Columbia County Attractions
From the flash of a white-tailed deer in a clearing, a thousand Canada geese blackening the sky, to trophy bass and trout on the fly, the outdoors comes alive in Columbia County. With 11,00 acres of lakes, 16,000 acres of public hunting land and wildlife areas, 49 miles of trout streams, 27 boat landings and 3,000 campsites, Columbia County brings the resources and beauty of Wisconsin's Northwoods close to home.
In spring, Columbia County's five public golf courses are lush and uncrowded, and the weather is ideal for bicycling the smooth and secluded back roads or hiking along the peaceful multi-use trails that wind through the county's scenic landscape. In summer, area waters are ideal for boating, canoeing, sailing, swimming, water-skiing,, or rocketing down a slide at one of the nation's largest water parks. In fall, hunters scan crisp, clear morning skies from the seclusion of their duck blinds, others walk under a blaze of color along the National Scenic Ice Age Trail. Winter revelers enjoy snowmobiling along the county's 181 miles of trail, backcountry skiing along the Wisconsin River for a glimpse of bald eagles feeding in the open water, or downhill skiing, tubing or snowboarding the slopes of one of the state's finest ski resorts located here in Columbia County.
Columbia County offers many unique and exciting attractions and activities, including the MacKenzie Environmental Center's museums, nature trails and native wildlife exhibits including a live herd of bison; the free Merrimac ferry ride across the Wisconsin River near Lodi; farm markets and antique shops sprinkled along the backroads; and numerous historic sites and museums. And, with more full-size and kid-sized putting greens combined than on the PGA circuit, more waves than Ft. Lauderdale, and enough boat rides, shows and games to rival Disneyworld, the Wisconsin Dells in Columbia and Sauk Counties, offers entertainment and adventure for the whole family.
Visitors to Columbia County enjoy a broad selection of accommodations, from beautiful full-service resorts and intimate bed and breakfast inns to primitive campsites and rustic woodland cottages.
For outdoor fun, sports and adventure, as well as great family entertainment, Columbia County offers it all. And best of all, Columbia County is conveniently located in south central Wisconsin - a convenient destination for everyone!
PARKS AND NATURE CENTERS
MacKenzie Environmental Center
Cty. Hwy CS/Q, Poynette
The MacKenzie Environmental Center, operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, features native prairie, with hiking trails, a native animal park with bison herd, museum and interpretive center.
Columbia County has 16 state-owned wildlife areas and a federal waterfowl production area, many of which are open to the public for wildlife observation as well as for hunting and fishing in season. These include:
North of Columbus along the U.S. 151, 177 acres, mainly wetland brush habitat suitable for deer, rabbit, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes and songbirds.
Cty. Hwy. V south of Dekorra, 242 acres of wetlands small warm water stream, grassland and forest habitats suitable for deer, squirrel, grouse, turkey, rabbit, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, and songbirds.
Duck Creek Wetland
Cty. Hwy. G, south of Wyocena, 160 acre wetlands, warm water stream and grassland habitat suitable for deer, rabbit, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, and songbirds.
French Creek Wildlife Area
Cty. Hwy. F, north of Portage, this two-county area includes 3,152 acres of open marsh wetlands, upland grass fields, lowland timber, shrub type wetlands and warm water stream habitats suitable for ducks and geese, deer, squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons, egrets, shorebirds and songbirds. Two man-made dikes create flowages for waterfowl and fur-bearing animal habitat. Some warm water fishing occurs in the flowages.
Grassy Lake Wildlife Area
West side of Doylestown, 695 acres, including open water and shrub/cattail marsh wetlands, hardwood timber and grassland habitats suitable for waterfowl, squirrel, rabbit, grouse, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons, egrets, shorebirds, and songbirds.
Between Cty. Hwys. N and A west of Columbus, 229 acre tamarack marshlands shrub/cattail wetland suitable for deer, pheasant, fur-bearing animals and songbirds.
Jennings Creek Wildlife Area
Old County Hwy. Z east of Rio, 530 acres including cold water stream frontage, shrub wetlands hardwood forest, and conifer timberland suitable for deer, grouse, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, sandhill cranes, fur-bearing animals, songbirds and trout.
