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In the heart of Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest lies a hidden gem of historical and cultural significance: the Round Lake Logging Dam. Built in 1876, the dam played a vital role in transporting logs down the South fork of the Flambeau River. Today, the dam’s impact on the surrounding environment and local community is just as significant as its historical significance.
Visitors to the dam can explore the miles of trails, experience scenic spots along the shores of Round Lake, and learn about the dam’s cultural and natural significance through interpretive signs and picnic tables. Join us as we discover the beauty and significance of the historic Round Lake Logging Dam.
I paid the area a little visit
The first weekend in May usually means the Governor’s Fishing Opener Weekend and I have been lucky enough to score an invite year after year. We are usually able to visit the area early and get a behind-the-scenes tour of a few gems in the area.
This year the USDA Forest Service and a few local historians led our tour. Veronica, Sitka, Chad, Karen, and Dave (retired) from the Forresty Service. John Berg and Manny Stein created a wonderful book on the subject – and are part of the Friends of the Dam.
Fun fact: In my research on John Berg I learned that his book proceeds benefit the Price County Historical Society and he had a mission to donate a lot of his books. He seems like a kindred soul with my 100 Things to Do in Wisconsin Before You Die philanthropy project.
While we traipsed through the wooded path, we learned of the time when the white pine “cork” wood was large enough to take a team of men an entire day or more to cut down, and how one tree could be more than enough wood to build an entire house!
It floated like corks on water, hence the nickname cork wood — and was the reason the waterways became so important. Our guides would take turns sharing their knowledge with us and stories about the restoration of the only logging dam left in Wisconsin.
The Dam Basics
In its heyday, this rustic timber structure orchestrated a grand symphony of logs cascading down the Chippewa River, fueling the nation’s voracious demand for timber. Fast forward to the present, and it now quietly presides over serene waters, symbolizing resilience and a testament to a bygone era.
The dam, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981, is more than just a beautiful backdrop for Instagram-perfect snaps. It’s also a gateway to an array of outdoor activities.
Try your hand at fishing, explore the serene waterways by canoe or kayak, or simply soak in the beauty of the forest, home to more than 1.5 million acres of diverse habitats and rare species. Recent preservation efforts have ensured that this piece of history remains intact for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Therefore, whether you’re a history buff, an adventurer, or just someone looking for an unforgettable experience in the great outdoors, the Round Lake Logging Dam is a must-visit destination.
So, ready your backpack, lace up your boots, and join us as we delve into the compelling narrative of this hidden gem in the heart of Wisconsin.
Significance of White Pine
White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a prominent species in the Chequamegon National Forest, where it forms mixed forests with other conifers and hardwoods. One of the most remarkable examples of White Pine in the Chequamegon National Forest is the Cathedral Pines, a 40-acre grove of white pine, hemlock, and red pine that escaped cutting by lumberjacks in the 1900s.
Located in the Lakewood-Laona Ranger District, this dynamic and exceptionally scenic old-growth forest is one of Wisconsin’s few remaining towering pine and hemlock stands. The Cathedral Pines also have an active Great Blue Heron rookery that nests in the red and white pines.
White Pine is vital to the forest ecosystem, providing food and shelter for many animals. Red squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, and birds like crossbills, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers eat its seeds. Deer and moose also pick through its bark.
Birds such as warblers, flycatchers, vireos, and owls use their branches for nesting. Its cavities are used for roosting or denning by birds and mammals, such as woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, flying squirrels, bats, and porcupines.
White Pine also contributes to the forest economy, as it is a valuable timber species used for lumber, pulpwood, furniture, flooring, paneling, and other products. It has a straight grain, a fine texture, a light color, and a high strength-to-weight ratio.
Wisconsin’s Lumber Boom: Catalyst for the Round Lake Logging Dam
The Wisconsin lumber boom of the 1800s was a monumental period in the state’s history that brought about rapid expansion and development in the logging industry. This boom reshaped the landscape, provided livelihoods for thousands of workers, and laid the foundation for today’s thriving paper industry.
The main factors that contributed to the lumber boom were:
- The vast pine forest belt stretched from New England to western Canada, providing abundant high-quality timber.
- The accessibility of the forests by water allows for efficient transportation of lumber via the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River.
- The growing demand for lumber from burgeoning cities and industries in the Midwest and beyond.
The effects of the lumber boom included:
- The emergence of new towns and cities along rivers and railroads that supported loggers and mill workers.
