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Governor Earl Peshtigo River State ForestHistory

History of the Peshtigo River area

In the mid-1800s, the Crivitz area was a wild territory. After the Great Peshtigo Fire in 1871, a wave of new immigrants began sweeping through the area. Many were simply seeking adventure, but many others came to help rebuild. Logging and sawmills were the major industries until forestlands became depleted from over-harvesting and wildfire. It was during this time that settlers began converting cut-over and burned forestlands to agricultural land and constructing dams on the Peshtigo River.

The Peshtigo dams

The Peshtigo River originates north of Crandon, Wisconsin, near the source of the Wolf River. The river flows through Forest and Marinette counties before emptying into Green Bay, seven miles southeast of the city of Peshtigo. Along this route, it meanders through heavy forestlands, wooded lowlands, farmlands and marshy sloughs.

Canoeing on the Peshtigo River (from 1940)The river also has more and larger rapids for its length than any other river in Wisconsin. This, together with the river's high and rocky banks, assured numerous sites for dams. The primary function of the dams is to generate electricity for northeastern Wisconsin, but they also contribute to the recreational enjoyment and economic progress and stability of the area.

The High Falls Dam was constructed during 1907-1911, and began operation around 1911. The Caldron Falls Dam was constructed during 1924-1926 and began operating in 1925. The Johnson Falls Dam was constructed from 1922-1924 and operation began in 1924. The Potato Rapids Dam started operating around 1959.

History of the State Forest

The state began acquiring Peshtigo River property in 2001 from the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), and in 2004 the final land transfer was complete. The state now owns more than 9,200 acres of land, plus more than 3,000 acres of submerged land.

In Sept. 2019, the state forest property was renamed Governor Earl Peshtigo River State Forest in honor of former Governor Anthony S. (Tony) Earl and his record of 50 years of public service and commitment to conservation. Governor Earl served as DNR Secretary from Oct. 1975 through Nov. 1980 and influenced a host of accomplishments during his tenure. Prior to his appointment as DNR Secretary, Governor Earl had a distinguished public service career including time as a district attorney, city attorney, state legislator, and Dept. of Administration Secretary. In 1982, he was elected Governor of Wisconsin.

As steward of the Governor Earl Peshtigo River State Forest, the DNR continues the tradition of active management established for the property by WPS. The master plan for the state forest was finalized and approved in 2007. The goal is to implement management practices that will perpetuate the natural character of the forest. The department is also striving to preserve the quality and wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities while also performing active forest management.

Image provided courtesy The State of Wisconsin Collection. [exit DNR]

Last revised: Friday March 20 2020