Lodi Marsh Area
Cty. Hwy. Y, south of Lodi, 1,044 acres in Columbia and Dane counties combined, including cold water stream frontage, shrub wetlands hardwood forest, cropland and grassland fields suitable for deer, grouse, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, songbirds and trout.
Mud Lake Wildlife Area
Between Cty. Hwy C and State Hwy. 22, southwest of Rio, 2,139 acres of large wetlands, hardwood forest, grassland fields, cropland and shrub wetlands, suitable for waterfowl, deer, pheasant, grouse, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, sandhill cranes, fur-bearing animals, herons, shorebirds, and songbirds. Two man-made dikes enhance water levels of the large wetlands to improve waterfowl habitat.
Paradise Marsh Wildlife Area
Between Cty. Hwys. CD, DG, and G north of.Fall River, 2,139 acres of warm water stream frontage with extensive cattail and shrub marsh wetlands, hardwood timber, grassland fields and cropland. Habitat is suitable for deer, squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons and songbirds.
Pine Island Wildlife Area
Located along the Wisconsin River southwest of Portage, 5,022 acres in Columbia and Sauk Counties combined, includes cattail and shrub marshes, lowland hardwood, grassland fields, cropland, river islands and native prairie habitats suitable for deer, pheasant, squirrel, rabbit, turkey, grouse, ducks, geese, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons and songbirds. Property includes a close area and wildlife refuge in which all hunting is prohibited during the waterfowl hunting season. Organized dog trial and dog training activities are allowed in designated areas by permit.
Springville Wildlife Area
Cty. Hwys. P and SS between Pardeeville and Cambria, 2,841 acres with warm water stream frontage, extensive ditched wetlands, cattail/shrub marsh, grassland fields, pheasant, rabbits, ducks, geese, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons and songbirds.
Swan Lake Wildlife Area
Cty. Hwys. P and G, southeast of Portage,1,624 acres with extensive cattail marshes, lowland aspen woodland, shrub wetlands, grassland, and a 1.5 mile dike for water level control, suitable for deer, pheasant, rabbits, ducks, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, herons, shorebirds and songbirds.
Hinkson Creek Fishery
Near Cty. Hwy. J northwest of Poynette, 160 acres of shrub and wetland along the Hinkson Creek trout stream with brown and brook trout, deer, squirrel, grouse, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes and songbirds.
Rowan Creek Fishery
From Cty. Hwys. J and CS west of Poynette, along Rowan Creek., 650 acres of cold water stream frontage, shrub wetland and lowland hardwood habitat suitable for deer, grouse,squirrel, rabbit, sandhill cranes, fur-bearing animals, songbirds and limited waterfowl use.
Rocky Run Creek Fishery
Located southwest of Wyocena between State Hwy. 22 and U.S. 51, 750 acres of cold water stream frontage, shrub wetlands, upland hardwood forest, grassland fields and some cropland. The stream provides a fishery for brown trout. Habitat is suitable for deer, grouse, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, sandhill cranes, fur-bearing animals, songbirds and limited waterfowl use.
Federal Waterfowl Production Areas
Located between Rio and North Leeds, west and southwest of Doylestown, 1,360 acres in three separate areas provide wetland and grassland habitat for ground-nesting ducks, specifically mallards and blue-winged teal. These areas also provide habitat for deer, pheasants, fur-bearing animals, sandhill cranes, heron, shorebirds and songbirds; and, are open for public hunting.
Cty- Hwy. CS, Poynette
More than just a wide spot in the Wisconsin River, Lake Wisconsin is 9,000 acres of unlimited water activities, including sailing, swimming, boating, water-skiing, and canoeing. Fish taken here include sturgeon, panfish, walleye, bass, northern and lunker muskies. Accessible from a number of boatlandings, resorts and campgrounds, Lake Wisconsin is Central Wisconsin's natural water fun center.
