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Locals and tourists flock to Big Ravine Preserve's Gil Larsen (aka Iron Bridge) Nature Trail, a walk teetering on the edge of downtown Bayfield that nevertheless looks like it's carved out of the wilds of the Northwoods.
From Washington Street's parking lot, the trail quickly ducks under a dense canopy of trees and winds along a trickling stream. Soon it passes beneath Bayfield's Iron Bridge, barely visible through summer foliage high above.
Intrepid trekkers determined to reach the trail's end cross the stream, carefully stepping over watersmoothed rocks. Further ahead the eagle-eyed can spot the vegetation-covered remnants of the dam that breached in 1942, resulting in Bayfield's infamous flood.
Shortly afterward, hikers must make a U-turn and head back to the parking lot as the trail doesn't venture further into the preserve. But big plans are afoot to connect all of the preserve's trails — and one day perhaps footpaths throughout the Bayfield area.
Several municipalities, agencies and foundations have partnered to raise funds and lead efforts to improve the 300-acre preserve dissected by a deep ravine on Bayfield's north side. Thanks to two grants and matching funds totaling $77,750, planning can begin on improving and connecting the trail system.
Those plans include building new trail segments to connect the Gil Larsen with Big Ravine trails further north, rehabilitating "social" paths local people have created as shortcuts, and constructing a stairway between the school and the bottom of the ravine.
But it's vital that work proceed with well-designed plans in place and sustainability in mind, said Kate Kitchell, chairwoman of Bayfield's Parks and Recreation Committee.
Therefore, Big Ravine Preserve project partners are seeking professional guidance to design eight new trail segments to unify the trail system and replace ecologically damaging local trails in Bayfield.
But of utmost concern, and perhaps posing the greatest
engineering challenge, is the design of a stairway between Bayfield schools and the bottom of the ravine.
For decades, students have treated the hillside as a type of playground, risking life and limb by running up and down its steep slopes, and damaging the banks, Kitchell said.
But the school sees the ravine as an extension of its science classrooms and wants the students to have easy access, Bayfield schools Superintendent Jeff Gordon said.
"This is a perfect opportunity — many years overdue — to put a stairwell down there that will provide all sorts of activities for kids and staff," Gordon said.
The stairway project may carry a hefty price tag, however, and project partners who question how much all of the proposed improvements will cost are looking to the professional trail designers and engineers to provide the answers, Kitchell said.
'Mecca for silent sports'
But people leading the project believe the improvements will pay dividends as the preserve is one of the area's biggest attractions for locals and tourists seeking outdoors recreational opportunities from Nordic skiing to snowmobiling.
Trail improvements are estimated to benefit as many as 5,000 local residents plus more than 100,000 visitors, according to David Eades, executive director of the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau.
About 200 people visit Bayfield's visitor center daily during the summer, and Eades estimated that more than one-third of them seek information about hiking. Chamber staff always directs them to the Gil Larsen.
Eades also said the chamber is interested in the "bigger picture" of building new trails to connect trail systems throughout the Bayfield area for the benefit of outdoors enthusiasts.
"We're such a mecca for silent sports," Eades said.
Kitchell couldn't agree more and said the Bayfield Area Trails Committee, comprised of members representing Bayfield County, the city and town of Bayfield, Red Cliff Band, Landmark Conservancy and Bayfield Chamber and Visitors Bureau, plans to tackle those projects in the future.
But nothing can be accomplished without the backing of the community, and Erika Lang of the Landmark Conservancy, the conservation organization leading the preserve's stewardship efforts, stressed the importance of finding younger volunteers.
"The land-trust world is a gray-hair community," Lang said, and it needs the "next generation" of volunteers.
Local residents can learn more about volunteering, and provide input about proposed improvements in the Big Ravine Preserve, at a Bayfield Area Trails symposium scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Bayfield Pavilion.
If You Go
What: Bayfield Area Trails Symposium.
Where: Bayfield Pavilion.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 2.
Additional Big Ravine Preserve improvement plans
In addition to adding trail segments and installing a stairway for students, improvement project partners want to upgrade parking areas and the trail on the Big Ravine Preserve's north side.
• A new parking area will be cleared off Meyers Olson Road on the preserve's northern edge. Visitors now park on the narrow road, and the trailhead is difficult to spot. The trail also is pockmarked with holes that need to be filled.
• The Gil Larsen Nature Trail trailhead on Washington Street will be redesigned. The "Iron Bridge Nature Trail" sign will be removed and replaced with signs describing the preserve's cultural and natural histories, and showing a map of the preserve and city. Benches also will be placed in honor of Bayfield's late Grandon Harris, who was an advocate for protecting the Big Ravine.
Teena Racheli knows all about the long, slow sunset that is Alzheimer's disease.
She recently moved her husband Kim Stertzbach, 74, into Court Manor Health Services, an Ashland long-term care facility, where he can get the kind of intensive care that she can no longer give him.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011 and now, almost nine years later, he is considered to have earlyonset Alzheimer's, a stage at which he and others suffer memory loss, difficulty planning and solving problems, trouble finding the right words, misplacing things and difficulty making decisions — coupled with personality and mood changes and general withdrawal.
Racheli, a Methodist minster in Ashland, Washburn, Grandview and Sanborn, said she knows all too well each step down that progression.
