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Friday, 11 April 2014 00:00

Volunteers help maintain, beautify, promote parks

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Hiking enthusiasts walk along the Devil’s Staircase in Janesville’s Riverside Park. The trail is part of the Ice Age Trail and is one of the areas looked after by volunteers with the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Hiking enthusiasts walk along the Devil’s Staircase in Janesville’s Riverside Park. The trail is part of the Ice Age Trail and is one of the areas looked after by volunteers with the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Dennis James enjoys spending time outdoors and he helps others enjoy local scenery along the way.

James, of Janesville, is the coordinator of the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, which helps maintain areas of the Ice Age Trail in Janesville and Rock County. Group members clean up the trails, remove dead trees, help to obtain easements and more.

Besides being willing to get their hands dirty, volunteers like James and dozens of others are vital when it comes to improvement projects, equipment upgrades and grass-roots promotion of local parks and trails. Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-JanesvilleMessengerSunday

The alliance works with the county and the city of Janesville on projects related to the Ice Age Trail. Some portions of the trail are maintained by the city of Janesville.

“We have done some projects that the county has not been able to afford. We also have shared cost with the county and the city on certain projects,” James said. “It’s a mutual interest we have with the city and the county.”

Rock County Parks Director Lori Williams said volunteers are a vital resource in helping the county maintain park areas.

“We couldn’t do what we do without them,” Williams said. “They help make the parks better. Because we have budget constraints and limited staff, they help us accomplish our goals.

“They all contribute greatly to the park system.”

Part of the mission for James and the other 80-some volunteers in the local chapter is to expand the number of people who take advantage of the parks and trails.

“We know there’s people that come specifically to hike,” James said. “(But) some of the parks along the Ice Age Trail, there’s a lot of people locally who don’t know anything about it.

“I think a lot of local people don’t necessarily know what it is. They just think it’s a series of short trails that connect.”

After countless hours along the trails, James can recommend some of his favorite scenic spots to new trail users.

“The east side area of Janesville, along the bike trail, is through a residential area, but it’s very secluded, so you’re going to see a lot of birds and animals,” James said. “Storrs Lake is a really nice area. There’s a lot of wildlife.

“The Devil’s Staircase, through the golf course and Arbor Ridge, you’re going to see a lot of wildlife along the Rock River. Probably one of the prettiest parks of the Ice Age Trail is along the Rock River that leads up to the Devil’s Staircase. There’s a lot of wildflowers.”

In addition, there are other areas in the county that will be developed to become part of the Ice Age Trail in the future.

“As those areas will be developed, there will be more prairie areas,” he said. “There’s some kettles in the Storrs Lake area that a trail could go past.”

For now, James and fellow volunteers will keep working on and enjoying the parks and trails in our backyard. The Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance meets the fourth Thursday of the month at the Rock County Job Center in Janesville (see graphic at right).

“We are looking for more members, and we’re looking for more people to use the trails,” James said.

To the southeast of Janesville, Carver-Roehl County Park volunteers are gearing up to host an Easter egg hunt at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 13. More than 300 children are expected to attend.

“The Easter Bunny will be there, and we will have treat bags,” said Nancy Pope, president of Friends of Carver-Roehl Park. “I encourage people to arrive early.”

Pope and some 100 fellow friends members have raised money to purchase equipment for the park, including a gazebo, pavilion, playground equipment and benches.

The park, at 4907 Carver’s Rock Road, is a popular destination because of its hiking trails, playground area and picnic areas.

“There’s lots of picnics going on,” Pope said. “There’s a wedding planned there in May. People have family reunions there.

“People also are always interested in using the shelter.”

To the east, visitors and volunteers alike are drawn to Big Foot Beach State Park for its hiking trails, fishing areas, varied habitats, campsites, beach on Geneva Lake and more, said Shane Jones, president of the Friends of Big Foot Beach State Park.

Friends members help plant trees, remove litter, cut back invasive species and restore natural areas in the 271-acre park in Lake Geneva.

The friends group also raises money to purchase equipment for the park. The group recently received a $9,000 matching grant from the state to install nature signs, restore natural habitat areas and clear invasive species areas. In addition, the group recently received approval from the state to construct an observation tower in the park.

“We’re looking to do some fundraising so we’re able to build it,” Jones said.

BFBSP park ranger Matthew Daniels called the volunteers “a lifesaver” for the park.

“They’re there when projects need to be done. They purchase equipment that the park’s budget can’t handle,” Daniels said. “They help us repair equipment like ATVs. Right now, they’re helping us with prairie restoration. Last year, they purchased six new grills for the picnic areas.

“They help us out so much.”

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