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Think Outside

The Ice Age Trail Alliance has always been an advocate for the benefits of getting youth out on the Ice Age Trail. The Saunters program, which started in Lodi in 2008, came about in order to provide more opportunities for outdoor learning. Over the past few years the Alliance has built on the idea of learning in the outdoors and, with the support of the National Parks Foundation and other funding partners, now offers a program for youth called “Think Outside.” 

Think Outside focuses on Wisconsin students in Grade 4, since that is the year when the state’s standardized curriculum introduces information about glaciers. Schools that apply to the Ice Age Trail Alliance to be part of the Think Outside program agree to participate in all three parts of the program: 1) an in-class educational presentation by staff or trained volunteers that explains the history of glaciers in Wisconsin and provides an overview of glacial formations, as well as discussing how the Ice Age Trail is a showcase for our state’s glacial history; 2) support for classrooms so teachers can take their class for a hike on a section of Ice Age Trail, which includes covering bus costs and providing trained volunteers to accompanying the class when possible; and 3) a brief follow-up report provided to the Ice Age Trail Alliance by the teacher. By being immersed in the outdoor classroom of the Ice Age Trail students are able to go beyond book learning to actually see how glaciers left their mark on our Wisconsin landscape.

The Think Outside program began in 2019, with participation by 1,926 students from 30 different schools. In 2020, there were 4,870 students from 89 schools on the Think Outside calendar. Unfortunately, the onset of COVID meant that the spring and summer hikes were cancelled. The program is now back on track, with Alliance staff doing in-class presentations and working with schools to help them arrange hikes on the Ice Age Trail for their classes.

On November 30, Lodi Valley chapter volunteers Bill Welch, Rich and Terry Haag and I joined students and teachers from Tower Rock School as they participated in the hiking portion of the Think Outside program. The bus dropped off the group of about 30 people at the Slack Road parking lot and we hiked to the Merrimac Ferry wayside on what turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day. As we walked we were able to point out natural features along the Trail and respond to the students’ observations and questions. They were a great group of hikers and we all enjoyed our time together on the Trail.

Wisconsin is so fortunate to have the Ice Age Trail as an outdoor classroom for our youth. Kudos to the Ice Age Trail Alliance for offering the Think Outside program to enable more schools to provide an outdoor experience for their students. By getting youth outdoors we can hope to spark their interest in future hikes….Along the Ice Age Trail.

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