When COVID created obstacles for traditional classroom instruction, Ashland School District technology education instructor Lance Keenan shifted his lesson planning beyond bricks and mortar and into the woods. The result is a trail project in the wooded area between Ashland Elementary School and Northland College complete with a bridge, three outdoor classrooms and 267 feet of boardwalk.
The transition from classroom to class woods isn't as crazy as it might sound, according to Keenan.
"There was no way we could run a traditional classroom, so we did this for the community," he said. "Once you are down there (along the Bay City Creek ravine), you don't know you are in the city."
Using free materials Keenan acquired online, three dump trucks of mulch donated by the Ashland Public Works Department, some tips from Great Lakes Trail Builders Willie Bittner, Keenan's own trail developing experience, planning assistance from Northland College students, and other materials purchased out of the district's technology-education budget, what has emerged is a trail that benefits students in the Ashland School District, Northland College and the community. More is yet to come, according to Keenan.
"We have only just begun," he said. "In the future, the hope is to have a trail following the ravine, about three miles, all the way down to the lake."
Sarah Hudson, director of of Ashland Parks and Recreation, agrees.
"Creating a trail from the Oredock along Bay City Creek to Binsfield road following old railroad corridors, (rightof-way), and public land has been pipe dream of mine for many years," Hudson said. "
Katherine Jenkins, a youth outreach coordinator in Northland College's Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, also collaborated on the project and praised the educational benefits it will deliver.
"It is our hope that this is only the beginning of increasing outdoor learning opportunities for Ashland School District students," Jenkins said. "We know that outdoor opportunities support health and wellbeing. They also provide opportunities for students to see natural consequences of work, studies and create meaning with places that are part of their community. Brain research assures us that meaningful opportunities such as outdoor learning, when facilitated effectively, contribute to better recall, increased focus and stronger academic performance."
Hudson applauded the effort of the middle-schoolers.
"The work Katherine and Lance have done is really critical as it shows what middle school students can accomplish," Hudson said. "It gives people a place to explore in an urban environment and provides an opportunity for learning about nature as Bay City Creek is a very 'flashy' stream. Its water levels rise and fall quickly, so you can see how the power of water works."
Keenan concurred. "Northland College students helped with the planning," he said. "The middle school students here contributed quite a bit to the success of this project. One hundred percent of the work that went into this was done by our students."
The trail is open to the public. For more information contact Ashland Park and Recreation Department at 715-682-7059.
The Highway 2 business district in Iron River has never been particularly pedestrian friendly, says town Chairman Steve Probst.
"We've never had any sidewalks there," he said. "When people want to get from one place to another, they have to walk on the highway."
It's a situation that Kim Hamilton, co-owner of the White Winter Winery at the western edge of the small, unincorporated Bayfield County community, knows well.
"If people want to come here, they have to get in their cars and drive, even if it's just a short distance away. And if they are driving, they can just keep right on going," Hamilton said.
But that will change soon as an $8 million project to repave Highway 2 from Highway E at Ino to the Iron River Bridge, just west of Iron River, gets underway.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation Project Manager Phil Keppers said the project is the first major repair on the stretch of highway since it last was repaved in 2002.
"That's 19 years, which is pretty good for a repaving project," he said.
The work includes 3.25 inches of new asphalt, storm sewer replacement and culvert rehab. Guardrails will be replaced, and a portion of curb and gutters will be redone, shoulders will be widened and rumble strips installed to let drivers know when they are drifting out of their lane.
Keppers said traffic will be re-routed to one side of the road and flaggers will be used in isolated locations. He said the project would reach the Iron River area on the week of June 7, with the most intensive period of construction lasting through the end of July.
Probst noted that the construction contract required that there would be no work on Blueberry Festival weekend, from the previous Friday at noon until 6 a.m. Monday Morning on the weekend of the festival.
"The Chamber of Commerce is working with the town to place signs that will state 'Iron River is open for business,'" said Chamber of Commerce Director Geri Dresen. "We want to make sure we continue to pull travelers, guests and local residents off the highway and into our businesses. Large signs will be placed at each end of Highway 2, with smaller but significant signs will be placed on highways A North and South and Highway H. A couple of others will be placed in town."
For Iron River, the big news is the addition of sidewalks on both sides of the highway and along Bohn Street, leading to the Iron River School.
Keppers said the sidewalks would vastly improve safety for pedestrians walking along the highway.
The new sidewalk will make a big difference for local students, said Maple School District Superintendent Sara Croney.
"About a third of our students at the Iron River School walk to school," she said. "Right now, the kids are walking in the street."
Croney said adding a sidewalk on Bohn Street, the major thoroughfare going to the school, was an important contribution to safety, and a plus for the everyday life of Iron River families.
"Kids should be walking, getting some exercise, rather than being driven everywhere," she said. "It also helps parents who have to go to work to be able to have them walk to school rather than have the inconvenience of having to drive them."
