The Glacial River Trail and its red covered bridge

By Ed Marek, editor

October 7, 2009

RedBridge

Craig Roost, Known to his friends as “The Rooster,” is a fellow who does remarkable things with timber from old, dilapidated barns He led me to something he built, known as “The Glacial River Trail Covered Bridge.” It is off Hwy 26 just outside Ft. Atkinson in Jefferson County. Just seeing the bridge and how it was put together is fun, exploring why it is called The Glacial River Trail Red Covered Bridge is a real education.

Map

This is a map of the location of the trail.

Here's another look at the Covered Bridge. As you can see from the map, it does step over a small stream. The trail itself used to be part of a railroad bed.

RedBridgeA

Jefferson County was the first to establish the trail. Our Red Covered Bridge is in that first section. Once done, the City of Ft. Atkinson decided to set up a trail to take advantage of the county's work and connect to it, expanding the length of the trail.

The Ft. Atkinson City Fathers recognized that their city is at a confluence of multiple important Wisconsin and County highways, including Hwys 12, 26, 89 and 106. Connecting to the County's existing Glacial River Trail and shooting down an existing railbed roughly parallel to Hwy 26 gave residents and tourists a nice safe route into and out of the city without having to deal with all those highways. People take the trail to go to work at businesses along Hwy 26!

RedBridgeB

This is a view of the trail, which is asphalt in this section, from Hammer Lane looking to the southwest. Look carefully and you can see the bridge way out there.

RedBridgeC

I zoomed way in, lost a bit of resolution, but you can see the bridge's form on the trail quite well.

RedBridgeD

This is the southwest end of the bridge. You are looking to the northeast toward Hammer Lane. You can already get a sense for the real treat of this bridge --- the timber from which she was made. So let's walk inside.

RedBridgeE

RedBridgeInsideA

"The Rooster" had a plan for the resources he would use for the bridge --- he would find lumber that could be reclaimed from old dairy barns. He wanted the bridge "to have a nostalgic look to it ... (He) did not want to be cutting down trees to build this bridge."

In his story, "Covered Bridge Project." bCraig "The Rooster" Roost says this:

"So I went barn hunting. And as luck would have it I found one just around the corner from the bridge site. There were a couple of guys who were dismantling a very large barn. And as I later found out, they were just discussing how, and to whom they were going to sell the lumber to, just before I approached them. It felt like fate had brought me to them.

"I told them about my idea and they were as shocked at the timing as well. The man who had purchased the barn was willing to supply me with all of the needed materials for the project. I was very excited about the possibilities. I was one step closer to my goal."

Let's take some closer looks at this timber --- it's phenomenal. While I am not an expert on this kind of construction, I am taken with the notches and cuts used for beams to attach to and support others. Most professional in my book. My dad was a self-made aeronautical and mechanical engineer, and also a terrific carpenter --- he would love to see this bridge --- better yet, he would have loved to help The Rooster build her.

Look at this stuff.

RedBridgeInsideB

RedBridgeInsideC

RedBridgeInsideD

There are two plaques inside. One said this:

"Built in the summer of 2000 and taking 3 months to build, this Glacial River Trail Covered Bridge was made of recovered wood from a barn built in the year 1906.

"Labor to build this bridge was provided by Craig Roost, his family, friends and the Jefferson County Parks department.

"The project was funded by the: State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants, donations by local civic groups, corporate organizations, private individuals and Jefferson County."

The plaque goes on to list all those individuals and organizations who contributed, some 74 by my count.

After reading the plaque, I asked myself the question, "Why did they name her the Glacial River Trail Bridge?" I learned quite a bit by trying to answer this question.

I think the most important points to be made right off the bat are these:

  • Almost all of Jefferson County's landscape was formed by the Wisconsin Glaciation, which I will address a bit later. So any trail going through this country is traversing landscape shaped by the glaciation. using the term "Glacial" is appropriate.
  • This particular trail and the many thousands of trails throughout Wisconsin were built and justified based on things like tourism, recreation, conservation, and in some instances, to provide citizens a decent means of transportation outside the highway system.
  • The Glacial River Trail was so named because the trail passes through a county formed by the Glaciation, it roughly parallels the Rock River, which is a glacially formed river, and the people advocating the trail in its early days wanted to have a theme for it common to another trail running through the county, the Glacial-Drumlin Trail, which I will also discuss in a moment.

There are many ways to study Wisconsin's trails. One of those is to address who manages them. The Glacial River Trail is managed by Jefferson County. I want to now address other trails nearby that are managed by other entities but have similar goals.

IceTrailUnmarked

The Ice Age Trail is, of course, the "Big Daddy"of them all. It is managed by a partnership consisting of the National Park Service (NPS), the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and the Ice Age Trail Alliance. This map reflects the Ice Age Trail (red line). It runs through 28 counties by my count. The Alliance describes it this way:

"More than 12,000 years ago, an immense flow of glacial ice sculpted a landscape of remarkable beauty across Wisconsin. As the colossal glacier retreated, it left behind a variety of unique landscape features. These Ice Age remnants are now considered among the world's finest examples of how continental glaciation sculpts our planet.
"The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile footpath — entirely within Wisconsin — that highlights these Ice Age landscape features while providing access to some of the state's most beautiful natural areas."

IceAgeTrail

Please note that the Ice Age Trail barely passes through the southeast corner of Jefferson County and the Glacial River Ice Trail and its Red Covered Bridge are on the other side of the county, in the southwest corner. Also note that the Glacial River Trail is just to the north of the Ice Age Trail. From a management and ownership viewpoint, the trails are not connected, but philosophically, they are.

