Portage P.A.T.H.S.


Portage P.A.T.H.S.

Portage Area Trails Heritage System

PATHS is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization whose mission is to create and improve trail opportunities in and around the Portage area


Realizing the many benefits of trails, the City of Portage has partnered with several other entities to achieve the goals of the Vision Plan of the Portage Area Trails and Heritage System (PATHS). PATHS participation includes Portage City Council, Portage Canal Preservation Society, Portage Historical Society, Portage Parks and Recreation, National Parks Service, Portage Area Chamber of Commerce, Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, and Main Street Portage. (A copy of the vision plan is under TRAILMAPS.)

The PATHS network offers wonderful opportunities to enhance health, economic, educational, historic preservation and recreational opportunities to residents and visitors alike. Our trails will also offer alternate modes of transportation thereby reducing street traffic and pollution.

It is a fact that property values increase when near or adjacent to projects of this type. Property tax revenues also increase due to increased property values as the trails are amenities to both existing and new development.

Trail development and maintenance costs money but the jobs created and materials and supplies purchased help offset the expenses.

Recreational activities rank as the third largest expenditure of household income after housing and food. When a tourist spends a dollar it generates almost three times that amount for the local economy. Purchase of athletic wear, equipment, transportation and food and beverages goes into the local economy.

PATHS is well on its way toward completing an eleven mile network of existing and new land trails within the city limits. The efforts include a combination of hiking, biking, walking and recreational opportunities. PATHS is also developing four canoe and kayak trails which include the Wisconsin, Fox and Baraboo rivers.

Portage already has the great advantage of several completed trails within and out of the city proper. A two and a half mile paved trail paralleling the beautiful Wisconsin River was completed as part of the recent Wisconsin River levee construction.

Local volunteers have built and maintain over twelve miles of the Ice Age Trail system. As part of this effort volunteers also constructed and maintain one of only two ADA handicapped accessible segments of the1,200 mile Ice Age Trail. This was built on city right of way with private and public revenue sharing funds. Assistance came from the city, the National Parks Service and the Wisconsin DNR.

Our Downtown and Waterfront Walking Tour is considered among the best in the country. I have enclosed a copy of a new tour guide for this that was recently completed through volunteer efforts and city participation in funding. This guide will be included inside 25,000 Portage Community and Visitors guides that will be widely distributed in south central Wisconsin during 2005.

We in are now in the middle of a major redevelopment of the historic Portage Canal and adjacent trail system. The canal is the only one in Wisconsin and it, with the historic Native American portage that it replicates played a major part in the westward development of our country.

This project when completed will be the spine of the PATHS network and will do much to increase all the benefits listed above. We are in need of additional funding to work toward completing the network and ask your assistance in this effort.


Wisconsin Public Television 2005
Portage Stories

Dr. William Cronon, University of Wisconsin History Department, Madison, Wisconsin

In Portage, Wisconsin the signs of history are everywhere. The town has much more than its share of monuments, markers, and historic districts. Here it seem like the past is never far behind. Before there where cars, before there where trains, or roads, long distance travel took place on water and rivers were the highways. At Portage, by a quirk of nature, two of these river highways, the Fox and the Wisconsin flow very close together.

One of the things that is so remarkable about this location, which for many decades, centuries even, was called “The Portage”. It is one of the very few places in the North American continent where you can walk just 2,700 paces, it’s a mile and a quarter over flat ground, and by so doing can connect two of the most important water sheds of the eastern part of this continent. So that you can travel from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence all the way to the Gulf of Mexico simply by carrying a canoe across that very short, flat patch of ground.

In 1673 the French explorers Marquette and Joliet passed through, “The Portage” on their way to the Mississippi River. 

If you stand on the bridge over the Fox River, where State Highway 33 crosses that river, and then drive south toward the Wisconsin River on what looks to be a very, very ordinary suburban street, past the Fair Ground in Portage, it doesn’t look remarkable at all. It is only when you know that, that was the route that in 1673 Marquette and Joliet crossed in order to link the St. Lawrence with the Mississippi. And there by discover for European historical purposes the great central river of North America, the Mississippi. It’s only when you know that do you realize just how important this is. That suburban street is a footpath 10,000 years old. It is one of the most ancient corridors of human travel anywhere in North America.

This website was prepared and is maintained by the P.A.T.H.S. organization and is not affiliated with the City of Portage, WI.

Unless expressly stated otherwise, the findings, interpretations, documents, opinions and conclusions expressed in this website are those of the P.A.T.H.S. organization who prepared the work and do not necessarily represent the views of or are endorsed by The City of Portage, WI.