Discover Lapham Peak State Park

By Janet Frost

Wisconsin is stunning from the back of a motorcycle. Thousands of riders can be seen and heard throughout the rolling hills and woods of the state.  An especially attractive route follows the scenic roads through the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Lapham Peak State Park, one of the greatest gems of the southern unit of this state forest, is located 25 miles west of Milwaukee and one mile south of Interstate 94 near Delafield.

Tower View in Autumn, photo by Janet Frost.

Tower View in Autumn, photo by Janet Frost.

The namesake of this park; Increase A. Lapham 1811-1875, was a true renaissance man with a pioneering spirit and driving curiosity. Increase Lapham was born in 1811 in Palmyra, New York to a very modest Quaker family; he spent his late teens as an engineer for the companies that were building the network of canals crisscrossing New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. By the time he arrived in Wisconsin in 1836 he was a self taught engineer, surveyor, cartographer, botanist, geologist, meteorologist, archaeologist, limnologist and zoologist. He would, in his lifetime, discover, study, and preserve the ancient Native American mounds in Aztalan, Wisconsin. He would help develop theories of glaciation, identify and classify innumerable plant and animal species, and spearhead conservation efforts across the state. Because of his concern for tragic shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, he would be one of the first official meteorologists of the National Weather Service in America. This service provided weather forecasts from Pikes Peak, Colorado to Great Lakes cities such as Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit.  

I consider myself a champion of curiosity, and the life of Increase Lapham resonates powerfully for me. I don’t believe that it was an accident that  a man driven by curiosity and the yearning for scientific knowledge landed in the territory of Wisconsin.  In 1836 it would have been an enchanted wilderness for a pioneer like Lapham.  It is so apropos that Lapham Peak Park, an enchanted wilderness with a prominent peak that rises 1,200 feet above sea level, is named for him. The park abounds in treasures, beloved by nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts across the region. Visitors young and old can imagine themselves explorers like Increase Lapham.  

Turkeys on parade, photo by Janet Frost.

Turkeys on parade, photo by Janet Frost.

The park is comprised of 1,000 acres of terrain, the effects of the receding glacier activity from 10,000 years ago evident. There are rolling hills, wooded ridges, oaks, birches, pines, prairie fields, meadows, and ponds. This peak was originally dubbed Government Hill, and was the site of Lapham’s weather tower. There are 21 miles of trails providing a range for all levels of hikers.  The Ice Age Trail, a 1000 mile long-distance trail that follows the edge of the receding glacier across the state, cuts through this park. There are over 15 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, several of which are lit at night. There are picnic areas with shelter, a butterfly garden, a nature center in a beautiful eco-friendly building, an outdoor theater, and a personal favorite, a 45-foot observation tower with distant views of downtown Milwaukee and all of Waukesha county. The Lapham Peak Friends and Ice Age Alliance, volunteer organizations, lovingly help maintain the park and provide many learning and adventurous activities. Hikers, skiers, runners, bird-watchers, geo-cachers, photographers and curious explorers declare this their favorite destination.

After an invigorating hike through this wonderland I love to stand up on that tower and imagine Increase waiting for a telegraph signal from Colorado, surveying the many shimmering kettle lakes scattered across the county, contemplating what forces moved those erratic boulders across the landscape. Summer, winter, spring or fall I draw strength and energy from this beautiful park and the legacy of curiosity that Increase Allen Lapham left behind.

 

Lapham Peak State Park, Schoeniinger Savannah, photo by Janet Frost.

Lapham Peak State Park, Schoeniinger Savannah, photo by Janet Frost.

Author's note: For more information on Increase Lapham, please visit the Wisconsin Historical Society page dedicated to his work.

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Based in Delafield, Wisconsin, Janet is a restless adventurer on the search for new people, new experiences and new vistas. As a retired nurse, she and her soon-to-be retired husband, are exploring near and far to satisfy their curiosity and wanderlust. At www.golearnthings.com, she encourages baby boomers to get out and explore! Reach out to Janet at janet@golearnthings.com.