When I was in high school, you issued a challenge with: “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk!” I don’t know if Pat Witkowski ever threw down a challenge like that to anyone but, I strongly suspect it was a conversation she had with herself that lead her to hike the 1,000 mile, Ice Age National Scenic Trail back in 2004-2005.
Pat told me that after she became a Thousand Miler she just “fell into” the role of trail coordinator for the Waukesha/Milwaukee Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. But, you don’t get the kind of results Pat has achieved by just talking the talk. Pat became a Mobile Skills Crew leader, and with that foundation, she has lead dozens and dozens of chapter workdays in addition to coordinating the trail mowing. She is an innovator as well: raising the standard for trail signage across the whole state with her Blazing Babes program.
To see Pat’s Ice Age Trail work first hand you are simply going to have to Walk The Wauk. It was Nancy Frank who came up with the idea for each chapter to design a program to encourage people to walk their sections of the IAT. Kris Jensen, the current Waukesha/Milwaukee IAT Chapter Coordinator, came up with Walk The Wauk, and it has been a tremendous success, with over 550 people registering and around 175 completing the entire 44.7 miles of IAT in Waukesha County. Parents, challenge your children to Walk The Wauk with you!
In addition to her work on the trail, Pat is an excellent spokesperson for the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter in particular. Discover Wisconsin featured Pat in the conclusion to their four-year journey on the Ice Age Trail. Once people find out that you have a skill, you get called on for all sorts of projects and Pat, and her husband Gary, generously helped complete a boardwalk on Mud Lake.
Last month, while hiking at The Springs on a Saturday night, I realized that the traffic on Hwy 67 was killing my buzz. “I’ve got to get away!” After my next workday, I decided to hike the IAT from Hwy ZZ south to Piper Road for a change. I knew Pat and the chapter trail crew had been working on this stretch for 3 years and I was eager to see it. It was a cold, full moon, November night when I walked a bit of the wauk.
The white pine canopy towered overhead as I began the climb up into the moraine. This old pine plantation just keeps getting better looking with age: taking on a much more natural look after a succession of skillful harvests. The transition to Oak and Hickory occurs as you get up into the gracefully undulating kettles and ridges. “Where am I?” The last time I walked this trail was behind a Billy Goat mower and I couldn’t believe how different, beautiful and quiet it was. At the halfway point, I had to call Pat. This was amazing!
We setup a date to walk the segment together and met at the IAT parking area on Hwy ZZ, a ¼ mile east of Hwy 67.
We hopped in Pat’s car and drove down to the IAT crossing at Piper Rd and began walking north on the 1.5 mile segment (see map above) until we arrived at the trail reroute project shown below. We are looking at the old trail’s path; right down a “fall line”.
Pat talks the talk.
Pat taught elementary school for 34 years, most recently at Summit Elementary, and she insisted that I give a quiz after each trail reroute video. So please, sharpen your pencils and get rid of your gum — somewhere.
In what order is the 4-step bench building technique executed?
- measure, dig, push, cuss
- dig, measure, cuss, push
- backline, bench, back slope, critical edge
- cuss, measure, cuss, dig
We soon arrived at the next rerouted section: a 280 yard doozy.
The section above ties right into the last, and prettiest, reroutes planned for this segment. The new, 250 yard trail, is flagged, raked, easily followed and scheduled to be opened next spring.
Here is a testimonial to Pat from my spiritual father, Mike Fort:
In my Ice Age Trail experiences with Pat, she is always well-organized and clearly communicates what the goals of the various projects happen to be. In addition to all her responsibilities with the Ice Age Trail she has also really helped with our restoration efforts at Lapham Peak. She works and leads with an upbeat cheerful attitude that is infectious no matter what the challenge. I’ve really enjoyed working with her.
Much of the Southern Kettle Moraine forest is thick with buckthorn, and one of the most exciting things about the IAT trail work that Pat is leading is the creation of view sheds, or stewardship zones, where the brush is cleared away so you can see the lay of the land.
This stewardship zone is just north of the third rerouted stretch shown above.
I think The Buckthorn Man should join the Monday Mudders! This next view shed is just a bit north up the trail.
The last stewardship zone is at the junction with the spur trail that leads to the parking lot on Hwy ZZ where we met.
Pat, I know I speak for The Buckthorn Man, and everyone who enjoys the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Waukesha County, when I say emphatically: THANK YOU!
See you at The Springs!
Just recently hiked this stretch with the Buckthorn Man and was amazed at the beauty of this stretch of IAT. Thanks Pat and Don And all the team!
Great story! The Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of IATA is lucky to have her and all the other amazing volunteers!
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