One of our most useful and enchanting natural resources is the Wisconsin River, with its great fishing, beautiful home sites along the shoreline and its water power utilized in our many industries.
This river rises in Lac Vieux Desert, a lake on the Wisconsin/Michigan boundary; flows south to Portage and then turns westward and empties into the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chein. It’s total length is about 430 miles. Boats can navigate this river to Portage, where a canal connects the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers.
My memories of the Wisconsin River are varied and also very nostalgic. From the time I was born until I left home to enter high school, I will have to admit that I did not fully realize the greatness of its beauty and natural resources. Our home faced the river. When I was very young, I faintly recall a marine mail route up the river from Rhinelander. We had a mailbox on the pier, and I recall the postman coming up river in a motor boat. This discontinued as roads extended and were kept in good repair.
Another unusual sight I recall was of clam diggers making their trips up river dredging clams. The river was a highway in the winter, as it was used by many trappers, either skiing or snow-shoeing along the trap lines. My brother and I took advantage of the frozen river in the winter as a shortcut to school, as we skied across to cut time.
The Wisconsin River was utilized a lot by Boy Scout troops and boys camp groups, as a trip from Lake Tomahawk or the McNaughton Bridge brought them past our home. They usually stopped to fill their canteens with clear well water.
The phrase “around the bend” was common terminology for us, as we measured our river trips by the turns in the river. The current was swift, and most of the river traffic was downstream. Only a few determined fishermen rowed hard to get upstream to their favorite fishing spots. “Still fishing,” or pole fishing the river, produced rock bass, perch, crappies and suckers. Larger game fish were also abundant-muskies, northern pike, pickerel and bass. In the sloughs and bogs, the large snapping turtle was king. Ducks were plentiful-mainly teal and mallards.
“Wild” hay grew in the low-lying areas. I especially recall an island almost directly across the river from our house, where my dad cut the wild hay with a scythe from a small duck boat and brought it back to our fields to spread out to dry. This hay was always mixed with regular hay as feed for the cows.
Lodged in the edges of the bends of the river were many logs imbedded with one end out of the water. They got stuck there as they were floated down river to the paper mills. My brother and I made it an adventure to check these logs to see what “identification” brand was stamped on the cut end. My father had plans to make a new garage, and he used these logs that were imbedded along the river. He collected more than 50 logs with my help, and dried out the logs, as they had been in the water for many years. The garage was finally built, and was a very special building!
I’ve gone back a few years in my own personal connection with the great Wisconsin River, and these are happy recollections. Not too much emphasis was placed on environmental issues years ago, but as I look back, I believe we appreciated the river for its natural beauty and usefulness. We kept the shoreline natural, did not pollute and helped in many ways to make the beautiful Wisconsin River a natural habitat for the abounding wildlife. I am proud that my early years were spent along the shores of this great river.
Those of you who live along this river are very fortunate. Enjoy all its beauties!