The lakes of the Northwoods beckon with sparkling water and interesting wildlife, but for those with disabilities or small children, many bodies of water don’t have easy access. I found this out firsthand when a friend visited with her father, who was wheelchair bound. He loved fishing and wanted to do that on his visit, and so I set out to find some spots that would accommodate him. And I’m glad to say I located several that are perfect for people with disabilities, little ones who are stroller-bound and even those who don’t have a boat.
Two of my favorite spots are located in Lake Tomahawk and one is the public boat landing located just off the main drag of this small burg. It offers plenty of accommodations for a multitude of activities. Naturally, the main activity here is launching boats but it also offers a fine sand beach, restrooms, an open sided shelter and plenty of picnic tables for outdoor dining. People in wheelchairs or children in strollers can access several piers that are located off the beach area. They are made of plastic and float on a pole system, yet they are very sturdy and plenty wide for a wheelchair or those using a walker or stroller. The blacktop borders these piers for easy access. Kids can sit on these docks and dabble their toes in the water or fish from them, too. I have witnessed many people catch pan fish, bass and even walleyes right off the end of these piers. Access is easy and vehicles can drive right up to the launch for unloading. To get to the Lake Tomahawk boat landing, turn on Choate Boulevard, the road next to the Lake Tomahawk Meat Market. It winds past the park and snowshoe ball park, ending at the gate for the boat landing.
On the outskirts of Lake Tomahawk is the Rainbow Dam, which is equipped with a small dock specifically designed for those with disabilities. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects about this area is the dam itself. The pier is located below it and the rush of water is not only fun to watch, but also relaxing to listen to. Parking is available in a lot near the locks of the dam and a blacktop walkway winds down to the dock, which is level with the water. There are rocks that poke out of this stream, providing interesting vantage points for those who can balance on them but there is also a small gravel beach for loungers. A porta-potty is located here as well. And not only is this a soothing place to relax, the water rushing out of the dam is home to some of the finest fishing around. Small- and largemouth bass are frequent catches as well as pan fish, walleyes and even muskies. To get to the Rainbow Flowage dam, take Cty. D north out of Lake Tomahawk. The highway takes a right from Cty. E and then goes over the dam.
If you don’t mind the rush of traffic going over the bridge leading into Minocqua, the public fishing pier on the south side of town provides easy access for those of all abilities. It’s a smooth transition from the parking to the dock, which is long and spacious. It is constructed in such a way that visitors can throw their line right under the highway bridge or east, which looks out over a beautiful expanse of Lake Minocqua. There are also boat slips that are accessible to those more agile. There’s a lot to watch here. Just observing the wide variety of boats zooming past is fun in itself and, of course, this dock is very close to all that downtown Minocqua has to offer. Anglers will find this a great place to catch fish, too. Pan fish are plentiful, as well as crappies when they are biting and, of course, walleyes and muskies frequent this area, too. This dock offers almost two entirely different habitats for fish. Under the bridge the water is rather shallow, and off the end facing east the water depth is 20 feet or more. Access to this pier is easy. Just cross the bridge heading north and take the first driveway to the right into the condominium complex that is built there. The dock is located at the end of the parking lot.
For those with limited mobility, another great place to enjoy is Hodag Park in Rhinelander. This sprawling area provides lots of activities for young and old alike. There is a large boat launch area with plenty of parking in addition to baseball fields and a welcoming playground with a sand surface. There are also several docks for fishing and a wide blacktop walking path parallel to the lake. This is a beautiful walkway and is only feet from Boom Lake, which borders Hodag Park. At the far end is a sand beach with a bath house, toilet facilities and more parking. There are also lots of picnic tables spaced out over the park area, complete with those little square grills for cooking up a burger or hot dog. A tennis court as well as volleyball pits for those more athletically inclined are also near the beach area. To get to Hodag Park, take Stevens Street in Rhinelander heading north and then travel on Monico Street, which ends at the park.
So you see, you don’t need a boat to have fun on the water. Visit these beautiful spots and see for yourself that people of all abilities can enjoy the beautiful lakes of Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
Mary Ann Doyle is associate editor of the Star Journal.