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Highway 54 turns east and follows Highway 35, hugging the bluffs with the river and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to your right. The Trempealeau N.W.R. covers over 10 square miles and consists of the backwaters away from the Mississippi and the Trempealeau Rivers. Called a "prairie wonderland" by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, you'll find tall grasses that reach heights of eight or nine feet. Watch for controlled fires in the area, primarily during the spring months. Past tiny Marshland and over the Trempealeau River, Highway 54 leaves Buffalo County and enters Trempealeau County (I'll bet you've never seen the word "Trempealeau" so many times in one paragraph) for a beeline ride east, past the intersection where Highway 35 breaks away to head south toward La Crosse and Highway 93 joins from the north for the ride into Galesville (pop. 1,427). Galesville celebrates the apple orchards of Wisconsin the first Saturday in every October with the Apple Affair, featuring everything apple (except, perhaps, for Gwyneth Paltrow's kid), tons of activities and multiple bicycle tours that let you pedal around and check out the fall colors.
Left: This area is Amish country, where signs like these can be found here and there. Watch for a slow buggy here and there. Right: From the "You Never Know What You'll Find on the State Trunk Tour" Department: I have no idea what this is, but it was definitely picture-worthy.
The Black River, which runs through the heart of Black River Falls (logically enough), indeed has a blackish hue due to its high iron content. It's a popular paddling and canoeing river, as evidenced by the opportunity you had earlier in North Bend. The Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce offers information on a bunch of other places to take advantage of the river's amenities, as well as the city's. Just follow U.S. 12/Highway 27 (Water Street) north from the downtown junction for a brief minute and it's right there. You can also call them at 800-404-4008.
Cool kitsch: Familiar with the British band The Fall? They actually mention the Black River Falls Motel. Why? I'll do some digging and find it, 'cause I'll bet the story's interesting. Also, you should check out the orange moose at the Best Western Arrowhead Lodge & Suites, and the "cow" McDonald's, a Mickey D's with cow-like themes on the tables - although they could be dalmation-like, too. Also, the Majestic Pines Casino is maintained by the Ho-Chunk Nation just east of Black River Falls, so if you're feelin' lucky, stop in and test your fate.
Evidence of the forthcoming cranberry domination along Highway 54 shows up just before City Point, a town that crams 189 people into only 90 square miles. Many more of the brilliant red seas of berries (in season) will come in Wood County. Meanwhile, how about some wildlife? Check out the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails inside the 9,100-acre Sandhill State Wildlife Area. It features a 3.5-mile hiking trail known as the Swamp Buck, a captive herd of bison, and camping abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing and interaction. If you prefer the comfort of your vehicle, there Trumpeter Trail Auto Tour gives you 14 miles of road to follow. Three observation towers and a slew of guidance and informational signs tell you more about the animals you're watching, including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls... you get the idea. Oh, and there's no hunting allowed. You can access the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails right off Highway 54 by following County Highway X south.
Back onto 54, you meet up with Highway 80 briefly in Dexterville and then plow eastward through miles of cranberry bogs and you're in towns with names like "Cranmoor."
The Wisconsin River beckons as you hook up with Highway 73, just out of Nekoosa and head into Port Edwards (pop. 1,944). Originally known as "Frenchtown", Port Edwards grew around a sawmill owned by John Edwards, Sr. and Jr., and the town was eventually renamed after them. The "Port" part comes from the Wisconsin River, upon which Port Edwards sits. While there, check out the Alexander House Center for Art & History, (715-887-3442) which features art displays, colonial furniture, and historical looks at the area's papermaking and lumber industry. The Alexander House is right along Highway 54. The Edwards and most of its inhabitants weren't big drinkers; this was a "dry" community from its establishment in the 1830s all the way into the 1990s. So for a century and a half, residents in search of imbibe-ment headed up today's Highway 54 to their "big city" neighbor.
Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn't a big city, but it is big enough to be its own "micropolitan" area, which has almost 50,000 people. "Da Rapids", as locals call it, used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the cityís name to Wisconsin Rapids. The "rapids" refers to a 45-foot drop this "hardest working river in the world" made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes. Dams have since changed this - there are five from Stevens Point down to Nekoosa - but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.
Consequently, Wisconsin Rapids is a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of cranberries you saw in the bogs getting here. Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state - over 300 million pounds per year - and Wood County (of which Wisconsin Rapids is the county seat) is pretty much the center of it all. Itís home to a major educational software company, Renaissance Learning, Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop (and to salute that, the city has an annual Betty Boop Festival) and the hometown of the driver with NASCARís coolest name ever, Dick Trickle.
Highway 54 runs along the Wisconsin River's west shore into the city. Highway 73 breaks away at this point and heads toward Neillsville with Highway 13 westbound. We'll join Highway 13 eastbound for a short distance on the "Riverview Expressway", which isn't that expressway-like but is still the first divided highway stretch on Highway 54 since it began in Winona. Highway 13 then heads south toward Wisconsin Dells, while Highway 54 shoots north along 8th Street into downtown Wisconsin Rapids. Highway 13 used to follow this route too, so you'll see "Business" 13 signs along your way. Wisconsin Rapids via Google Maps.
Highway 54 leaves "Da Rapids" on Baker Street (insert Gerry Rafferty song here) and then into Portage County as Plover Road for the ride to - you guessed it - Plover. This stretch was recently upgraded to a 65 mph expressway, so open it up and enjoy. The Canadian Pacific Railroad parallels this straightaway for a while... and it'll probably be going faster than you.
