Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Demise of Deer Lodge Lake

A fish tale as seen through the eyes of a child circa 1959 on opening day.

Dad promised to take us fishing the first weekend of May. In the days leading up to Saturday we checked and re-checked tackle boxes and played with the new cane poles. The new ones were in two and three sections, a great improvement over the one piece ones that had to be strapped down to the car or the boat. We still had cork bobbers but preferred the new red and white plastic ones. Buds were on the trees and leaves were beginning to come out but the lilacs wouldn't be in bloom until Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as my parents would say. The smell of the fresh wet black dirt in the garden wafted through my nostrils as I dug for worms on Thursday and Friday. I did the same Saturday morning to make sure there was enough.

Dad readied the boat and the trailer. The boat had been built by him in the years before I was born. It was painted bright green and was never in use without the obligatory coffee can and a couple of soup cans. The trailer also was a home made affair with some bald used tires. He wouldn't tell us where we were going but we knew his favorites.

We headed down Hy. 13 toward Adams Friendship. Deer Lodge Lake was a large pond with bluegills and perch. We had been there many times. The access road presented quick thinking and good driving skills. The boat had to be backed in from the state highway which had two lanes and a 65mph limit. After a few nervous moments we were off the highway and slowly backing toward the landing. Moments later the car came to a stop and a couple of very anxious kids jumped out and were greeted by...

The lake had disappeared! Gone. Kaput, like someone pulled the plug. I was amazed. I had never seen a lake bed without a lake and had always wondered what a lake looked like without water. My dad took off his railroad engineer's hat, (he wasn't one but liked the hat), and scratched his head. I ran around the perimeter to where the small dam was. It didn't look right, rotted pieces of wood the size of railroad ties. The dam wasn't any more than a yard wide.

We enjoyed the sunshine and the warming morning weather for a few minutes but it was obvious we would have to go elsewhere to fish. We headed north on Hy.13. Dad calmly explained we were going home. We pleaded with him to go somewhere else, possibly Nepco Lake, but he was adamant about going home. He promised us other times of fishing in the next weeks. I didn't understand this until I was older but his reasoning was that Deer Lodge Lake offered tranquility, peace and quiet. No other lake would be like that on opening day.

That's the end of the story. One story usually leads to another. Here's the 'nother story...

Some years later my dad talked about some high falutin' engineer or group of engineers who figured that they could build a lake much much larger than Deer Lodge Lake. He figured this engineer had probably just graduated from UW Madison, had never gotten his feet wet in a lake, and was probably still wet behind the ears. Land was bought, permits were issued, earth moving equipment was brought in and my dad kept a skeptical wait and see attitude.

Land in the area went for about $100 an acre practically anywhere outside of city limits. That would include land where the casino now stands in Nekoosa.

The new lake was called Lake Sherwood and I remember the signs advertising lake front lots for $19,995 where the land used to sell for a hundred bucks an acre. My dad was right on one count. Lake Sherwood took much longer to fill than was originally anticipated.

Not only did Lake Sherwood become a reality, another lake was built right next to it: Lake Camelot. Later even another was added called Lake Arrowhead plus the golf courses and all the other amenities.

Part of this story can be seen here. Deer Lodge Lake is mentioned in the history section of the same website: "In 1965, successful development of Deer Lodge Lake gave birth to lake Sherwood."

'Successful development' might be an adequate term. Screaming loud powerboats, lawn mowers and snowmobiles might also be adequate terms.

I have retained a file in my mind that brings back the solitude and beauty, the absolute serenity of Deer Lodge Lake.


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