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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