Life Along Wisconsin’s Great River Road And Why You Need To Go
By ANASTASIA PENCHI
Are you the curious type, often wanting explanations for life and the way things are?
Revelations can happen along Wisconsin’s Great River Road, the 250 miles of Highway 35, which runs adjacent to the Mississippi River from Kieler, Wisconsin in the south to Prescott in northern Wisconsin.
There are many places to explore local history and nature along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. Consider starting your journey at one of these locations:
Fishing for answers
Visitors to the area aren’t the only ones wanting to explore the exhibits at the newly opened Great River Road Interpretive Center in Genoa this summer. A resident turtle has been escaping its tank and looking around, too. The Genoa National Fish Hatchery, which is also located on the site, provides more than 30 million fish, eggs and mussels for bodies of water and research projects all across the country and on tribal lands thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its many volunteers. See how it’s done while enjoying the beauty of the bluffs and Mississippi River as a backdrop. There’s nothing fishy about that view.
Butterfly, bird and barge bliss
The Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in Prescott is located in Freedom Park, which is a great place to stop to let kids stretch their legs. Another benefit of stopping here is its variety. If transportation is your thing, observe barges hauling goods up and down the Mississippi River. Since this is also where the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers meet, there are bound to be plenty of pleasure boaters too. Savor the sights and sounds of the adjacent railroad tracks. Or check out the spectacular views (especially magnificent sunrises and sunsets) and use spotting scopes to observe eagles and other birds. Take a stroll through the butterfly garden, and maybe a butterfly will even land on you.
Paul Bunyan and pearl buttons
The Mississippi River is key to La Crosse’s formation, and the Riverside Museum in La Crosse can help explain why. Lumberjacks not only cut timber to help fill the country’s construction needs, they also kept the logs moving as they floated downriver. Steamboats were essential to river travel, and not far from the museum (about 25 feet below the water surface of the Black River) is the War Eagle, a steamboat that sunk after a fire in 1870. The museum has many items from these time periods as well as prehistoric artifacts discovered by the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center. This includes pearl buttons, which were central to an important industry that involved cutting the buttons from the freshwater mussels found in the river.
Discovering Wisconsin’s roots
Farming is an important part of this state’s past (and present), and a visit to Stonefield in Cassville can teach you more about the settlers’ early farm life. Originally the site of Wisconsin’s first governor’s home (that house burned down in 1873), Stonefield now has the state’s largest collection of farm tools and machinery, as well as a display that shows how farm life improved at the turn of the 20th Century. It comes complete with farm critters like sheep and chicken, and a unique store with Wisconsin-sourced items.
See a list of all Wisconsin Great River Road Interpretive Centers here.
Meet the Writer
Anastasia Penchi is a self-employed writer who lives just off Wisconsin’s Great River Road. You can read more about Wisconsin’s Great River Road, and the festivals and people of Western Wisconsin, at the Web site: www.loislaneforhire.com.