For the love of Mildred: Muckelbergs work for the welfare of their lake
Down a long, steep driveway almost hidden by the trees, where cell phone coverage isn’t a guarantee, Pete and Connie Muckelberg have settled into a lifestyle of love for their lake.
Both from Milwaukee, Pete and Connie moved up in 2001, almost 40 years after Pete’s father bought the 250 feet of shoreline on Lake Mildred for $12 a foot. It took Connie, a self-described city girl, a while to adjust.
“I was ready to go back. I hated the quiet and the slow pace,” she says.
After about a year, a love for the lake and the community had them both. Connie was instrumental in forming the Lake Mildred Property Owners Association in 2002 and has remained on the board since, most of those years as president. Pete and Connie attend the annual three-day Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention put on by Wisconsin Lakes.
Four years ago, Pete volunteered to temporarily take over doing Secchi disk testing for another resident and never gave the job back. He is one of three on Lake Mildred who conduct the test.
Secchi disk testing is used to indicate water clarity. It is named after the Italian astronomer who first used it in 1865, and is used by lake residents all over the U.S. and Canada.
The process is simple: slowly lower a black and white disc suspended from a rope into the water. The place where the disc disappears from sight is marked on the rope, as well as where the disc reappears when pulling it back up. The mark half-way between the two is what is used to measure the depth.
The clarity on Lake Mildred is between 18 and 27 feet, Pete reports, the longer depths being in late spring. Even though the simplicity of this test remains, technology now plays an indirect part.
“The DNR gives you a schedule of when a satellite flies over and takes pictures – they want us to try and test when it is overhead,” Pete says. Other parameters include depth (the deepest area one can find is suggested); weather conditions (a sunny, calm day); and time, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They also ask that testers not wear sunglasses.
Pete heads out in his pontoon, dubbed the Pabst Barge, twice a month to conduct the 15-minute test. He also records water and weather conditions and then hands the information off to his wife to submit online.
“I don’t do computers,” he says.
Pete was already doing Secchi disk testing when the lake association organized a proactive management plan with the DNR for a study of the lake in 2011. The study looked at water quality, plant life, Secchi results and invasive species.
“It takes two years of study before the state will provide grant money to help,” Pete says. But when the study results came back in 2013, the news was good.
“Tim Hoyman, biologist from Onterra, conducted the test. He said that if it was graded on a curve, Lake Mildred would be in the gifted and talented section,” Connie says proudly.
At that time, Lake Mildred had none of the 110 invasive species that are believed to have been transported to the area’s water system in the ballast of ships coming into the Great Lakes.
A clean bill of health has not been given to all the lakes in the area. Some have had to buy expensive cutters against the invasive plants, Connie says. Once they are there, it is just a matter of control. It’s rare to get rid of them.
“We should have more testing done,” she says. Several years ago, the association sent a letter requesting volunteers or money for the Clean Boats/Clean Waters landing inspection. They didn’t get many volunteers, Connie says, but thousands of dollars came in.
“When people are here, they are on vacation,” Connie explains, adding that of the 100 residents on the lake, only 30 are year-round. They connect once a year over the Fourth of July with a boat parade, followed by a gathering at one of the houses on the lake for a wienie bar – hot dogs with a couple dozen toppings and a dish to pass.
Pete and Connie have two children, Erich and Bethany, and four grandchildren who join them for four weeks each summer. They aren’t deterred by the lack of big fish.
The lack of bacteria and micro-organisms means not a lot of nutrients are in Lake Mildred, Pete says. “Our fish don’t grow fast and there are not a lot of them. It’s not a fertile lake.”
As much as an angler is likely to be skeptical about those words from another angler, the facts are in the findings. Big fish or not, Pete and Connie work to keep their lake and its lifestyle intact.
“We’re not in this just for our enjoyment, but for our children and grandchildren,” Connie says. “We want them to enjoy the beauty of this precious natural resource. It’s up to each one of us to protect our lakes.”
Jill Olson is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her work has also appeared in Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond and Northwoods Commerce magazines.