the stream

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Pete McGeshick II looked out upon Spur Lake and thought about what used to be.

“The lake was full,” he said. “The rice bed was full all the way around.”

Wild rice used to grow thick on the 113-acre undeveloped lake in eastern Oneida County.

It grew tall, too.  

“You could come out here and you could see people harvesting wild rice,” McGeshick said. “A lot of them, you couldn’t even see because the wild rice was so high.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The construction on Stevens Street on Rhinelander’s north side is nearly complete as heavy machinery rumbles by the auto dealerships that line the road.

But Tom Jerow didn’t come to look at a car or check up on the road work.

“I see a beautiful wetland with lots of diverse vegetation that are indicators of wetlands,” Jerow said.

Wedged between Rhinelander Toyota and the Aspirus Clinic is a low-lying wetland with tamaracks, cattails, and reeds.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Walking out onto a muskeg, or wetland, the first things most people notice are the sensation of sinking and sound of suction.

Saturated sphagnum moss, or peat moss, covers the wetland. It’s walkable, but only with knee boots on. Legs sink to calf-level. They’re buoyed by the moss, although water seeps in.

But upon arriving at this wetland in Iron County, Aaron Marti first noticed a different sensation.

“If you take a deep breath,” he said, “you can get a bit of a whiff of, it’s kind of a sweet, almost spicy aroma.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In this line of work, projects don’t start with a bang.

They end with one.

With a booming explosion on Tuesday morning, a portion of stream at the headwaters of Big Haymeadow Creek in Langlade County again flowed freely, a beaver dam blasted out of the way.

Jeremy Irish, an assistant district supervisor with the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, triggered the blast, undoing some of this year’s construction by beavers in the area. In the process, he cleared another portion of one of northern Wisconsin’s best trout streams.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A walk to the end of the Ashland Oredock feels like a walk out onto Lake Superior for Ed Monroe.

“We’re out amongst the buoys and the shipping lane,” he said.

What’s left of the Oredock--a slender tongue of concrete--juts 1,800 feet out from the city of Ashland.

Not long ago, the superstructure, a hulking mass of metal, would have risen 80 feet over his head.

During the Oredock’s operation, and after it was out of use, kids used to play out here, fishing and even jumping off the top.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

The water flow on a little creek in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is modest.

In fact, the stream is small enough that it has no name. Officially, it’s Unnamed Tributary to Morgan Creek.

But on July 11, 2016, it was just one of the unassuming streams that heavy rainfall turned into rushing rivers in this area of the National Forest.

“Roads were gone. Bridges were gone. Culverts were gone,” said Jim Mineau, a hydrologist for the National Forest.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On a sunny day in a shaded forest, Don Waller and Dave Zaber, two environmental professionals, came across an orchid growing on the forest floor.

This part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Eagle River is maturing, with tall trees, a shady canopy, and a cooler temperature.

It’s good orchid habitat.

But that might change soon, Zaber said.

“We’re in a proposed cutting unit of the Fourmile timber sale,” he said.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On a hot, sunny day last week, Jim Montgomery pulled a 1958 Evinrude Lark outboard motor outside his repair shop for a tune-up.

Montgomery pointed to the “fancy chrome on the hood,” a sign that, although the motor is now vintage, it was considered deluxe at the time.

Montgomery owns Duke’s Outboard Service just outside Rhinelander. Long ago, he lost count of the number of Evinrude motors he’s fixed.

“I have no idea. Just a lot. Thousands,” he said.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Northwoods fishermen and women love when the fish are biting often, offering excitement with every cast.

Frequent catches mean the fish population in a lake is doing well.

Right?

Maybe not.

New research shows, in many lakes, the fishing stays good until it abruptly collapses.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

During the first week of June, a boat sprayed chemicals into the waters of Anvil Lake in Vilas County for the first time.

It was applying an herbicide called 2,4D, targeting Eurasian watermilfoil, an aquatic invasive species whose presence in the lake has grown and grown.

The decision to use chemicals in treating the problem was difficult and often controversial for lake leaders.

But it’s a decision more and more lake groups in the Northwoods are forced to consider as invasive species spread.

In many ways, Anvil Lake is where Dr. Amy Kuhns grew up.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Ron L. Zabler admits Oneida County winters have been harsh on his family’s cabin in the woods.

Some of the paint may be peeling, but that makes this place no less important to him.

“Once I’m up here, I don’t want to go back,” said Zabler, whose permanent home with his wife, Carline, is in southern Wisconsin.

A lot of his attitude has to do with his family’s history on this plot of land.

“I’ve been here since I was 14. I was here when the original owner was here,” said Zabler, who is in his 70s.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Every summer month for the last 16 years, Dick and Judi Oehler have been coming to this exact spot on the Deerskin River east of Eagle River.

Like always, Judi stands on shore, ready with a clipboard, as Dick steps into the stream. Waders cover him to his chest.

The river is about 20 feet across here, and the water comes up to his knees.

Plunging a yard stick to the sandy bottom, Dick calls out water depths as Judi records them.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Standing at Grand Traverse Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula, a look right reveals picturesque yellow-sand beaches and unassuming seasonal homes.

A look left includes nothing but a black shoreline on this part of the peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.

Jay Parent scooped up a handful of the pebbly black sand, which stretches out of sight on the shoreline.

“It was this high stamp sand right here all the way across the harbor,” Parent says, gesturing more than head-high.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

From a few yards away, a woman and four small children watch a massive machine rumble to life.

They stand, look, and point as a boat is lifted by the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist, carried over a road and dam, and dropped gently in the water on the other side.

“It’s a novelty,” said Scott Blado, who is operating the machine. “It’s just kind of a thing that you go and do. It’s not really a ‘we’ve got to go that way’ kind of thing. It’s more of an event.”

This week, operators fired up the hoist, the only one of its kind in the state, for the summer season.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

As the crow flies, Wildcat Falls near Watersmeet and the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest near Land O’Lakes are only 15 miles apart, on opposite sides of the Michigan-Wisconsin border.

But in some ways, these protected places couldn’t be more different.

From one, water flows north to Lake Superior. From the other, it flows south, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

Huge old-growth trees dominate the area near Wildcat Falls, while a young forest supporting threatened species is common near the Upper Wisconsin River.

But they do have one thing in common.

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