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State park a pain in the rain, but worth it

By Keith Barber

A camping trip last weekend led me to the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, an area of the state I’ve long wanted to explore. And boy, did I get an eyeful. What better choice than Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario?

The park consists of 3,603 acres in and around the Kickapoo River Valley, which spans four counties.

The main entrance and most of the campsites are on top of a large earth and sandstone ridge. A 24-spot horse trail campsite occupies a lower ridge in the park with the Kickapoo River nearby.

No doubt, the biggest feature is Observation Point. At 1,238 feet above sea level, the view overlooks the valley and ridges for quite some distance. The vastness of it all is just overwhelming. There are also canoe trip possibilities on the Kickapoo River. Nearby Ontario is known as the canoe capitol of Wisconsin. “Do the Poo” as they say.

The park also has four major hiking trails, most testing your physical abilities to walk inclines and balance yourself on declines. And, of course, the weekend-long rain was a challenge as well. The old saying of “Slippery when wet” holds true, and I’ve learned first-hand that the bees will sting if you get too close to the purple cone flower patch near the nature center building.

But what’s a camping trip without a few bruises? Soaked or not, it was a great time.

The rainy weather did allow me to check out the Visitor’s Center near the park entrance.

Research tells me that the building was designed by Architecture Madison LLP, and constructed by Ellis Stone Construction, Stevens Point, in 2008. The 1,930-square-foot center boosts a lodge-like design with heavy timber construction. The center is a great addition to the park, and the workmanship gives credit to the industry.

The employees were proud to display the building, which cost about $882,800 to build. Yes, 2008 was the year of the great floods. As I watched the rain gushing through the newly laid riprap near the center, I thought about the challenges Ellis Stone had constructing this facility on a hilltop.

I spoke with a ranger exiting the building about the construction process, and she mentioned how bad the flooding was on one particular July day. Evidently, soil and water broke down some of the silt fence put up during construction, and washed away part of the slope and parking lot, along with a few campsites.

It must have been scary to say the least.

The area rebounded nicely, but what went wrong? My question to the industry is: How strong and how safe are these silt fences? Are they all made of the same material, and is there standard protocol in erecting them? Are there certain types to use on severe slopes?

Just curious.

Keith Barber is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 225-1821 or leave a comment below and he’ll respond.

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