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Rib Mountain State Park History

Rib Mountain, formerly called Rib Hill, is a four mile-long ridge of ancient rock dating back about 1.7 billion years. It is among the oldest geological features on earth. It is composed of very hard metamorphic rock called quartzite.

Stone steps between large rocks
These stone steps, still in use, were built by the CCC in the 1930s.
DNR Photo

For many years, it was believed to be the highest point in Wisconsin. Now it's generally accepted that Timm's Hill, near Ogema in Price County is the highest at 1,952 feet above sea level and Rib Mountain is fourth at 1,924 feet above sea level. However Rib Mountain does stand higher above the surrounding terrain, 670 feet, than any other hill in the state.

The Chippewas called it O-pic-wun-a-se-be, sometimes given as "Opigigan" or "Opigeganama." The first part of the word means rib.

Rib Mountain has been used by many people for many different reasons. The early Chippewas used it as a lookout and as a guide for finding their way. Voyageurs also used it as a guide.

As early as 1893, the mountain was used in the manufacture of sandpaper. The Wausau Sandpaper Company was incorporated in 1900 and built a factory. In 1902, Wausau Quartz Company crushed the quartzite for grinding and polishing purposes. The two companies merged in 1905 to form Wausau Abrasives, which was purchased by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing in 1929.

Some people thought there was gold in Rib Mountain and tried unsuccessfully to mine it.

The Wausau Kiwanis Club recognized the mountain's recreational potential. The club bought 120 acres of land at the top in 1922 and later 40 more acres. The club asked the Wisconsin Conservation Department (predecessor of the DNR) if Rib Mountain could become a state park and the department accepted a gift of 40 acres in 1923. Later gifts expanded the park to 606 acres in 1970 and nearly 860 acres by 1982. It was officially designated a state park in 1927.

Many men in the community made it a point to climb to the top of the mountain at least once a year, probably just to prove that they could do it, according to a 1926 article in the Wausau Daily Record Herald. It was not an easy climb because of the dense forest and lack of paths.

The mountain remained undeveloped until 1929, when a special committee of the local Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a drive to have a road built to the summit. The road was completed in 1931 and the Kiwanis Club funded a 200-foot entrance right-of-way.

In July 1935, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was set up on the west bank of the Wisconsin River in the town of Rib Mountain. The 250 young men created walking paths, widened the road, developed a campground and built a picnic area gazebo.

Chamber of Commerce leader, Walter Roehl, had convinced the Conservation Department that Rib Mountain would make a fine winter ski area and the CCC began work on clearing the slopes and installing a T-bar lift.

The first ski event was the Central Ski Association Championship February 24-25, 1938. The slalom, downhill, cross-country and jumping events attracted more than 465 participants and 3,000 spectators.

The CCC built a beautiful shelter house, which was opened in December 1939. The shelter is still in use today by Granite Peak Ski Area. In 2006, he upper level of the shelter/chalet was dedicated in honor of the 10th Mountain Alpine Division. The 10th Mountain Alpine Division served in the Italian Alps during WWII. Many of the original members of the Division are from the Wausau area and learned to ski at Rib Mountain.

Last revised: Friday October 17 2014