Autotour under development to explore the ecological, historical and cultural richness of Barrens, following the old coach route | To free



A collaboration of ecological and historic nonprofit organizations received a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council to engage local communities and individuals in creating a tour of the arid landscape of Northwestern Wisconsin.

A self-guided “auto-trail†is being developed to explore both the ecological and historical richness of the region. Local engagement meetings are held throughout the project area to gather information on the characteristics, places, memories and stories that express the uniqueness, diversity, history and interest of the Northern Sands. -West for residents and visitors. “The auto trail route planning function uses modern roads that most closely approximate the original St. Paul to Bayfield coach route established by St. Paul’s businessman Henry Rice. Paul, as a means of promoting the development of Bayfield. Explained Brian Finstad, project manager. “The stage route used the ‘sand moors’ as a travel route, being largely upland, dry and open, and on the perfect trajectory between the Chequamegon Bay area and Sainte-Croix.

“Before the scene line, a Native American trail had existed along this same trajectory since time immemorial,†Finstad said.

The Northwest Sands Ecological Landscape is one of 16 regions in the state defined by its ecological attributes and management options. The region stretches from the southwest of the Bayfield Peninsula to St. Croix Falls, covering 1,956 square miles. It is considered ecologically important as it is home to the rare Karner’s Blue Butterfly, Kirtland’s Warbler, and habitat-specific Sharp-tailed Grouse.

The sands that characterize the moors are the result of glacial and Precambrian geology. The region’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, and sands are found in the ancestral homeland of the Ojibwa, where native foods such as wild rice, cranberries, maple sap, and blueberries grow.

Robert Hanson, Northwest Sands Wildlife Biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, has encouraged and supported the project since its inception.

“A participant in this historic tour through the landscape will gain insight into how the land, plants and animals interacted in more natural time,†said Hanson, “including how fires would burn, altering the landscape into a more open form of habitat growth. “

The area has deep ties to Wisconsin history, including the native Madeline Island hiking trail to the Mississippi River, the development of the fur trade and the forest economy of the Upper Great Lakes, an important route to transportation between St. Paul and Bayfield since the 17th century; and the birthplace of several historic conservation initiatives that impact the region today.

“The Northwest Sands Auto Tour project has already created connections and relationships between various communities, organizations and disciplines. The project is firmly rooted in the history, culture, ecology and geology of the region, â€said Janet Seymour, director of outreach, Wisconsin Historical Society. “Each community can share stories and perspectives that connect people and places along the route that crosses the sands of the Northwest. “

The Wisconsin Humanities Council awarded the grant to project collaborators in 2020 with an extension offered due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant is administered by Friends of the Bird Sanctuary, a non-profit conservation organization with a mission to conserve and educate the moors. Collaboration includes Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Friends of Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area, Friends of Crex Meadows, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Historical Society, with guidance from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Department of Public History, members of the Lake Short Eared Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and several local historical organizations throughout the region.

“The joy of the humanities is that they help us see the world in a new light,†said Dena Wortzel, executive director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. “This is exactly what this wonderful new racing circuit will do, enriching the understanding of Wisconsin’s diversity for residents and tourists alike. We are delighted to be able to provide support.

Those interested in learning more about the project, including how to share stories, memories and thoughts on the history, ecology and way of life of Northwest Sands can contact Brian Finstad (brian.7instad @, Jane Anklam (janeanklam4 @ gmail .com), or Dave Evenson, ([email protected]).

Local engagement sessions take place both live and virtually.

Wisconsin Humanities Council

The Wisconsin Humanities Council is a premier state-wide resource for librarians, teachers, museum educators, and civic leaders, who deliver entertaining and informative programs using history, culture, and knowledge. discussion to strengthen community life for all.

The council also awards more than $ 175,000 per year over seven rounds of grants to local organizations that pilot humanities programs.


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