"His father had it as well, so it wasn't something that was a shock to us," she said. "But even though it was not a
shock, it was pretty heartbreaking, because it outlined a path, and how do we use our time in the time we have, and what can we do to slow down the progression and prepare ourselves?"
The journey that Rachelli and Stertzbach are on is becoming increasingly familiar to American families as the Baby Boomer generation ages. In 2019, 5.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with the malady, according to the Alzheimer's Association. By 2050, that number will grow to 14 million.
The Alzheimer's Association is working to end this tidal wave of mind-destroying illness. The nationwide organization organizes an annual Walk to End Alzheimer's in more than 600 communities nationwide. Ashland's fundraiser is set for Saturday with registration at 8 a.m. at the Ashland Senior's Enrichment Center at 400 Chapple Ave.
Lori Landry, a market liaison for North Shore Healthcare which operates both Ashland Health Services and Court Manor Health Services, has been head of the local Walk for the past six years. She said it was particularly appropriate to hold the walk at the Enrichment Center this year during the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ashland Senior center. The walk itself is less than two miles in length and will end up back at the center.
The walk's primary function is to raise money for research, but is also raises consciousness about the disease itself.
"Before I was educated about it, sometimes when I came upon someone with dementia, the first thing I would think is, 'Oh they're drunk,' or I would see someone I have known forever, and they didn't recognize me anymore. It was so confusing," Landry said.
The fund-raising efforts are crucial to finding a cure, Ashland Alzheimer's Association committee member Sandy Nutt said.
Last year the walks helped the Association make its largest ever research investment of more than $30 million to 131 scientific organizations.
The Ashland organization doesn't limit its money raising to only the walk.
"Just last Sunday, we hand a brunch at The Alley and raised $650," she said. Rachelli said a cure would be a huge blessing to every family affected by Alzheimer's. For her, the saddest part has been the slow loss of her beloved husband's personality.
"There are strange and painful benchmarks. As much as there are tons of beauty and special moments, there are definite things that can't be sugarcoated," she said. "He is a wonderful snuggler and tremendous man of faith. The day when he could not snuggle, and the day he could not pray, those were some of the biggest deaths for me. I grieve those. I grieve those."
Those interested in participating in the Ashland Walk can visit the walk's website at https://act.alz.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=walk_homepage or contact Alzheimer's Association representative Julie St. Pierre at 715-352-4019.
The younger they are, the easier it is to get tykes on bikes, learning to balance, pedal and steer their way to mastering an enjoyable lifelong sport.
But not all children have the opportunity to learn at a young age. That's a predicament physical education teacher Matthew Goodness intends to fix by launching bicycle manufacturer Strider's All Kids Bike program at Washburn Elementary School — as soon as enough funds are raised to cover costs.
Goodness' wife, Leah, spotted the program on Facebook and Goodness thought it would perfectly fit the phy. ed. needs of his kindergartners.
It's best to teach young children the pedaling ropes, Goodness said, as learning to bike becomes much more difficult in later elementary school years.
"It's scarier, it's harder, and socially more awkward to try to learn in front of classmates who already know how to bike," he said.
The Strider program will provide training for Goodness and equipment to get kindergartners pedaling away. Strider furnishes 22 adjustable helmets and bicycles without pedals for tiny tykes to learn balance without having to worry about pedaling. Once the student is straddling the saddle with confidence, pedals, also provided by Strider, can be added to the bike.
The beauty of the program is that the tiny, easily stored bikes are indoor-use-friendly so kindergartners can zoom around inside if weather dictates, Goodness said.
But the equipment, teacher training and a five-year Strider support plan comes with a $4,000 price tag, so the committee in charge of the Brownstone Bike Festival proposed a school-year, family-oriented biking event after reviewing its goals to promote bike riding, and raise money and community awareness of the bike program, Goodness said.
North Coast Cycling Association board member Joe Groseth enthusiastically endorsed the program and said Washburn will become a model for other schools — the district will be the first in
Wisconsin to implement it. But first the district needs to raise funds, so the Cycling Association will host a Bike-A-Thon featuring three guided rides of varying degrees of difficulty on Friday.
All students and parents in the area are welcome to register beginning at 4:30 p.m. near Washburn Elementary School's garden. At 5 p.m. Cycling Association volunteers will lead bicyclists to one of three destinations.
The easiest route runs between the Washburn Elementary School garden and Jackie's Field, where the kids can enjoy some playtime while their parents visit.
A second route takes riders from the garden to Thompson's West End Park, and the most intrepid of bicyclists can pedal the third route along the railroad trail to Houghton Falls, about a six-mile round trip.
Afterward, Washburn's Parent/Teacher Association, which is helping with the event to welcome everyone back to school, will serve a light meal. Participants also may receive reflective vests and bike locks thanks to a donation from the Washburn Community Education Fund.
The event is free, but donations toward the All Kids Bike program are appreciated. For more information about the Bike-A-Thon, visit northcoastcycling.com.
If You Go
What: Washburn Bike-A-Thon to benefit kindergartner All Kids Bike program.
Where: Washburn Elementary School garden.
When: 4:30 p.m. registration, 5 p.m. guided rides Friday.
Cost: Free-will donation.
For More Information: Northcoastcycling.com.