© 2023 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
So many of us live in Wisconsin’s Northwoods or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula because we love what surrounds us every day. We love the clear water, the clean air, and the lush forests. WXPR’s environmental reporting as part of our expanded series, The Stream, focuses on the natural world around us. The Stream is now about more than just water: it brings you stories of efforts to conserve our wild lands and lakes, scientific studies of animal and plant life, and potential threats to our environment. Hear The Stream on Thursdays on WXPR and access episodes any time online.

Powell Marsh Viewing Blind Memorializes Late Outdoors Enthusiast

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A point of land, sitting on the north side of the Vista Flowage, was Zeke Jonas’ favorite spot.

Sometimes, his mother Rene Rayala said, he’d come to watch birds. When the season was right, he loved nothing more than duck hunting here with his friends and family.

“They’d get their war paint on, haul down their makeshift blind, drive their big revved-up trucks and they would love to duck hunt here,” Rene remembered.

In fact, there’s an old picture from the very spot where Rene and her husband Brian were standing and talking.

“So this is Zeke and his dog Emma. She’s still with us, but barely. This is sitting right here with that branch and him hunting, sitting on a bucket,” Rene said.

Credit Rene Rayala
Zeke Jonas and his dog Emma.

But so long after that picture was created, Zeke wasn’t around anymore.

“A lot of the kids worked at a local restaurant around here. They were just driving home one night,” Rene said. “We don’t know exactly what happened, but he lost his life just down the road here.”

Credit Michele Woodford
Loons at Powell Marsh.

Of course, the death was difficult for Rene, who had previously lost her first husband.

But then she got to thinking. How to remember Zeke?

“When he passed away, it was like, what was Zeke about? Zeke was about the outdoors. It wasn’t a scholarship to school,” she said.

It wasn’t a memorial road sign, either.  

Wouldn’t something at his favorite place be more fitting?

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The platform at Powell Marsh.

“I think this has been a really great collaborative story where we had a number of people that were interested in recreation on the Powell Marsh,” said DNR Wildlife Biologist Michele Woodford, who oversee Powell Marsh.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Powell Marsh Wildlife Area encompasses more than 4,000 acres.

When Rene and Brian floated the idea of an accessible duck blind that doubled as a wildlife viewing platform, the timing was perfect.

The marsh was overhauling its master plan and the blind would fit right in as a place for visitors to see waterfowl.

“The vista flowage has some really neat backwaters where we see a lot of ducks with their broods,” Woodford said. “You might see ring-necked ducks with their young. We have a pair of swans that has historically been nesting there.”

Loons, cranes, and herons are also common near where the blind now sits.

Credit Michele Woodford
Ring-necked ducks at Powell Marsh.

The blind is hidden by matted grass, affixed as a camouflage after Brian, Rene, friends, and family helped build it.

“We took one weekend. Actually it was two weekends. We pre-built a lot of it at the house a half-mile from here. The next weekend, we brought all of the pieces in here and assembled it,” Brian said. “It was quite a project to get everything put in and stuff.”

Now, Brian said, the stand is a perfect place for anyone to hunt or to just come view birds on the marsh.

“This is an easy walk out here. There’s a place to sit and they can just watch the birds and enjoy things,” he said. “If you sit here for half an hour, you’re going to see all sorts of wildlife. Some times of the year are better than others, but there’s always something going on.”

Credit Rene Rayala
The Jonas-Rayala family at the completed platform.

The short path and the platform are flat and easy to navigate, accessible by those in wheelchairs or the elderly.

It’s the way Zeke would have wanted it, Rene said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Swans float on the Vista Flowage at Powell Marsh.

“He’s always been very sensitive to those people, young kids, whatever, he’s just always had kind of a heart for that,” she remembered.

Whether on foot or in a wheelchair, visitors come to a plaque just before they enter the platform.

It gives Zeke’s birth and death dates. Forged in metal, it also, has that image of Zeke on the same spot, sitting on a bucket, dog by his side, waiting for the ducks.

“Zeke spent a lot of time down here. So did other family, but he was very passionate, and I just want everybody to enjoy what he enjoyed,” Rene said. “It’s just kind of our way to memorialize him.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The image on the plaque mirrors the image of Zeke Jones duck hunting with his dog Emma.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
Related Content