Park it Here – Part 2

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Enjoy the Great Outdoors at These County Park Gems

Finding someplace new and fun to explore in rural Wisconsin is a walk in the park! Or a hike in the park, or a pedal, or a paddle, or a swim, or just about anything else that can be done outdoors. Our state is filled with beautiful public parks, including the 600 or so (according to Discover Wisconsin) county parks that dot the landscape, many located slightly off the beaten path and into electric cooperative country. As we’ve traveled through the state over the years, we’ve discovered a number of these hidden gems, which often rival—if not even outshine—their more well-known state-park counterparts. Last month we introduced readers to a few of our favorites; this month, we’re sharing a few more.

Pine Point County Park, Holcombe

Think of your happiest childhood summer-camp memories and the setting is likely similar to what you see when you enter Pine Point County Park in Chippewa County, located on Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative lines. Surrounded on three sides by sparkling Lake Holcombe and the Holcombe Flowage, with a sandy beach, picnic areas, and campsites shaded by thick pine trees, the park is practically a visual definition of Wisconsin summer-camping fun.

With its sandy beach, picnic and camping areas, nature trails, and 3,000 acres of water surface, Pine Point County Park is a great place to spend a summer day.

With more than 3,000 acres of lake surface, Pine Point County Park is a prime place for water recreation of all kinds, including boating, canoeing, kayaking, inner-tubing, swimming, and fishing. Nature trails around the lake make for great walking and wildlife viewing. However, activity is optional; Pine Point is also a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon simply lounging at the water’s edge, taking in the tranquil view and gentle breeze off the water.

The park has a beach with swimming, playground equipment, picnic tables, and grills that are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily during the camping season. A picnic pavilion is available by reservation.

Those who prefer a longer stay can reserve one of the 48 private wooded campsites at the Pine Point Campground, generally open from the first week in May through the last week in October. Many of the sites are lakeside, with private docks. Electrical hook-up is optional and available at all campsites.

Pine Point County Park is located at 27699 256th Street, Holcombe, WI 54745. For more information, visit reservations.chippewacountywi.gov or call 715-726-7882.


Sidie Hollow County Park, Viroqua

Another special outdoor experience awaits at Sidie Hollow County Park, located three miles southwest of Viroqua on Vernon Electric Cooperative lines. This is billed as Vernon County’s most visited Parks & Forests property, and just one stop here will explain why.

Sidie Hollow comprises 521 acres of the steep, rugged landscape and cold-water streams typical of the state’s unglaciated Driftless Area. The heart of the park is the 38-acre Sidie Hollow Lake, actually a reservoir built in the 1960s for flood retention. The trout streams that feed this lake contribute to great year-round fishing, and a two-mile hiking trail encircling the lake provides fishing access all along the shoreline. There’s also a fishing pier and a public boat landing for non-gas-powered boats.

In addition to the well-groomed lake trail, Sidie Hollow County Park has approximately six miles of mountain bike trails winding through the surrounding forests.

Sidie Hollow County Park offers great fishing, with access all around the 38-acre lake. The park also has cold-water streams and mountain biking trails.

With trails offering spectacular views of the park’s varied natural scenery, two covered picnic shelters, playground equipment, and plenty of open space, Sidie Hollow County Park makes for a fun day trip. However, it’s a great camping destination as well.

Sidie Hollow Campground has 73 sites—some primitive and some with electricity—in three distinct and separate areas of the park. Campers can choose to reserve a spot in the boat landing area near the lake or the main camping area just off the other side of the lake, both of which have a picnic shelter, hot showers and flush toilets, a playground area, and access to the hiking trail. There’s also the secluded Ridge Camping site where the nearest neighbors might be a few deer, turkey, or other wildlife. Camping season at this park runs from April 15 through October 15.

Sidie Hollow County Park is located at E6051 County Road XX, Viroqua, WI 54665. To reserve a campsite, visit www.vernoncounty.org/departments/land_and_water_conservation/parks_and_forests or call 608-637-5480.


