Devil’s Lake State Park is home to nearly 30 miles of trails that span some of the Midwest’s most diverse ecosystems, and maintaining the extensive network with 3 million annual visitors and limited resources is a difficult task for park staff alone.
Wisconsin’s most visited state park south of Baraboo also relies on volunteers to keep its pathways — some of which edge steep, hundred-foot cliff faces — trimmed, free of litter and safe for passersby. Friendship forestry and landscaping business NatureWorks LLC last week became the first group in recent years to sponsor a trail at Devil’s Lake through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ adopt-a-trail program.
“It seemed like a really good opportunity to be able to contribute to something important, and it’s something that we could use our expertise with our company,” said NatureWorks founder Ben Bomkamp.
The group had its pick of park pathways to adopt and decided on a popular section of the East Bluff Trail that crosses near iconic geologic features Elephant Rock and Devil’s Doorway. In addition to cleaning up litter and assisting with trail maintenance, Bomkamp plans to contribute professional services over the next five to 10 years to help the park control invasive plant species along the trail.
Bomkamp said the business’ work targeting buckthorn, honeysuckle and garlic mustard, and trimming vegetation along scenic sections of the trail represents about a $2,000 value annually.
Wisconsin State Parks System volunteer coordinator Janet Hutchens said the DNR’s adopt-a-trail program is essential to the upkeep of public pathways at dozens of state properties. The agency asks participating groups to conduct basic trail maintenance, invasive species control and alert property managers to hazardous conditions in exchange for sponsorship signs in the area.
“It’s an important component to keeping the trails maintained,” she said.
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Originally called ArborMaxx, Bomkamp founded NatureWorks with fellow ecologist Kerstyn Perrett in 2014 as a tree and landscaping service. While it still offers landscaping services, Bomkamp said the company now is more focused on showing the importance of nature and using it to improve people’s quality of life. He added that volunteering at Devil’s Lake is a chance to demonstrate NatureWorks’ impact for the public.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize the value of the types of services we offer,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do things that are visible to the public, so they can see the difference you can make through proper stewardship.”
Devil’s Lake State Park Superintendent Steve Schmelzer said other groups have been involved with the park’s adopt-a-trail program in the past but participation fell off in recent years. Now that NatureWorks has expressed interest in volunteering, he said park leaders hope to expand the program.
Schmelzer said groups can work with staff to choose a section of trail on which to work, and decide what duties meet their skill set. They can get involved by contacting the park at 608-356-8301
Devil’s Lake State Park staff members also need help redirecting traffic along popular trails, and will hold a volunteer work day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday to block off unmarked routes. Devil’s Lake State Park Naturalist Sue Johansen said high-volume traffic along unofficial trails is causing soil compaction, killing plants and harming ecosystems.
Johansen said work conducted by volunteers at Devil’s Lake is essential to keeping the park healthy and maintained.
“There’s not enough people to go around, so the more people that can help volunteer — whether it’s helping with the unmarked trails, or invasive species or cleaning up garbage — that helps us out quite a bit,” she said. “We’re always happy to have people come out to help.”