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By Ted Pennekamp, Courier Press, 4/3/2017
Wyalusing State Park, at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, will be 100 years old this year. In commemoration of this event, a Centennial Celebration will be held on Saturday, June 3.
There will be an open house and free admission that day with fun activities planned for the whole family including nature hikes, children’s games, a 5K trail walk, history and park presentations, and music.
Wyalusing State Park is the state’s fourth oldest and one of the prettiest, offering great bluff-top views of the backwaters and main channels of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers.
Wyalusing is steeped in history and interesting geology, and park personnel are also continually trying to find new ways to appeal to the park’s clientele.
“I love the park and working with the public,” said Wyalusing Property Supervisor Chad Breuer. “The park can create some really good memories and experiences, and it’s getting busier every year. We continue to draw new clientele and repeat customers.”
Breuer said that new apps have been implemented within the past five years, such as the “Go Ranger” app, to help customers enjoy all that the park has to offer. “We’re continually looking at what the customers want,” said Breuer.
Breuer said there have been several improvements to the park in the last several years and there will be more to come.
The Larry Huser Astronomy Education Building was built in 1999, and many people make use of the observatory where the Starsplitters Astronomy Club conducts educational programs throughout the year for school groups as well as the public.
Breuer also said that the park is looking to upgrade some facilities and improve some roads. The Peterson Shelter, for example, recently received some tuck point and lighting work. Bids have also been let for a new shower building for the Homestead Campground.
In May, said Breuer, the park will be bringing back a part-time naturalist with financial help from the Friends of Wyalusing State Park, whose mission is to support and promote the educational, interpretive, and recreational goals of the park.
“Starting in May, the naturalist will be working with children and families,” said Breuer. “I’m really excited about that.”
Another improvement includes the re-establishment, in 2015, of a natural prairie on about two acres near the Larry Huser Building.
Several years ago, some park staff placed and maintained hummingbird feeders at and near the park entrance. As expected, the hummingbirds became quite an attraction, and a hummingbird educational program was established within the past few years. In fact, last year, hummingbird banders banded 65 birds.
“It’s become quite popular,” said Breuer. “Banding is a great opportunity for kids or adults. Data has been collected and the kids are fascinated. We conduct hummingbird banding two or three weekends each year.”
The boat landing, of course, is another popular feature of the park, as is the canoe trail. Breuer noted that the boat landing is run in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous anglers enjoy the waters bordering the park. Within the past few years, the canoe trail has been moved off of the main channel and is now more in the winding backwaters of the Wisconsin-Mississippi confluence. Breuer said that more signs have been put up marking the trail, which now can be enjoyed by canoeists and kayakers of all skill levels. He said the Friends of Wyalusing run the canoe and kayak rental and also a concession stand where customers can buy food, bug spray and other camping supplies.
For people wishing to read up on the history of the park and all that it has to offer, Breuer said that the 100th anniversary edition of “Wyalusing,” published by the Wisconsin DNR will be available within the next few weeks. The 99th anniversary edition has numerous interesting articles about the geology and history of the region including Native Americans, Europeans, fur traders, miners and farmers. There are also many articles and photographs about plants and animals, the many effigy mounds in the park, big sand cave, hunting and trapping opportunities, winter recreation, the old immigrant trail, camping opportunities, educational programs and a wealth of other information.
How Wyalusing State Park came to be
The idea to create a park at the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers was both a local movement and statewide initiative. The Robert Glenn family, who owned the land, promoted the concept of a park around the turn of the century. At about the same time, the state Legislature commissioned a report on the subject of state parks for Wisconsin. The report, completed in 1909, recommended four sites in the state for immediate consideration for acquisition. This area was one of four recommended. The purchase was approved by the Legislature in 1912, and the park established in 1917. The park was first named Nelson Dewey State Park and changed to Wyalusing in 1937.
The present Nelson Dewey State Park, south of Wyalusing State Park near Cassville, was created in 1935. It preserves the first governor’s restored home.
The Civilian Conservation Corps
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public works program that put more than 3 million youths and adults to work, had a camp here. Its members built park roads and trails and started the Peterson Shelter, which was finished by another federal program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). They built stone fireplaces in shelters and picnic areas.
A bronze plaque, commemorating the Civilian Conservation Corps at Wyalusing State Park is located in a large rock at the entrance to the Outdoor Group Camp (the site of the CCC camp). The “old park office” has been refurbished. An original kiosk, built by the CCC, is located immediately west of the “old office.” Large information panels describing the “Days of the CCC” are found in the kiosk.
Wyalusing State Park today
Wyalusing State Park has been a gem of southwest Wisconsin since June of 1917. More than 2,600 acres include stunning vistas, river wetlands and bluff-top forests. The park is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals including 284 distinct bird species. The Passenger Pigeon Monument near the Sentinel Ridge Trail is the first monument in the world dedicated to an extinct bird. The park has 22 miles of hiking trails, four caves, and 109 campsites.
More than 200,000 visitors enjoy camping, fishing and canoeing in the park every year.
The 100th anniversary logo for Wyalusing State Park depicts a Kentucky warbler and a Chinquapin oak tree. It was designed by local artist Arthur J. Schmitz.
Wyalusing State Park is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. From Highway 18-Highway 35, turn west on County Highway C just south of the Wisconsin River Bridge. Follow County C to County X. Turn right on County X and go one mile to the park entrance. Directional signs are at each intersection.
The Friends of Wyalusing, the Prairie du Chien Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin DNR will be hosting the 100th anniversary celebration on June 3. For updated information, interested persons can check www.wyalusingfriends.org.
For more information about Wyalusing State Park, there are several links on the Wisconsin DNR website: dnr.wi.gov.