Wisconsin Dells to Portage
Running approximately 19 miles from Wisconsin Dells to Portage, the Wisconsin River is a great place to float, boat, canoe, sail or swim. Accessible from numerous public and private boat landings and launching ramps along the way, during low water periods, the river has many sand bars to lounge on and shallows to wade in. Under these conditions, canoes and small boats that can be dragged over sandbars are recommended. Fishing enthusiasts will find sturgeon, bass, panfish, northern, walleye, muskie and more in these waters.
MUSEUMS AND HISTORICAL SITES
Indian Agency House
Agency House Rd., Portage
Built at the conclusion of the Black Hawk War by the United States Government in 1832 as a residence for John Kinzie, Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), the Agency House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Located on its original site above the canal built almost twenty years later, the house is furnished with American antiques dating no later than 1833, including the piano Juliette Kinzie brought to her new home in the wilderness. Owned and operated by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, the Agency House is open daily May 15 to October 15 from 10 am. to 4 pm., Sundays from 11 am. to 4 pm.
Centuries before the arrival of the first European explorers, Native American Indians traveling and transporting goods from the Northern Atlantic Seacoast to the Gulf of Mexico via the St. Lawrence/Fox and Wisconsin/Mississippi River Routes, were forced to stop and portage their boats and cargoes across a narrow neck of land lying between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers at present day Portage.
In 1792, Laurant Barth built a trading post and started an overland portaging enterprise, followed by Jean Lecuyer, who handled the Fox Terminal with a team of oxen. In 1810 Francis Leroi took over the entire business, dragging large keel boats, bateaux, canoes and contents weighing up to 10 tons over the mud and bog for $10 empty plus $.50 per hundred pounds of merchandise. After the Black Hawk War, as European settlers flooded in to farm and harvest the area's natural resources, the Fox/Wisconsin routes and the portage point between them became increasingly more important for trade and travel. Designed to ease congestion and reduce prohibitive portaging fees, the current canal was dug by hand in 1849-51. With arrival of the railroad in 1857, commercial use of the canal dwindled, even before the Army Corps of Engineers began final improvements after the end of the Civil War. From the late 1800's on, the canal was largely used by recreational boaters, peaking with 1,461 lockages in 1908, dropping to 8 lockages in 1950. For want of use, the government closed the canal to traffic and the locks were welded shut in 1951.
Ft. Winnebago, Portage
The Surgeon's Quarters is the last remaining structure of historic Ft. Winnebago, one of a string of forts established along the Fox/ Wisconsin River Route during the Black Hawk War. Overlooking the site where Louis Joliet and Fr. Jacques Marquette left the Fox River at the east end of Wauona Trail in 1673, the Fort and Surgeon's Quarters were built in 1828 and used as a military base until 1845. Operated by the Daughters the of American Revolution, the Surgeon's Quarters museum is open from 10 am. to 4 pm., seven days a week, from May 15 to October 15.
POINTS OF INTEREST
In the 1860's, Portage's downtown retail district was the hub of Central Wisconsin's burgeoning commercial activity. Many of the buildings active then have been preserved in their original Victorian architecture, providing a colorful background for the busy retail area of today.
This residential district of 138 buildings was home to the city's early prominent citizens. Many of the buildings are made of yellow Portage brick and were constructed between 1870 and 1910. The Society Hill District contains the homes of two Portage Pulitzer Prize winners: Playwright Zona Gale, and Historian Frederick Jackson Taylor.
Church Hill District
Containing six early churches and many prestigious homes built between 1855 and 1930, the Church Hill District is only two blocks from downtown Portage.
Industrial Waterfront District
Containing commercial buildings constructed around the Portage Canal in the midto-late 19th Century, including the landmark Feed Mill built in 1861 ' the Waterfront District's buildings still convey the colorful and lively "can-do" spirit of life along the canal in its heyday.
W. Conant Street, Portage
This 8.8 acre park is the most picturesque of Portages many beautiful public parks. Named after the famous fur-trader Pierre Pauquette who operated a ferry from 1828 to 1857, the park features two shelters, each with water and electricity, picnic tables, play equipment, a skating and fishing pond, walking path, flower gardens, a Victorian band gazebo; and, a bridal arch erected near the spot where a couple on their honeymoon missed the turn and drowned in the pond, inspiring Pulitzer Prize winner, Zona Gale's short story "Bridal Pond."