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Northern Highland American Legion State ForestWillow Flowage Scenic Waters Area

Surrounded by swamps, bogs and other watery lowlands, the Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area is isolated from roads and development. This remoteness, along with its natural shoreline, draws visitors from around the state and region.

With help from The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, the flowage now includes more than 27,000 acres above and below the water. Under DNR ownership, the Willow Flowage will not fall victim to fragmented shoreline development and its scenic beauty will be preserved for future generations.

Public involvement

Amendments to the NHAL State Forest master plan were approved by the Natural Resources Board [PDF] following a public review process in October 2013.

Forest management

The forest management goals for the Willow Flowage are to protect wildlife habitat, emphasize forest diversity, promote a natural and aesthetically pleasing appearance and practice sustainable forestry.

Varying types and levels of forest management will eventually restore the shoreline of the flowage to older forest conditions dominated by long-lived tree species such as red and white pine. Inland, aspen will be maintained in diverse age classes, while some acreage will be converted to pine and mid-successional species such as red maple, red oak and a combination of balsam fir and spruce. Managing the forest in this manner will help to create a diverse natural environment rich in wildlife and well suited for low impact recreational activities.

Wildlife

The forests surrounding the Willow Flowage provide for an abundant variety of wildlife species including songbirds, ruffed grouse, woodcock, white-tailed deer, black bears, wolves and butterflies. The waters of the flowage provide habitat for many species of waterfowl, bald eagles, ospreys, common loons and herons. There are numerous opportunities to observe and enjoy the wildlife in a remote and wild setting, but please remember to observe from a distance. In particular, to minimize disturbance make sure to stay at least 100 yards away from eagle, osprey and loon nests.

Fishery

The flowage provides excellent fishing opportunities with an abundance of panfish. Northern pike and walleye are common, while muskie, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass all are present.

Two seasonal fish refuges, located at Cedar Falls on the north end and Willow Rapids to the west, protect spawning walleye and musky. Angling is prohibited from mid-April to mid-May in these posted areas. You must have a fishing license to fish in the flowage.

Boating

Over 6,400 acres of water offer scenic boating opportunities and access to the 117 islands and backwaters of the flowage. Due to fluctuating water levels, you are advised to use slow speeds and remain in the deeper channels because submerged rocks, sandbars and snags are numerous.

On the east side of the property, near the Willow Flowage dam, there are two improved landings with paved parking lots to accommodate trailered vehicles. The other landings (Sportsmans Landing, Talbots Landing, Jerry’s Landing and McCord Landing) are unpaved and found along rustic access roads. Each location can accommodate up to eight vehicles with trailers. The privately-owned Cedar Falls campground landing also has parking for 15 vehicles with trailers but visitors are required to pay a fee for parking and landing boats. Cedar Falls campground also has toilet facilities. The only toilet facilities on the property are at the Dam Boat Landing.

Exotic species, including the aquatic plant Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), are one of the biggest threats to our natural environment. You can help prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species by cleaning your boat, trailer and live-well before you arrive and after you leave the Willow Flowage. Remember that state laws prohibit releasing bait or water from your boat into any waterbody. You can review the boating and safety regulations prior to visiting the Willow.

Canoeing and kayaking

The Tomahawk River, which runs into the flowage on the north end and out through the south end, provides excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities along its entire course.

North of the Willow Flowage, paddlers can put in at Camp Nine Road where this section of river is low-gradient with easy paddling. The upper portion of the river flows through part of Tomahawk River Pines State Natural Area which provides some fantastic scenery. Use caution at the lower end as there are a series of four foot high falls directly downstream of the bridge that accesses Cedar Falls Campground. All paddlers are advised to portage around the falls.

Paddlers can access the lower Tomahawk River area directly south of the Willow Dam. Although this section of river is also characterized as mostly low-gradient, there are a few sections with potentially dangerous rapids. The first section, named Half-Breed Rapids, is located approximately two miles downstream from the County Highway Y bridge. Paddlers must use caution in this section of class II rapids. Portaging around the rapids is highly recommended.

A newly constructed, unpaved canoe and kayak access is located off of Swamp Lake Road directly west of the bridge on the north side of the road. A small lot accommodates up to five cars with small boat access to the river via a foot path. Downstream from Swamp Lake Road the river is again mostly gentle and low-gradient. The next section of rapids, named Prairie Rapids, is located roughly seven miles downstream from Swamp Lake Road. This section includes two separate class II rapids and portaging is highly recommended.

Camping

The Willow offers 33 remote, semi-primitive campsites along shorelines and islands. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis with no fee or registration required. Be aware that campsites do occasionally close either temporarily for maintenance or permanently to protect threatened or endangered species.

Each of the 29 family campsites has a fire ring, a picnic table and a box latrine. No drinking water is provided. These sites are designed for a single camping party with a max of up to six people.

Each of five group sites have two fire rings, two picnic tables and two box latrines. No drinking water is provided. Group campsites may be occupied by up to 15 people.

There is a 10-day limit on camping at all campsites on the property. In addition, when you set up camp, you must occupy the site the first night and may not leave it unoccupied for more than one night thereafter. You may not leave unattended camping equipment to save a site.