Gerstberger Pines County Park, Rib Lake

For a completely different experience, head north to Taylor County and visit Gerstberger Pines County Park, just outside of Medford and within Taylor Electric Cooperative’s territory. At just 20 acres, this is one of the state’s smaller county parks, and its main feature—really, its only feature—is a single ¾-mile interpretive trail. However, there’s a lot of learning opportunity packed into this little trail, especially if you follow the handbook that’s available online or at a kiosk at the trail entrance.

This unique park takes you back in time before the lumber industry’s heyday of the mid-to-late 1800s. It’s the site of one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Wisconsin, filled with centuries-old timber that, for some reason, was spared the lumberjack’s saw.

The land had been owned by the Gerstberger family from 1892 until Taylor County purchased it in 1993 and preserved it as public space. Why it wasn’t logged is a bit of a mystery, but that only adds to the magic of this heavily wooded parcel of land.

One step onto the trail and you’re immediately closed off from the outside world under a canopy of interwoven treetops. The lack of sunlight and thick forest undergrowth can make the marked trail hard to follow at times, but the area is too small to get hopelessly lost in. However, it’s enough to make you feel as if you’re a Native American traversing the virgin forest in a time before the European settlers arrived, or even as a character in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.

Gerstberger Pines County Park takes you deep into a forest and back in time to the pre-logging days.

Explanations in the accompanying handbook help you understand the significance of what you’re walking through. For example, you’ll learn that the huge Red Oak trees near the trail entrance are more than 200 years old, witnesses to history ranging from the Civil War through space travel.

At another station, you’ll learn about the value of the uprooted Hemlock tree, whose decayed roots pulled up a mound of dirt and left a pit when it fell, creating a seed bed for new tree growth.

At yet another station, the handbook points out the few remaining giant White Pines in the area (now only two) that survived the logging era, when most White Pines were harvested for timber. These massive trees are now more than 200 years old and tower above the other treetops, visible from miles away.

Several Leopold benches along the trail allow an opportunity to sit in the quiet and take in the peaceful surroundings.

Gerstberger Pines County Park is located at Turba Road, Rib Lake, WI 54470. We recommend downloading a handbook with a map before your visit, as the secluded location can be a bit of challenge to find. Contact taylor.extension.wisc.edu, 715-748-3327, or taylorcountytourism.com, 715-748-4729.


22 Mile Ford Park, Colfax

More evidence that parks needn’t be large to be special can be found at 22 Mile Ford Park in Dunn County, in Dunn Energy Cooperative’s area. This park covers 7.1 acres of picnic and playground areas, but if you factor in the Red Cedar River that flows alongside it, the park’s reach extends far beyond its official footprint.

The river provides a beautiful backdrop for a day of picnicking, fishing, and nature walking, but it’s also a huge draw for the many canoers and kayakers who drop their vessels in at the park’s boat launch and paddle on downriver.

22 Mile Ford Park’s history is also linked to logging. These days, however, it’s more known as a great place to launch a canoe or kayak.

22 Mile Ford Park also has some interesting lumbering history. The park is the site of the Town of Grant’s first town hall, built at the height of the lumber boom when trees were harvested in northern Wisconsin and floated down the river to lumber mills in Menomonie. One of the larger Menomonie lumber companies, known as Knapp, Stout, and Company, had a holding pen for the logs at the river’s ford, and a hotel was built nearby for the lumbermen to rest. Local historical accounts describe this area as a one-time economic and social hub due to the logging activity. Because the distance from the ford to Menomonie was 22 miles by river, the area came to be known as 22 Mile Ford.

Today, travelers cross a bridge rather than the ford to get to the other side of the river, and the original town hall building is long gone. Part of its foundation still remains, however, as a silent reminder of how 22 Mile Ford Park came to be.

22 Mile Ford Park is located at N10270 Co. Rd. M, Colfax, WI 54730. Visit co.dunn.wi.us/parks to learn more. —Mary Erickson

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