski hut-to-hut when they had such great terrain in Washington. He rallied others and they created the Mount Tahoma Trails Association (MTTA), an all-volunteer hut system. Judy Scavone came along, fell in love with the trail and hut system, became an inspirational volunteer, and she and Bob fell in love. This is the story of their shared passion for the outdoors and of their dedication to MTTA and to its remarkable corps of volunteers. The current strength and quality of MTTA is a testament to the work of this couple and their volunteer friends.  Many people helped make MTTA what is today. This story is about two of them: Bob and Judy.

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Brief History of the Rendezvous Huts, oldest in the West!

Brief History of the Rendezvous Huts, oldest in the West!

By Sam Demas and Charles Hickenbottom

This is a companion piece to  history of the Methow Valley Trails system, which operates hand in glove with Rendezvous Huts and other businesses and organizations in the area. Together they maintain and operate a remarkable Nordic skiing trail and lodging system in the East Cascades, which is based on an unusually high degree of cooperation across the community.

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How the Methow Valley became a lodging and trails hub

How the Methow Valley become a world-class lodging and trails hub

By Sam Demas

With fabulous ski terrain and a great climate, Winthrop, WA on the east slope of the North Cascades, became a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts in the 1970’s.   Attracted by the consistent snow cover, great climate, and stunning natural beauty, young people began to move into the area. So did people representing big alpine ski resorts, with ambitions to create a destination alpine ski resort and to profit from an attendant real estate boom.   One could view the modern history of the Methow Valley as a tale of big alpine ski interests vs. environmentalists, with x-country ski enthusiasts, or “soft path” recreationists, as the “middle-path” saviors. While that’s part of it, it oversimplifies the story by painting a black and white picture of conflict and reaction. Instead, it seems that the values and visions of Methow Valley residents — old and new — gradually cohered and prevailed through a parallel effort to create a recreation hub and economic driver without turning Methow Valley into another Aspen.

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