- The creation of a diverse and multicultural workforce, with workers facing harsh conditions and dangers in the logging camps and on log drives.
- The depletion of virgin forests and the transformation of the landscape into “cutover” lands led to erosion and devastating forest fires.
- The creation of cutting-edge economic and technological systems that make better and more responsible use of forests and their resources.
Construction and Development: The Late 1800s and Early 1900s
The Round Lake Logging Dam, which John R. Davis built in 1878, was a crucial component of logging operations on the South Fork Flambeau River. The dam featured a wooden crib structure filled with rocks, spanning 150 feet across the river, and two sets of gates that could be opened or closed to regulate water flow and logs.
The dam’s primary purpose was to create a reservoir of water that could be released periodically to flush logs downstream to sorting booms and mills. Additionally, it served as a storage location for logs hauled to the riverbank by sleds or railroads during the winter.
Otto C. Doering: A Key Figure in the Dam’s Construction
Otto C. Doering, a prominent businessman, and philanthropist, played a significant role in the dam’s construction and preservation. After purchasing the Round Lake Logging Dam and surrounding land in 1915, Doering built an Adirondack-style camp on the property and restored the dam, hiring local workers to repair it and keep it operational for recreational purposes.
Doering’s son Robert continued his father’s legacy of preserving and sharing the dam with others, ultimately donating the dam and 40 acres of land to the Price County Historical Society in 1981.
Timbered Sluices: A Remarkable Logging Era Infrastructure
Timbered sluices were wooden channels that transported logs down steep slopes or around river obstacles during the logging era. These sluices allowed loggers to access remote forest areas and exploit valuable timber resources that would otherwise be inaccessible or uneconomical.
They also reduced the risk of log jams, damage, and loss that often occurred during log drives on rough rivers and enabled loggers to transport logs during dry seasons when the water level was too low for natural log driving.
One famous example of a timbered sluice in Wisconsin was the one built by the Mississippi River Logging Company on the South Fork Flambeau River near Lugerville in 1891. This two-mile-long engineering marvel carried logs from Round Lake to the main channel of the Flambeau River, where they were sorted and rafted to downstream mills.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin lumber boom of the 1800s was a remarkable period that shaped the state’s economy, culture, and environment. The Round Lake Logging Dam and the use of timbered sluices during the logging era are prime examples of the ingenuity and adaptability of the logging industry at that time. These aspects of Wisconsin’s logging history are worth remembering and appreciating for their historical and educational value.
A Guide to Visiting the Round Lake Logging Dam
Are you ready to embark on a unique adventure that combines history, nature, and recreation? As you explore the Round Lake Dam and its surroundings, you’ll be immersed in a forested landscape teeming with diverse trees, plants, and wildlife, including pine, maple, birch, oak, ferns, wildflowers, deer, bear, beaver, otter, eagle, heron, and loon.
Hidden in Chequamegon National Forest: The Location of the Round Lake Logging Dam
Reaching the Round Lake Logging Dam is a breeze, thanks to Forest Road 144, a gravel road connecting to Highway 70. The road is open year-round and suitable for most vehicles, with a parking area and picnic shelter available near the dam.
While no fees or permits are required to visit the dam or use the facilities, visitors must follow the rules and regulations of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and respect the site’s historical and natural values. Keep in mind that no restrooms or drinking water are available at the site, so plan accordingly.
Accessible Pathways: Exploring the Forest Road to the Dam
A well-maintained, easily accessible half-mile loop trail leads you to the dam and the parking area. Along the trail, you’ll find interpretive signs and historical markers explaining the dam’s history and function and stunning views of the river and surrounding forest.
Tranquil Trails: Walking Opportunities at the Dam
For more intrepid explorers, miles of trail systems connect to the dam trail, offering hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding opportunities. Part of the Flambeau Hills Trail System, these multi-use trails cover over 70 miles of terrain in Chequamegon National Forest, with varying difficulties and lengths.
Scenic Beauty: Enjoying the Shores of Round Lake
Don’t forget to check out Round Lake, a picturesque spot created by the damming of the river. This popular fishing destination boasts walleye, bass, northern pike, and panfish, while its shores provide scenic spots for picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, and wildlife watching.
