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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

December 2001

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Wintering out of the way

There's a weird and wild side to winter recreation.

Natasha Kassulke


Contents

They chip to the "white" because in ice golf, there is no green. Ice golfers will brave the cold to swing during the 7th annual Ice Tee Classic, Feb. 9 on Lake Wausau in Wausau.

Teams of two to six golfers – some in costume – whack yellow tennis balls with all kinds of clubs, even the occasional 9-iron. Sponsors design each hole in a wacky mini-golf style, drilling the cup with an ice auger. Golfers play around ice anglers and shanties. Organizers hope to have a 18-hole course this year. Participants can register on site, but pre-registration is encouraged. The $15 "white" fee includes lunch. (715) 845-1966.

Ice palace

For more than 50 years, members of the Eagle River Fire Department and others have gathered in Riverview Park to build an Ice Palace. In keeping with tradition, this year they'll cut and haul 2,750 nine-inch 50-pound blocks of ice from Silver Lake and spend more than 700 hours constructing the icy edifice. Colored floodlights illuminate the palace; its life span is weather dependent. (800) 359-6315.

Ice caves

During summer many sea caves along the Great Lakes and Apostle Islands shoreline are accessible only by boat. In winter, though, it's sometimes possible to reach the caves on foot.

The caves' breathtaking frozen waterfalls and chambers filled with icicles are shaped by wave action, freezing and thawing. Try the north shore of Devils Island, Swallow Point on Sand Island, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the mainland near the lakeshore's western boundary.

Inner islands such as Basswood, Hermit and Oak are excellent winter destinations. The Squaw Bay caves near Cornucopia in Bayfield County are worth the trip and most easily reached from Meyers Beach (at the end of Meyers Road) off Route 13. It's a rigorous one-mile hike from the beach stairs to the cave.

A word of caution: Ice on Lake Superior can change overnight. Call the National Park Service at (715) 779-3398, ext. 499 for 24-hour Ice Line.

The beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County showcases ice formations with frigid Lake Michigan as a backdrop. The day-use park has skiing and hiking trails, and a nature center. (920) 823-2400.

Freezing festivals

It's open for debate, but the town of Gilman in Taylor County claims to host the state's most varied one-day winter festival. Who are we to argue? Consider this list of events that will be held on Feb. 2 during the Snieg (pronounced "snick") Fest: snow volleyball, frying pan toss, ice bowling, broom hockey, polar bike race, blind snowmobile race, snow sculpting, snowshoe demos, sled decoration, beard-growing contest and more. The festival culminates with a torchlight parade led by the Snieg (Snow) Man. (888) 682-9567 or Medford Area Chamber of Commerce.

About 30,000 people are expected to attend the 2002 Flake-Out Festival in Wisconsin Dells, Jan. 19-20 at Noah's Ark Waterpark. Flake-Out features snow sculpting, armchair quarterback contest, snowman-making contest, Eskimo Pie eating contest, tricycle races, slap-shot hockey, turkey bowling, ice carving, kite flying, hot air balloons, ice skating, sleigh rides, cross-country skiing and a "Bag-the-Yeti" contest. (800) 223-3557 or Wisconsin Dells.

The United States International Snow-Sculpting Competition takes shape Jan. 23-27 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis. About 15 teams compete. Sculptures will be judged at 2 p.m. on Jan. 26; spectators cast their votes for the People's Choice Award from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (414) 476-5573.

Sleigh rides

Sleigh rides provide a nostalgic view of Wisconsin's scenery. Dozens of farms and stables across the state offer horse-drawn sleigh and wagon rides; check TravelWisconsin.com for a list. The City of Fitchburg and the Lion's Club hold sleigh rides the weekend after the Super Bowl at the city's McKee Park. (608) 277-8900.

Eagle watching

Wisconsin is home to one of North America's largest populations of wintering eagles, with the greatest concentration found along the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers where open waters offer a plentiful supply of fresh fish.

Several Wisconsin communities offer prime eagle watching in January. Prairie du Sac on the Wisconsin River (800/68-EAGLE or Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce) and Cassville on the Mississippi River (608) 725-5855 or Cassville are two to note. For other Wisconsin winter bird watching hotspots, call the birding hotline at (414) 352-3857.

Winter ecology

Trees for Tomorrow, a natural resources education center along the Eagle River Chain of Lakes, offers ecology courses from late December through mid-March. For 56 years the center has given students – many on skis and snowshoes – a chance to immerse themselves in the heart of Wisconsin's northern forest. (800) 838-9472 or visit Trees for Tomorrow.

Hot air balloons

The roar of burners echoes across the sky, and sometimes you'll hear the balloons before you see them.

The 13th annual Hudson Hot Air Affair, the largest winter ballooning event in the Midwest with more than 50 balloons and 20,000 spectators, drifts into the St. Croix Valley on Feb. 1-3. "It gives you something to do to cure cabin fever," explains Carla Timmerman, one of the event's organizers. The affair features a torchlight parade, fireworks, craft fair and a chili cook-off. (800) 657-6775 or visit Hudson Hot Air Affair.