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The Tuscobia Trail website provides the following history:
The Tuscobia Trail is a symbol for the development of Northern Wisconsin and is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Conceived as a railroad line in 1899, construction lasted for 15 years, concluding in 1914 when the rail-line reached Park Falls. For nearly 70 years, the rail, known as the “Omaha Line”, served as the lifeblood for the area through logging and farming opportunities, as well as the service industries that developed along the route.
By the 1940s, the decline of the railroad was apparent with logging no longer viable. In 1967, the dismantling of the old wooden bridges began. Citizens surrounding the old railway were interested in turning the grade into a functioning trail system that would serve as a representation of the area’s history and provide an opportunity for people to learn about the area and experience the beauty that is available along the route.
Development of the 74-mile Tuscobia Trail to its present use began in 1968.
The Friends of the Tuscobia Trail page provides some current activities. As described by The Friends group, plans are underway to restore the Winter Railroad Depot to serve as a trailhead and welcoming center. The building, dating back to 1905, is adjacent to the railway line on which the trail now travels.
Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail
Excerpt from this book by Melanie Radzick McManus:
“In it’s rail heyday, one passenger train, one freight train, and eleven logging trains clicked and clacked along this route daily, all part of the Omaha Line. In 1965 the line was abandoned, and local Hulda Hilfiker – clearly a visionary for her time, and with a cool name to boot – let the successful drive to convert it to a recreational trail. That was in 1966, just a year after Wisconsin’s Elroy-Sparta Trail became the nation’s first rail trail.”
Mile one of the Tuscobia Trail and Hulda Hilfiker
Another insight into Hulda by Traveling Ted, posted on Aug 25, 2011:
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.