Canoeing the lower Wisconsin River at Tower Hill State Park.
Kathryn A. Kahler
The nascent Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway cuts across the state, providing glimpses into our rich and vibrant past.
Communities along the 280-mile waterway that follows the Fox and Wisconsin rivers hope one day soon to be able to hang their hats on a coveted National Heritage Area designation, the first in Wisconsin and one of 49 others across the nation. The title – bestowed by the National Park Service with Congressional approval – will boost local economies by promoting events, historic sites and scenic routes, and opening a multi-use water trail from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien. Traveler invites you to make "heritage tourism" your new pastime and take the family for a week or a weekend this summer. Here are some tools to help plan your trip.
Maps and websites
First, get a map of the proposed parkway boundaries and learn more about the parkway planning process, its partners and how you can help support the effort at Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway. You'll find nautical maps of the Appleton segment of the Fox-Wisconsin Water Trail – the first complete portion of the proposed trail, which will eventually extend the entire length of the Fox- Wisconsin Heritage Parkway – and links to multi-use land trails within the parkway boundary. While there, be sure to check out "Historic Topics" to get a flavor of the diverse heritage of the region.
Canoeists and kayakers take note – four paddles on the Wisconsin and Fox rivers are listed on the parkway's website (click on "Events"): the Eco- Heritage Paddle, June 9-10, on the Wisconsin River from Lake Delton to Portage on Saturday, and on the Fox River from CTH O (three miles southeast of Endeavor) to Packwaukee Lake on Sunday; the Eureka Lock Paddle, June 23-24, from the White River dam to Riverside Park in Berlin on Saturday, and from Riverside Park to Miller Park in Omro on Sunday; the 11th Annual Park-to-Park Paddle, July 21, from Shattuck Park in Neenah, through the Menasha Lock to Lutz Park in Appleton; and the Moonlight Paddle, August 10, from Bornier Park in DePere, through the DePere Lock to the Green Bay Marina.
Portage is the midpoint of the parkway, marking the continental divide where the Fox flows north and the Wisconsin flows south, where Indians, traders and explorers had to portage their canoes from one stream to the other. Visit City of Portage and click on "Learn more about Portage" for a history and map of the city, and see Portage Canal Society for information about the Portage Canal. Commemorate the 339th anniversary of Marquette and Joliet's 1.5-mile cross-land trek on June 14.
Downstream of the Prairie du Sac dam, the Wisconsin River flows unimpeded by dams or other structures to its mouth at the Mississippi River. Much of this portion of the parkway is protected for public use as the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Visit Department of Natural Resources (search "lower Wisconsin River") for property maps and information about boating, canoeing, camping, hiking and horseback riding.
Round out your trip with a visit to Wyalusing State Park at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, where geologic forces, glaciers and an array of colorful people shaped the history of the area. Visit Department of Natural Resources and search "Wyalusing" for maps and other information.
Historic sites and museums
Within the boundaries of the parkway, you'll find more than a dozen museums and sites dedicated to preserving local and regional history. In the Green Bay area, Heritage Hill State Historical Park (call 1-800-721- 5150, or visit Heritage Hill State Historical Park), Oneida Nation Museum (call 920-869- 2768, or visit Oneida Nation Museum) and the Neville Public Museum (call 920-448-4460, or visit Neville Public Museum) devote permanent exhibits to Native American life; French, British and Yankee settlements; and the explorations of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. In the Appleton/Kaukauna area, visit the History Museum at the Castle and the Charles A. Grignon Mansion (call 920-735-9370 or visit History Museum at the Castle), and further south, the Oshkosh Public Museum (call 920-236-5799 or visit City of Oshkosh (look under "Departments"). In Portage, Winnebago Surgeons Quarters (call 608-742-2949 for more details or a calendar of events) is all that remains of Fort Winnebago, built in 1828 to protect commerce and serve as the center of local government for the region. At the far western end of the parkway, stop for a tour of Fort Crawford Museum (call 608-326-6960 or visit Fort Crawford Museum).
Kathryn A. Kahler is a staff writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.