Camping is allowed in designated campsites only. You may not establish new campsites in other undesignated areas.

Power equipment, such as chainsaws and generators, are not allowed at campsites. In addition, any fireworks that fly in the air, emit sparks or explode are illegal on DNR lands.

Hunting and trapping

All lands are open for hunting only during the scheduled seasons and with the appropriate licenses. Ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare and white-tailed deer are the primary game species. Trappers can find beaver, muskrat, otter, raccoon, fisher and mink on the property. Please review the most current regulations before you hunt or trap. Firearms must be cased and unloaded while in or within 100 yards of designated campsites.

Hiking

An accessible nature trail is located 1/4 mile north of the dam on Willow Dam Road. A paved parking lot provides access to the trail which includes over one mile of crushed-granite surface and another mile of mowed trail out to Indian Shack Point. Interpretive signs and benches are located along the trail. Walk-in access is available to campsites 1 through 4 via the nature trail.

Snowmobiles and ATVs

Snowmobiles and All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are allowed on DNR lands on designated trails only. There are approximately two miles of snowmobile trail and 10 miles of combined snowmobile and ATV trails within the flowage boundary. The ATV trails open the Friday before Memorial Day and close on November 30.

Snowmobiles and ATVs are allowed on the ice but use caution. Before venturing onto the ice, be sure that conditions are safe and be certain you know where you are going. Some areas are hazardous throughout the winter because of water currents and fluctuating water levels which can create uneven and unsafe conditions.

All motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles and ATVs, are prohibited from driving along any shoreline of the flowage whether located above or below the ordinary high-water mark.

Biking

Mountain biking is allowed on all interior roads and trails on the Willow Flowage, including the nature trail. Please be courteous and use caution if hikers or hunters are also using the trails.

Horses

Horseback riding is prohibited within the Willow Flowage boundary except along public roadways.

General safety and regulations

The Willow Flowage offers the opportunity to recreate along undisturbed wooded shorelines and islands. Please keep these things in mind when enjoying this unique and scenic wilderness setting.

Bears

Though rare, black bears are occasionally known to visit campsites. Do not leave food items on picnic tables or stored in tents as this could attract bears and other animals. No garbage facilities are provided so please follow carry in, carry out guidelines when visiting the property.

Emergency services

Due to the isolated nature of the property, it is recommended campers leave an itinerary with friends or relatives. While cellphone coverage has improved, it is not guaranteed in all areas. In case of emergencies, attempt to move to an area with reception and dial 911.

Drinking water

Potable water is not available at the campsites or on the flowage. It is recommended that campers bring their own or purchase it locally in Tomahawk, Minocqua, Woodruff or Hazelhurst before heading on the flowage.

Driftwood

Driftwood provides valuable fish and wildlife habitat and adds to the unique character of the Willow Flowage. Much of the driftwood that currently exists was created in the 1920s when the area was flooded. Unfortunately, driftwood is disappearing due to both natural processes and illegal harvest. Therefore, driftwood or other dead and down wood located at or below the ordinary high water mark is considered a natural feature on the flowage and may not be removed, burned or destroyed.

Fires and firewood

To prevent forest fires, please confine your campfires to the metal rings found in each campsite. If you plan to vacate the site or even leave the site for a short while, be certain that the fire is dead out.

Dry paper can be burned but it is illegal to put plastic, glass or aluminum in the fire ring. It is also illegal to bury any refuse on DNR lands. Department of Natural Resources staff patrol sites daily to collect occupancy information and to inspect sites.

You are allowed to gather wood that is dead and down from upland areas for your fire, but this source of firewood is becoming scarce at the campsites. Please refer to the driftwood section for gathering restrictions. Consider purchasing firewood from a local vendor prior to visiting the campsites.

Keep in mind that firewood can harbor pests such as emerald ash borer, gypsy moth and oak wilt which threaten the local forests. New regulations are in place to attempt to stop this threat. It is now illegal to bring firewood to this or any other state property. It is also illegal to bring in firewood from out of state. For specific information please read the firewood restrictions. For added assurance against introducing forest pests, please burn all of your firewood. Even though it may seem like a courtesy, do not leave it for the next camper and do not transport it away from the area.

Tree health

Pounding in nails, peeling or carving bark, pruning limbs and heat from lanterns can all cause damage to trees and could eventually kill them or create hazards for campers and maintenance crews. Too much traffic on tree roots can also damage. Consider setting your tent's opening away from tree to minimize the impact.

Any standing trees, including brush and shrubs, whether dead or alive may not be cut down. Standing dead snag trees provide valuable wildlife habitat for birds and small mammals and serve as excellent perch trees for wildlife.

Dogs

Due to nesting loons and water fowl, leashes are required on the flowage from April 1 until July 1 each year. In addition, dogs must be prevented from damaging the fragile shorelines and banks at campsites. If any damage occurs due to dogs, owners may receive citations or be held liable for repair costs.

Contact information
Tom Shockley
Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area
8770 County Highway J
Woodruff, WI 54568
715-356-5211 ext. 259

Ranger: 715-614-3767

Emergencies:
Oneida County Sheriff – 911
Non-emergency – 715-361-5100
Last revised: Wednesday November 20 2013