The Summer Saunters program was developed by two elementary school teachers, Luke Kloberdanz and Chris McNeil, to help students develop healthy lifestyles and supplement the elementary school curriculum on topics such as glaciers, pioneers, and environmental science.
The program aims to have an immediate impact, reducing child obesity, alleviating summer learning loss, and remedying nature deficit disorder. Using the Ice Age Trail as a tool, Summer Saunters teaches students about Wisconsin’s history and gives families an easy way to stay involved by encouraging future hikes.
The week-long program began with 30 students from the Lodi school district and has grown to over 225 people from Lodi, Milwaukee, and Wausau. Each day students travel to an Ice Age Trail Segment to teach the connection of the trail throughout the state.
Summer Saunters has added a service learning component, including a two-day family overnight trail construction project with the IATA Mobile Service Crew
Last year, the list of hikes included such gems as the Devil’s Staircase, Cross Plains, Holy Hill, Pike Lake State Park, and Mecan Springs segments of the Ice Age Trail.
Along the way students read about the upcoming hike, talked with their mentors and enjoyed the vast Wisconsin landscape. A key aspect of the Summer Saunters program was to have students write about their Ice Age Trail experiences.
Hiker, Grace Lee, shared her experiences on the Mecan Segment of the Ice Age Trail. The highlight of her hike was finding a special stone. “It wasn’t a stone that you would find in the ground, but a mortar and pestle – grinding stones from the time that Native Americans lived there!”
The students value each day on the trail whether it’s an exciting, stormy day at Devil’s Lake or a relaxing stroll through the woods surrounding Bohn Lake (above). For some, the best part is seeing an eagle streak across the sky and for others it’s the sheer pleasure of getting out into the fresh air and the sense of adventure around every corner.
Last year was the inaugural outing for the Milwaukee Summer Saunters program. 23 students were able to experience a week on the trail thanks in large part to the individual, organizational, and chapter donations made by to the Ice Age Trail Alliance.
Operational funding is generated through local grants from groups such as Optimists Hospitals and the natural Resources Foundation as well as the National Parks Service and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Older students, including those who participated in the program in previous years, are invited back as mentors and role models for the younger students.
Nathan Jelinik (center) hiked the trails outside of Lodi and spoke on behalf of the program at the 12th Conference on Scenic and Historic Trails in Missoula, MT.
Every Summer Saunters participant receives an Ice Age Trail Companion Guide & an Ice Age Trail Atlas to help them plan future trips. But, Nathan said, “the coolest things were the hiking sticks,” generously donated by Douglas “Stick Man” Sherman of Madison, WI.