The sidewalks are also a boon for businesses in the community, said Hamilton.
"It will make it easier for people to get at our business, easier for customers to walk to this side of town. Right now, they can walk two blocks from our place, but otherwise, there is no sidewalk. If you can get people walking, they are more likely to visit more shops."
For the White Winter Winery, which has special outdoors events through the summer, the opportunity to have walk-in traffic is especially welcome.
"Iron River is only a few blocks long; people are more than willing to walk that far, if they have a good sidewalk to walk on," she said. "Right now we don't have that. There is not a lot of walking traffic in Iron River."
The road project is being paid for out of the DOT budget, but the work in Iron River is funded through a variety of sources, said Probst. The sidewalks, decorative streetlights and a portion of the curb replacement will be funded through a grant applied for by the town. That portion of the project has a price tag of $726,221, with the town's share being $145,244. The city will also pay $16,300 to repave parking lanes along Highway 2.
With the road reconstruction taking place, the town will be replacing the existing water lines under the highway.
"These are some of the oldest lines in the system and are too shallow, so they are regularly at risk of freezing," Probst said.
On behalf of the Iron River Sanitary District, the town applied for and received a Community Development Block Grant to pay for much of the cost of the $1.3 million project. In addition, the sanitary district was awarded a DNR loan for the balance. Under that program, $216,500 will be forgiven and the remainder financed at an interest rate of less than 1%. In total, Iron River will benefit from nearly $1.6 million in grant funding and loan forgiveness as part of the project, Probst said. According to Keppers, the project is scheduled for completion in late August, with the light poles to be installed before winter.
Of all the addictions Ruth Martin-Prahl has faced, cigarette smoking is the toughest to quit.
Martin-Prahl, 46, of Port Wing, also struggles with mental illness issues. But as difficult as they make her life, smoking and her nicotine addiction has made her recovery far tougher.
She began smoking about 15 years ago, about the same time as she began abusing alcohol in an effort to self-medicate her mental illness.
"In my day, mental illness and addiction was not something you could talk about," she said. "At the time I started, I had a chemical imbalance and I was trying to find something that helped me with my high levels of anxiety. I was looking to find something to calm that down."
Now Martin-Prahl has found a way to express both her struggle with addiction and her hopes for the future: a project that recently launched in celebration of Mental Health Month by the Northwest Wisconsin Lung Health Alliance. The project is called Storytelling Through Art, aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health.
American Lung Association Public Policy and Advocacy Specialist Charmaine Swan said tobacco addiction has a massive impact on those with mental health concerns, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
"Twenty-five percent of Wisconsin residents who are diagnosed with depression currently smoke, compared to 16% of the general population," she said. "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of all cigarettes smoked by adults in the U.S. are smoked by individuals coping with a behavioral health challenge."
In recognition of this, Storytelling Through Art invites community members to share their tobacco story through art including drawing, painting or a collage using photos. Swan said one goal of the project was to draw attention to the relationship between mental health issues and smoking.
"People living with mental illness and/or substance use disorders have been disproportionately targeted and impacted by commercial tobacco," Swan said. "The results have been tremendous impacts on both quality and quantity of life. This project engages participants in telling their story through art to educate and support colleagues and peers during Mental Health Awareness month."
Tom Jensen, director of behavioral health for Memorial Medical Center, said the intent is not to assert that smoking causes mental illness, but that the association between the two is inescapable and of the two, smoking is far more life-threatening.
"The facts are absolutely startling," Jensen said. "Up to 90% of people who are psychotic or who have schizophrenia are smokers. We lose more people from smoking than we do from mental illness."
Jensen said mentally ill people are a vulnerable population that has been deliberately targeted by Big Tobacco. But he also said mental health professionals have been part of the problem; cigarettes had also been used as rewards for good behavior and withholding smokes as a punishment for bad behavior with mental health patients.
"Hopefully we can do better," he said.
The project is particularly appropriate during the month of May, said Swan.
"There is so much stigma around mental health as well as smoking. When you put the two of them together, there is even more stigma," she said. "We wanted to start a conversation, to think of a creative way that we could reach out to people who wanted to tell their stories with art as a way of bringing to life how disproportionately impacted this population has been by the commercial tobacco industry."
Martin-Prahl has taken up that challenge. She said her artwork is a colored-pencil drawing of a deer and a dreamcatcher, with the tips of the antlers rendered as cigarettes and candles.
"The candles represent people who have either beaten the addiction and are healthy today, or people who have passed away from cancer," she said.
The scene also includes a cardinal, which Martin-Prahl said represents a direct link between heaven and earth.
She said then project has been therapeutic for her.
"It allows me to express myself in ways that are still considered taboo," Martin-Prahl said. "I think the main thing I wanted to express is to represent people like myself who have fallen through the cracks — people with mental health issues and addictions. It could be anybody's parent, son or daughter who are struggling with these issues."
Learn more about the Storytelling Through Art project at surveymonkey.com/r/MAY21ART