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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

A bridge over the St. Croix connects Minnesota to Wisconsin.

Interstate Park spans two states


Interstate Park sounds like it might be a wayside along I-94 or I-43.

But, the park has its name because it actually spans parts of two states -- Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Wisconsin side is near St. Croix and is the oldest park in the state. Interstate also was the first park in the country to be developed by two states in cooperation.

The threat of mining in the 1800s along the St. Croix initiated the creation of Interstate Park to preserve the Dalles of the St. Croix River.

Minnesota's Legislature established the park in 1895. The Wisconsin Legislature followed five years later in 1900.

National Park Service rustic style buildings and structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places show the history of the park. A Civilian Conservation Corps crew may have quarried local basalt stone for the Works Progress Administration, which was responsible for the building of these structures.

The riverside cliffs are a popular place for rock climbers. The park is also notable for its white pine forests.

Hikers have several trails to choose from in Interstate. The Ice Age Trail, which crosses Wisconsin, has its western end at the park.

Gandy Dancer Trail spans 98 miles through the forests of northwest Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. In Wisconsin the trail is maintained and managed by Polk, Burnett, and Douglas counties. The Minnesota DNR manages the section of the Gandy Dancer trail in Minnesota.

Built on a former railroad corridor, the trail is named for the work crews who laid the railroad tracks. The crews used tools made by the Gandy Tool Company of Chicago.

The crews were known to work by keeping their voices and the movement of their feet and tools in harmony. This manner of work led the crews to become known as "Gandy Dancers."

Gandy Dancer is divided into a northern segment and a southern segment. Trail uses for the two segments are also divided. Most of the year the southern segment allows only non-motorized recreation on the trail, while the northern segment offers motorized recreation year-round.

A two-mile snowshoe trail starting at the Ice Age Center leads to an area of the park not easily accessible other times of the year. Echo Canyon, Meadow Valley and Skyline Nature Trail are other great trails in the park.

Just about all the trails in Interstate give a hiker great views of the St. Croix River and Dalles of the St. Croix, a dramatic gorge created during the Ice Age. There are some spectacular rock formations along this gorge. Two of the best are Old Man of the Dalles and the Devil's Chair.

The unique features were created when large fractures in the earth's crust developed, which allowed for extensive volcanic activity to occur in the area.

Interstate is in a unique location due to the areas dynamic geologic past. The entire length of the St. Croix River is underlain by an ancient rift zone in the earth's crust that stretches from the Lake Superior region to northern Kansas. This unique geologic feature is known as the Keweenawan or Mid-Continent Rift.

The park provides more than 80 campsites suitable for families, and for the serious camper, a primitive group camp that can sleep up to 60. There are also several picnic shelters and tables.

You'll find an excellent swimming beach and beach house at scenic Lake O' the Dalles. A boat launch provides access to the St. Croix River.

Remember to also go over to the Minnesota side of the park. It has several wonderful hiking trails. Taylor Falls, Minnesota, is a historic looking town with several nice attractions.

Quite often one of the best ways to get a great perspective of the beauty of Wisconsin is to actually look back at it from another state.

You can get to Interstate Park via Highway 35, The Great River Road.

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