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Madison photographer hiking the Ice Age Trail to document people, sights of rural Wisconsin

Madison photographer hiking the Ice Age Trail to document people, sights of rural Wisconsin

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Cameron Gillie looks at photo

Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie looks at a photo he took Oct. 15 at Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area near Baraboo. He’s in the process of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail, which goes through Parfrey’s Glen, as part of a project to document the people, communities and landscapes of Wisconsin.

Cameron Gillie of Madison started walking more after having open heart surgery five years ago at age 47, trying to make exercise a routine part of his day, and now he’s incorporating it into his work.

The fine art photographer and former photojournalist is halfway through a project to document the people and places of Wisconsin by hiking the entire 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail. It’s the first time he’s taken photos just for himself, “for the sake of photography,” he said.

Gillie takes photo in Parfrey's Glen

Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie takes a photo Oct. 15 at Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area near Baraboo. He’s in the process of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail, which goes through Parfrey’s Glen, as part of a project to document the people, communities and landscapes of Wisconsin.

“It’s surprising how much you do come across when you just slow down and take the time to see it,” Gillie said.

“There’s things that you had no idea was there,” he said, using the example of a Romanian Catholic monastery in St. Nazianz, where he stayed for one night. “Even the ordinary things, like a barbershop, can be interesting too.”

Starting his journey April 28 at the trail’s eastern end in Door County, Gillie backpacked across eastern Wisconsin for a straight month before his wife picked him up for a break. By fall, he was spending roughly five days at a time on the trail and returning home on weekends.

Gillie crossing stream

Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie crosses a stream while carrying his camera Oct. 15 at Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area near Baraboo. He’s in the process of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail, which goes through Parfrey’s Glen, as part of a project to document the people, communities and landscapes of Wisconsin.

The Ice Age Trail, one of 11 National Scenic Trails, winds from Wisconsin’s eastern thumb south to Janesville, then swoops north past Madison, through Devil’s Lake State Park and branches off to Baraboo and Portage. It continues north until passing Antigo and swings west to connect in St. Croix Falls to the border with Minnesota.

Though the route spans about 1,200 miles, it includes both official segments and unofficial connecting routes.

Gillie reached 600 miles last week while winding down for the season. He plans to make day trips to revisit some locations over the winter but won’t resume hiking the trail until spring.

When the weather warms up next year, he said he’ll spend longer stints on the trail again, backpacking for weeks at a time. His backpack contains food, a tent and a sleeping bag, as well as a digital mirrorless camera and other gear, at a weight of about 20 pounds.

Gillie noted one challenge is finding a place to sleep along the trail. He camps when he can but sometimes resorts to staying in hotels or motels.

Gillie on Parfrey's Glen trail

Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie takes a photo Oct. 15 at Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area near Baraboo. He’s in the process of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail, which goes through Parfrey’s Glen, as part of a project to document the people, communities and landscapes of Wisconsin.

When home, he prepares packages of food and supplies, which he mails to post offices on the route so he can pick them up when he passes through.

He’s enjoyed photographing the people and sights of rural Wisconsin, an endeavor similar to his previous work of photojournalism and storytelling, Gillie said. He worked for the Greeley Tribune in Colorado and the Naples Daily News in Florida, where he often covered the Everglades, before switching to other forms of photography about 15 years ago.

Tams Treasures in Portage

Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie visited Tams Treasures Resale on Adams Street in Portage while hiking the Ice Age Trail in October. The business is housed in a rustic building believed to be around 100 years old, according to Gillie.

His wife, Nazan Gillie, said he’s happier now that he’s started the Ice Age Trail project.

“I think this really gave him an opportunity to go back to his roots, what he’s really good at. He’s good at telling stories through photos,” she said. “I think this was his thing, and I’m glad after so many years he decided to do this.”

Originally skeptical about whether he could physically hike the entire trail, Cameron Gillie said he has found it challenging to limit what he spends time on photographing.

“You could spend three weeks photographing Lodi,” he said. He didn’t have three weeks to spend there, but he did stop in at the Lodi Sausage Company.

Cedars on Gibraltar Rock

As part of his project to hike the entire Ice Age Trail, Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie took this shot of windblown cedar trees on top of Gibraltar Rock in Lodi.

After he finishes the hike — he hopes by the end of next summer — Gillie plans to compile a photography book showing the landscape, culture and people of rural Wisconsin “with a blend of photojournalism and fine art photography,” according to a news release.

The Ice Age Trail follows the terminal moraine, where glacial ice once stopped advancing and started to retreat. Gillie, who has lived in Wisconsin for 12 years, said he didn’t know much about the Ice Age Trail until he started doing freelance photography for the Ice Age Trail Alliance a few years ago.

Devil's Lake scenic shooter

While waiting to take a sunrise shot on the east bluff at Devil’s Lake State Park, Madison photojournalist Cameron Gillie captured this photo of Cassandra Oldenburg of NarrowLeaf Photography taking pre-wedding photos of Meagan and Riley Griffin in October.

“It’s an amazing trail, and so many people don’t know about it, really. I think it’s like Wisconsin’s premier natural feature,” Gillie said, comparing it to Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Florida’s Everglades. “I think it’s kind of an untold story of Wisconsin. I don’t think a lot of people realize what it is and that it’s that interesting.”

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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