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A Long Walk To The Shack

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold includes a short essay describing a bus trip he took through the vast Illinois farmland that was once vast native tallgrass prairie, the “prairie sea.” Leopold’s point-of-view in the essay, “sitting in a 60-mile-an-hour bus sailing over a highway originally laid out for horse and buggy,” creates a sense of frenzied speed that electrifies his measured lamentation over the loss of such an enormous natural place. It also hints at the reasons for the loss. 

Fast-forward to 2021. Our new friend, Glen Kruse (along with his wife and pit crew, Nancy) decided to slow things down a bit. Beginning on Earth Day, April 22—if you don’t include the months of planning and training stretching back into 2020—he set out on foot from his home in south-central Illinois on an analogous journey through that same landscape. 

Retired from a career protecting natural resources, working primarily as an endangered species biologist at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Kruse knew it was time to fulfill a bucket-list idea he’d tossed around for years. 

Kruse was headed for the Leopold Shack on a pilgrimage to the place made famous by his conservation hero, Aldo Leopold. Three hundred and one miles, step by step, at a pace much slower than the road’s designers had accounted for. Of course, he had access to the real-time reporting tools of social media that Leopold couldn’t have imagined in 1948, so in a sense, Glen’s speed-to-audience made the whole adventure feel like a neat circle was closing.  

The Kruses’ journey and posts were so delightful to follow day-by-day on Facebook, we share a few samples below, including snippets of their Shack arrival on Glen’s 67th birthday, May 12, which we were honored to witness. Sail on, Glen and Nancy!

(Note to readers: You can retrace the whole journey on the Walk to the Shack Facebook page here.)

As we continue to suss out the date and process for our re-opening following COVID-19 restrictions, we will announce that date on our website and on social media, so please check often. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to the Shack!

 

April 22:

The Sangamon River at Riverton, Illinois.

 

As I left Williamsville, I crossed the “Mother Road.”

April 23

Another successful day of the Walk to the Shack. I made 20 miles today under cloudy skies, but no rain.

After having no interaction with motorists yesterday, I was offered a ride three times today.  For the enjoyment of any fellow craft beer lovers who may be following me, I’ll share the details of the first encounter—a woman who kindly offered to take me to my destination.  When I told her I was going to Baraboo, Wisconsin, she said, “I’m not going that far, but if I was, we could buy some Spotted Cow* while we were there.”

(*Perhaps Wisconsin’s most well-known craft lager, from New Glarus Brewing Company. Distributed in Wisconsin only.)

A bit of local history of which I was unaware, just north of Middletown.

Salt Creek.

Salt Creek near Middletown. It has been channelized like many other Illinois streams, but some reaches of Salt Creek still provide habitat for a diverse community of freshwater mussels. I once took part in a study of the ability of mussels to re-establish themselves after relocation and Salt Creek was our research site.

April 24

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold

Day 3 of the Walk to the Shack was cut short by rain that would not stop and a temperature that would not rise.  I walked 10 miles before remembering that discretion can be the better part of valor and calling it a day.  Tomorrow’s forecast calls for sunshine and warmer temps – should be a good day for walking.

Center-pivot irrigation system.

I took this photo to show that center-pivot systems are not just giant versions of your lawn sprinkler. If you zoom in, you may be able to see the sensors and controls on this rig. This portion of the system extends to water each corner of the field and then folds back again as the irrigator moves on. It’s how you fit a “round” irrigator into a square field.

May 2

Day 11 of the Walk to the Shack was a success with another 19 miles completed.  I walked through Rock Falls and Sterling and then continued north toward Freeport.  Weather was warm (high of about 85) and windy.  The wind was from the southwest, so it gave me a little boost but also made it difficult to keep my hat on.

Hennepin Feeder Canal.

This is the Hennepin Feeder Canal south of Rock Falls. The feeder canal carried water from a lake to the Hennepin Canal when it was needed to maintain water levels in the main canal.

Elaborate mailbox-protection structure.

I’ve seen many different structures intended to protect rural mailboxes from vandalism along my route. Thus far, this is the most extreme example.

May 5

Day 14 of the Walk to the Shack dawned cool and bright.  Ideal walking conditions with mild temperatures, sunny skies, and a gentle breeze.

I made another 18 miles today, crossed the state line into Wisconsin, and reached the point where my route merges onto the Badger State Trail.  That means 21 miles coming up with no need to be on constant watch for vehicle traffic.  I’ll start those miles on Friday, after a scheduled day off tomorrow.  We will also be moving our base of operations north tomorrow in preparation for the final days of the Walk to the Shack.

We had our first glitch in navigation/communication today when my phone suddenly dropped its signal and would not reconnect.  After an hour of not being able to text or call my crew (Nancy, that is), I was able to borrow a phone from a nice couple in Monroe, Wisconsin, and we reconnected.  We also had lunch in Monroe, during which I was able to get my phone working by resetting the network settings.  I don’t know what that means, but it worked.

The weather forecast looks good with chilly mornings (as low as 34 degrees) but no rain.  My hopes are growing that the Walk to the Shack will be completed on May 12, as originally planned.

Hello, Wisconsin!

Photo-documentation of reaching the state line at about 10 AM today. The barn in the background was the first we saw in Wisconsin and the first in a series of what were dairy farms but no longer have any cows. On many of these farms, the only remaining bovine is a plaster or plastic calf standing by the mailbox or the barn.

May 12

Really getting into the home stretch at this point. By this time, Nancy was walking with me to complete the journey.

There it is!

My first view of The Shack as we approached on the trail. This was when the realization hit me – I had achieved my goal.

Now that the Walk to the Shack is complete, there are many people to whom I owe my gratitude for their support.

Nancy and a few great old friends joined me in walking the final miles.

First, foremost and forever, I want to thank my wife and crew, Nancy Kruse.  She took me to my starting point every morning, scouted the route for any problems, checked on me 2-3 times a day, assured that I had water and snacks while I walked, picked me up at the end of each day and took me to our lodging.  All that in addition to spending 45+ years with me and making my life better in uncountable ways.

Glen made the last few steps to the Shack alone.

 

Executive Director Buddy Huffaker presented Glen with a Leopold Pines edition of A Sand County Almanac. Touched by this gesture, Glen told Buddy the book will occupy a place of honor in his Illinois home.

Glen and Buddy outside the Shack.

Editor’s Note: Glen and Nancy’s Walk to The Shack was designed by the couple as a fundraiser, with gifts split between The Illinois Audubon Society and The Aldo Leopold Foundation. This effort raised nearly $3,000 for our Foundation. Our deepest thanks to the Kruses and everyone who gave support!

Experience the entire day-to-day Walk To The Shack here.