Along the Ice Age Trail

Joe Jopek, left, and Lee Auner, a longtime Ice Age Trail volunteer, lean against Fred’s Rock, a glacial erratic near the Kettlebowl Segment Trailhead on Sherry/Oak Roads after a chapter hike.

If there’s a local go-to guy when it comes to the Ice Age Trail in Langlade County, it would have to be Joe Jopek. He’s been involved with the trail here for going on 50 years.

Jopek worn and raised in Chicago. On the GI Bill, he attended the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana and earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture (1959) and a master’s degree in extension education (1965). He met his wife, Peggy, while at U of I. Together, they three sons, Tim, Brian and Matthew.

Jopek was employed for 31 years by the USDA Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with Illinois/Will County and Wisconsin/Langlade County. He was also employed a year at the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, US Department of the Interior Regional Office, at Ann Arbor, Mich.

The family moved to Antigo in July, 1972.

“Over the years, in my free time at the various locales we have called home, besides the trail, I volunteered as a Scoutmaster, served on the Wisconsin Public Radio Association Board, Langlade County Hospital Board, Antigo Main Street Program Board, Antigo Public Library Foundation Board, lector at church and food pantry,” he said. “In my position as a UW community resource development extension agent, I was involved with volunteers and public officials in improving the area’s services and facilities, including emergency medical services, housing, economic development, airport, land use, solid waste and recreation planning, etc.”

As if that wasn’t enough, he’s been involved with the Ice Age Trail since 1973.

He has served as a trail builder/maintainer, publicity, chapter hike leader, planner, community event volunteer, record keeper and chapter coordinator.

The five segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Langlade County include more than 50 plus miles of off-road hiking connected by about 30 miles of local roads. The trail starts in the county’s northwest corner at Parrish and winds southeast through largely county forestland, state and private land of cooperative owners to Polar. It is one of 11 with the scenic designation in the national trail system.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with the trail?

It has been a real pleasure and honor to work with our chapter volunteers involved in trail maintenance, community events and leadership roles over the years. The outstanding selfless commitment of our volunteers to maintain the trail, despite the pandemic, which curtailed much of the chapter’s other activities is appreciated personally and by the numerous hikers who benefit from their efforts.

What was your first car?

1950 White Chevrolet (used)

What photo is on your phone’s lock screen now, and what is the story behind it?

A photo of a Monon Railroad passenger train at a station in Indiana.

I attended the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948 and became acquainted with the short line railroad, which served passenger and freight customers in the Hoosier State at that time. The creativity of using war surplus rail equipment and color schemes (red and gray for passenger and black and gold for freight) for their restored locomotives and passenger cars appealed to me.

Jopek also enjoys photography. Which came first—the interest in taking photos or the love of the outdoors, and how did one influence the other?

My interests in natural resource conservation and the outdoors proceeded photography. My first experience of dealing with a real camera with all the settings and flash was my first full time job as an assistant farm adviser in Joliet, Ill.

Whose photography work do you admire and why?

Ansel Adams. What he did for the dramatic aspect of black and white photography and the national landscape is most notable.

What was your first experience with the Ice Age Trail?

While doing graduate research in 1964 on John Muir’s boyhood farm site in Marquette County, I came upon the names of Ray Zillmer’s and Congressman Henry Reuss’ efforts to create an awareness of Wisconsin’s glacial heritage. The following year after our move to Antigo, I was invited to attend a meeting in Wausau to discuss establishment of the Ice Age Trail in Langlade, Lincoln and Marathon Counties. The seed was planted.

Who is your favorite movie or TV series?

With live streaming, our viewing horizon has extended well beyond the offerings of cable and satellite TV. PBS programs such as the “News Hour,” “Frontline,” “Nova” and “American Experience” and C-Span’s American History Channel are a main focus of our daily TV viewing.

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