Barrier-free fishing piers along the South Branch Oconto River are now open to the public.
The access points allow for a more accessible way for people to enjoy the trout fishing along the river.
“There was an old structure here and that was completely removed and then they had to drive new pilings and put this new structure on top. And a lot of times change the grade to make sure it was ADA compliant,” said Mike Brown, Lakewood-Laona District Ranger of the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.
There are now five ADA accessible access points along a half mile stretch on the South Branch Oconto River just west of Langlade County into Oconto County.
Originally built in the early 90s, the accessible piers were meant to give barrier-free access to the Class I Trout Stream.
But time and Wisconsin’s harsh winters took their toll on the piers, said Forest Service Timber Program Manager Karl Welch.
“The piers had fallen into disrepair. They were uneven and frost heaves. A decision had to be made as to whether this site would even continue to be maintain or available in an accessible condition,” said Welch.
The Forest Service did decide it was worth saving. Then it became a question of how to do so.
That’s where The Nature Conservancy comes in.
Stewardship Contracting Agreement
In 2016, the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and The Nature Conservancy signed a Stewardship Contracting Agreement.
Through the agreement, TNC sold almost two million board feet of red pine and mixed conifer timber on 380 acres of National Forest land in Forest County. County. In partnership with the National Forest, it oversaw the harvest by a local logging company. It also prepared for sale an additional 180 acres of northern hardwoods in Forest County.
Welch says the Forest Service held onto the receipts from those sales to help fund several projects laid out in the agreement.
“The Nature Conservancy also brought other contributions in terms of staff time, more in-kind work, as well as some direct contributions to fund pieces of the project themselves to leverage Forest Service funds and all in all get more done on the ground,” said Welch.
The accessible fishing piers are the last project from the agreement.
Over the last five years, the partnership has led to trout stream improvements on Simpson Creek in Forest County, pine-oak barrens restoration, and other wildlife habitat improvement projects.
Matt Dallman is the Deputy State Director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Nature Conservancy. He said projects like these on National Forest lands are a long-term goal of TNC.
“It’s about how do we take sustainably managed forests and put it back into restoration work on the forest,” said Dallman.
Dallman said this partnership is a good example of the benefits of investing in our National Forests.
“We’re able to take locally, sustainably managed timber, using local contractors and then put that money back into the forest so it benefits nature and people,” said Dallman.
Brown is certainly excited for people to use this site once again.
“We think its important to service people with disabilities, but also this is a good place for just people who aren’t particularly outdoorsy. There’s an opportunity to easily walk out and be over a pretty trout stream which isn’t always that easy to do,” said Brown.
Three of the piers have been rebuilt. Two access sites were repaired.
Brown said there’s still some work to be done at the site, but people are able to access the fishing piers now.
The entrance to the trail is directly off County T between County W and Hwy 64, 2.2 miles south of Hwy 64, and a few hundred feet north of the South Branch Oconto River County Highway T bridge.