The Tuscobia Trail in northern Wisconsin is a 74 mile multi-use corridor converted from an old railroad track into a state trail. The section farthest west is also part of the 1,100 mile Ice Age Trail. The trail’s founder, Hulda Hilfiker, proved to be a vanguard as far as conservation is concerned.
Conservation is now a popular movement. We have finally realized we need to protect the precious few untouched natural resources still available to us; furthermore, we need to turn back the clock on unused developed areas back to their natural state. In fact, there is an actual non-profit organization called Rails to Trails, which is dedicated to converting railways to recreation trails just like this one. They will soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary.
The railway where the Tuscobia Trail now lies went defunct in 1965 when the Chicago Northwestern abandoned service here. Hulda Hilfiker, a local businesswoman, who with her husband ran the local Tuscobia Cheese Factory, formed a committee. The committee’s goal was to persuade local farmers to put aside personal interests and set aside the land forfeited by the Chicago railway and preserve it.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased the land and the Tuscobia Trail became the second Wisconsin Trail converted from a railroad and the longest. This sequence of events occurred ten years before the formation of the Rails to Trails organization.
The sign at the trailhead, just off U.S. 53, north of Rice Lake, states that Hulda used to walk a mile to the headwaters of the Tuscobia Creek. She enjoyed the view here and it must have given her great peace of mind to know that her efforts spawned the protection of this beautiful area for the enjoyment of others for years to come.
Most people leave only stories as their legacies or maybe an estate worth so much money to their heirs, but Hulda Hilfiker left a beautiful 74 mile trail in her wake. If not for her, perhaps this corridor would just be more farmland, or another town may have sprung up.
I hiked this mile to her favorite spot as I was intrigued by the sign. When I approached a bench with a sign memorializing her work I scared off a small hawk on a tree. Instead of flying away, like most birds of prey, this hawk stayed in the area and made quite a raucous demonstration at my presence.
Most likely it was defending its territory or perhaps had a nest in the area. I would like to think the hawk was the spirit of Hulda Hilfiker, who passed away in 1995. The hawk was not defending its territory, but it was Hulda welcoming me to her favorite spot. She squawked because she was proud that others came to enjoy a place she loved and helped protect.
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Hulda Hilfiker was my wonderful mother-in-law. The article re: Mile one of the Tuscobia Trail and Hulda Hilfiker was above excellent. Thank you so much for telling this story in such a special manner. Hulda would be “that hawk” with the same compassion. She was most sincere in all she did for the Tuscobia Trail, as well as establishing the Barrow Cty. UW schalorship,Fund, the Bluebird restoration program in northern WI. Plus so much more.
The cup of her human kindness has always run over.
I am glad you found this article and enjoyed it. She definitely left quite an impressive legacy of giving and conservation. I am sure you and your family are proud of her achievements as well you should.
Good afternoon from Belgrade, Serbia, where I currently work.
When I was a child, I have met a Swiss young Lady in the early Seventies in Florence, Tuscany, Italy. Her name was Hulda Hilfiker and I have very fond memories of her.
I wonder if she’s the person mentioned in this website?
Federico DEL BUONO
I highly doubt it is the same person unless your Hulda moved to Wisconsin. I don’t know the personal history of the Hulda in this article, so it is possible.
Who knows? In 1971, I was only 6 when my life crossed that of (my) Hulda Hilfiker. She was an au pair from Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. She must have been 21 years old then. She wanted to learn Italian but did not stay long, my parents were divorcing and sadly we lost contact with her right after she left. What a pity. She was a very nice, child-loving and nature-loving person. The possibility that she moved to Wisconsin cannot be excluded… for sure, Hilfiker is not an American name. Any person whose surname is Hilfiker is likely to have either Austrian or Swiss origin.
Anything is possible. Either way, I am glad the post evoked pleasant memories from your past.