Let's zoom in just a bit on the area near our Glacial River Trail.

GlacialMapA

Recall that the Glacial River Trail extends from Ft. Atkinson along Hwy 26 to the Rock County line. You can see the approximate location of the Red Covered Bridge. To the south, you see multiple red "squiggly" lines that are part of the Ice Age Trail.

Please bear with me here. I want to insert just a little scientific and geographic perspective here, as I go in more over my head!

I've introduced you to the Glacial River Trail, the Ice Age Trail, the fact that all of Jefferson County's landscape was formed by the Wisconsin Glaciation, and now I want to introduce you to just one more trail, known as the Glacial-Drumlin Trail. You will recall that I said Jefferson County advocates of the Glacial River Trail wanted to show some commonality between their trail and the Glacial-Drumlin Trail.

GlacialDrumlinTrail

This is a very small map of a 52 mile trail that extends from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. Please note it is an east-west trail that runs straight through Jefferson County, to the north of our Glacial River Trail that starts in Ft. Atkinson and is crudely marked in green.

The WDNR tells us this about the Glacial Drumlin Trail:

"Running between Wisconsin's two largest urban areas (Madison and Milwaukee), this trail stretches for 52 miles through farmlands and glacial topography. The trail travels through 10 small towns from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. The trail is on an abandoned rail corridor, except for a 1.5-mile section northeast of Jefferson, between State Highway 26 and County Highway Y, which uses public roads as the trail route. Most of the trail is surfaced with crushed limestone packed to a smooth surface. Thirteen miles of the trail from Waukesha through the town of Dousman are paved with asphalt."

The WDNR presents a
marvelous map of the trail; my map doesn't do it justice but I could not fit it in here, so I commend the WDNR's presentation to you. returning to the ownership question, please note that this trail is managed by the WDNR.

I've introduced you to the Glacial River Trail, the Ice Age Trail, and the Glacial-Drumlin Trail, all three of which pass through Jefferson County.

I now want to insert just one more bit of science.

It is most important to know that the Wisconsin Glaciation is the most recent period of the Ice Age, ending about 10,000 years ago. The Ice Age Trail Alliance highlights this point:

"Near the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation, a series of ridges formed between two immense lobes of glacial ice in what is now southeastern Wisconsin. These ridges are 120 miles long. Scattered among them, areas of crater- or kettle-like depressions were created by large chunks of melting ice."

The University of Wisconsin-Extension provides us a wonderful overview of these two lobes in what is now southeastern Wisconsin, known as the Green Bay Lobe and the Lake Michigan Lobe. The university also provides a marvelous overview of "Wisconsin's glacial landscapes."

WisconsinLobesMap

The authors tell us this:

"The last cycle of climate cooling and glacier expansion in North America is known as the Wisconsin Glaciation. About 100,000 years ago, the climate cooled again and a glacier, the Laurentide Ice Sheet, spread across the continent. Near the end of the cycle, beginning about 26,000 years ago, the glacier began its advance into Wisconsin. It expanded for 10,000 years before temperatures warmed again and it began to melt back. It took another 6,500 years before the ice finally retreated from northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s last glacier Movement of the Laurentide Ice Sheet was shaped—to a certain extent—by the landscape. Highlands diverted the glacier into lobes (tongues or fingers of ice) that advanced into the lowland areas.

"The Lake Michigan Lobe of the glacier flowed down the Lake Michigan lowland to central Indiana and Illinois ... The Green Bay Lobe flowed south in the Green Bay lowland, advancing over the east end of the Baraboo Hills and into both ends of Devils Lake gorge. The edge of the Green Bay Lobe was probably a steep ice slope, perhaps several hundred feet high, littered with rock debris. Behind the steep slope, the ice surface probably rose very gently toward the center of the ice sheet, where the ice was thousands of feet thick."

This next map presented by the Ice Age Trail Alliance zooms in on our area of interest and highlights the areas where these "two immense lobes of glacial ice," the Green Bay and Lake Michigan Lobes, meet in southeastern Wisconsin.

GlacialMap

The "sand-tan" area that occupies most of the area of this map shows part of the Green Bay Lobe. The "greenish area" in the southeast portion of the map (lower right) shows part of the Lake Michigan Lobe. These two lobes meet in what is now the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. The red "squiggly" line traveling through the forest is part of the Ice Age Trail. The red arrow points to the approximate location of our Covered Red Bridge on the Glacial River Trail extending from Ft. Atkinson. Note that Jefferson County is almost completely in the Green Bay Lobe, and the county's southeast corner is in the Lake Michigan Lobe and the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest through which part of the Ice Age Trail travels.

In the lower left quadrant of the map, you see an area colored in "gray-tan." This is an area described as "Glaciated earlier in the Ice Age."

I bet "The Rooster" never thought I'd get into all this when he sent me to see the Glacial River Trail and the bridge he and his colleagues built! I'm glad I did though. I've learned a lot, and there's much more to learn. This is a very fascinating area of the state worthy of further exploration and individual research. Frankly I was not aware of all this.

Speaking for myself, I am now highly motivated to visit the place where these two lobes meet, the Kettle Moraine State Forest. I'll let you know when I've made that trip, probably next spring. Spring is a nice time to explore an area for the first time because the foliage is just starting to emerge and you can get a very good view of the landscape before the foliage covers up much of it.