To make your visit to the Round Lake Logging Dam even more enjoyable, consider bringing the following items:
- A camera or binoculars to capture breathtaking views and wildlife sightings
- Fishing gear if you plan to cast a line in Round Lake
- A picnic basket and blanket for a relaxing meal by the lake or at the picnic shelter
- A water bottle and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout your visit
- A hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, and appropriate clothing to protect yourself from the sun and pesky bugs
- A map or GPS device to help you navigate the trails without a hitch
- A first aid kit and emergency phone numbers in case of any accidents or injuries
So, there you have it—with its rich history, stunning natural beauty, and many recreational opportunities, this destination will surely leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
Sure, the Round Lake Logging Dam holds historical significance and serves as a popular attraction in the Chequamegon National Forest. But it’s also true that these massive structures have some not-so-eco-friendly effects on our environment, including water levels, aquatic life, insect-eating birds, and even trees.
That was probably the challenge of getting the DNR to sign off on the renovation project that was to bring this historic gem back to its current brilliance. It is now technically a bridge as the restored dam has the sluice gates permanently stuck open so the water is never actually dammed.
If it was actually a working dam, here is what could happen:
- Reduced water level: Reduced water levels can affect aquatic organisms’ habitat availability, migration, reproduction, and food webs.
- Reduced sediment transport: This can cause erosion and incision of the river bed, loss of floodplains and wetlands, changes in delta formation, and coastal erosion.
- Altered water temperature: Can impact the metabolism, growth, survival, and distribution of fish species and their susceptibility to diseases and parasites.
- Altered water quality: Can cause eutrophication, oxygen depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and toxicity.
It is lucky that we have the current solution that they came up with. It was not only faster for approval during their restoration process but is truly a wonder to walk your own feet across. You can stand on it and look over the river, trying to imagine the past when it was in commercial use.
You couldn’t help but notice the pride in the voices that told the story of the dam and how it was brought back to life. The Round Lake Logging Dam is a testament to the rich history of Park Falls. This unique dam has been instrumental in the prosperity of the region’s lumber industry. Examples are the burgeoning industries of shipbuilding, construction, and paper manufacturing.
However, by 1950, the dam had ceased operation due to the advent of railroads and trucks and the depletion of timber resources. Despite falling into disrepair, the dam’s historical significance was recognized in 1981 when it was included in the National Register of Historic Places.
A collaborative restoration project in 1995 involving the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the Price County Historical Society, and local volunteers revived the dam’s structural integrity and historic charm.
Today, the Round Lake Logging Dam offers an immersive experience to its visitors through:
- Historical and Cultural Insight: Marvel at the 450-foot-long dam and its unique wooden crib design filled with rocks and logs. Interpretive signs provide a detailed account of the dam’s history, function, and restoration efforts, enhanced by historical photographs and artifacts.
- Picnic Spots: Enjoy a scenic picnic amidst nature. The tables overlook the tranquil reservoir and the river, providing an ideal setting for a relaxing meal.
- Hiking Trails: Embark on a hike along the Round Lake Logging Dam Interpretive Trail or the Round Lake Trail, exploring the diverse flora of the Chequamegon National Forest.
But Wait – There’s More
Enhancing your Park Falls experience is the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge, located 10 miles south of the logging dam. This is another historical attraction you should not miss. Built in 1991 by local craftsmen, this bridge showcases the traditional town lattice truss design, covered with cedar shingles and painted red.
Open to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, the bridge offers scenic views of the river and forest. Interpretive signs at both ends narrate the history and construction of the bridge. Also popular for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and camping, the bridge enhances the overall historical appeal of the region.
For the local community of Park Falls, the Round Lake Logging Dam is more than a tourist attraction; it’s a symbol of their resilient past and promising future. It represents a time when the community thrived amidst the lumber industry, balancing economic interests and environmental conservation.
Today, the dam stands as a testament to the spirit and values of Park Falls, serving as a reminder of its rich history and commitment to preserving its cultural heritage.
A trip to the Round Lake Logging Dam is a journey through time. It offers a glimpse into Wisconsin’s logging era and its influence on the region’s landscape and culture. Park Falls offers a distinctive fusion of historical and natural attractions, which the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge completes.
As you leave, you’ll carry a deeper appreciation for Park Falls and its people, making the Round Lake Logging Dam more than just a visit but a meaningful and memorable experience.
Are you in the spirit of discovering hidden gems? Well, I can’t emphasize enough the enriching experience that awaits you at the Round Lake Logging Dam. Make the trip and witness firsthand this invaluable piece of our national heritage.