Plover (pop. 10,520) was once the Portage County seat, a distinction lost to nearby Stevens Point in the 1860s -- and some resentment may still remain. Plover itself incorporated and was dissolved several times over its history, but that situation stabilized a while back and now - in a way - it's a southern suburb of Stevens Point. The town is pretty good at producing athletes. They stretch back a ways to Walt Wilmot, an MLB player who began his career with the Washington Nationals in 1888 (the first incarnation of that team, obviously) through the 1898 season with the New York Baseball Giants, with a long stint with the Cubs in between. Current hockey star Joe Pavelski, who skates and body slams for the San Jose Sharks, also grew up in Plover. Former wrestling Olympian Dennis Hall, who snagged the Silver in Atlanta in 1996 and the Gold the year before that at the Pan Am Games, now lives in Plover, although he also spends a lot of time training future Olympians up in Marquette, Michigan.
Highway 54 dives southeast out of Plover, crosses I-39 & U.S. 51 and then across a wide expanse of farmland through Portage County and into Waupaca County, where you cross the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with access to Hartman Creek State Park, a great park for camping and canoeing. The Park is on the edge of the popular "Chain O'Lakes" area. Once known as the "Kilarnies of Wisconsin", the area features 22 interconnected glacial lakes and ample opportunities for swimming, boating, scuba diving, hanging out next to the water doing absolutely nothing, and more. Highway 54 grazes the northern area of these lakes. For access, follow County Q or QQ south and check out Ding's Dock (715-258-2612) for pontoons, boat rentals, cottage rentals and more. You can also take a cruise on the lakes by contacting Clear Water Harbor (715-258-2866), which also features the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar and Moo's Dairy Bar, charged with the task of keeping plenty of malts, floats and ice cream at the ready for boaters. At the eastern edge of the Chain O'Lakes lies King, an unincorporated area that holds the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, a sprawling complex where veterans receive care and can enjoy the beauty of the lakes.
Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year.One of them is Strawberry Fest, which loads up downtown with berry, berry happy festivalgoers (sorry, I couldn't resist). Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.
Highway 54 joins up with Highway 22 for the ride eastward out of Waupaca for a little while. Highway 110 joins briefly too, before both break away and head north to Manawa and beyond. Meanwhile, Highway 54 cuts east through Royalton and Northport before heading into New London.
Straddling the Waupaca-Outgamie county line, New London (pop. 7,085) sits along the Embarrass and Wolf Rivers and is considered among the best places in the state to catch some tasty walleye. It hosts a variety of historic buildings, five of which are in the Heritage Historical Village. There's also the New London Public Museum, which has been hosting exhibits since 1917. Adding the culture in this relatively small burg, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe performs at the Wolf River Theatre. There's even a group of movie stunt performers that hosts a western stunt show called "Whips, Garters, and Guns Wild West Review" that is based here but puts on shows all over the country.
U.S. 45 used to intersect Highway 54 in the midst of downtown, but it now runs on a bypass on the east side of New London. Once you cross U.S. 45, Highway 54 barrels eastward through Shiocton (pop. 954) and then to Black Creek (pop. 1,192), where it intersects with Highway 47. Black Creek is often locally pronounced as Black "Crick". One fun thing of note is that two of its first settlers were named Abraham Lincoln Burdick and Thomas Jefferson Burdick. It was originally called Middleburg, probably because it pretty much is smack dab in the middle of Outagamie County. A creek at the village's edge, which is apparently dark in color, prompted the name change.
Just east of Seymour, Highway 55 heads south towards Kaukauna while Highway 54 heads through the Oneida Indian Reservation, which was established by treaty in 1838, ten years before Wisconsin became a state. There's the town of Oneida, and then Hobart (pop. 5,090), which incorporated as a village in 2002. Hobart is a fast-growing suburb of Green Bay, based in part on its proximity to Austin-Straubel International Airport and the surrounding highways. While Highway 54 is one of the main highways, the key freeway route is U.S. 41, which marks the boundary between Hobart and Green Bay itself.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the "frozen tundra" lies about 2 miles south of Highway 54; you can cut south to it via Oneida Street, Military Avenue, or the U.S. 41 freeway. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers...the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.
Along the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America, bridges are lit up at night with condos, bars and shops springing up around them. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. The Neville Public Museum, focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and is a great stop for an afternoon - before or after hitting Titletown Brewing.
Green Bay does have a bit of a nightlife area downtown, east along the Fox River. Centered on Washington Street adjacent to Highway 29 (which parallels Highway 54 about a mile north in this area), the area features an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner's Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar - yes, think about it.) Green Bay's party crowd hangs out in this area, and it's not uncommon for Packers players to be seen.
For a few miles, Highway 54 becomes a little mini-freeway, lifting up over neighborhoods and leapfrogging over the Fox River. On the west bank of the Fox is Ashland Avenue (Highway 32), which is available via an exit. For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, accessible along Highway 32 about two miles south of Highway 54), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world's largest steam locomotive, known as "Big Boy."
On the east bank of the Fox River, Highway 57 comes in as Monroe Avenue. At this point, Highway 54 leaves Mason Street and joins Highway 57 for the into downtown Green Bay.
East of downtown Green Bay, a strip known as "Olde Main Street" offers a variety of shops. Around these points, Highway 29 meets up with Highway 54 and Highway 57 before heading out of town on what is also US Highway 141. This commercial strip was the main road to Milwaukee before I-43 was constructed.
On the way, Highway 54 goes through New Franken and into Kewaunee County, where it enters Luxemburg (pop. 1,935), one of many towns in this area named after European places. Others in close proximity include Denmark, Brussels and Poland. The town was named after, not surprisingly, the home country of its first settlers, who came from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, an area that has since graced the town with a statue to commemorate U.S. soldiers who helped free Luxemburg in World War II. Luxemburg also hosts the Kewaunee County Fair on the (not surprisingly named) Kewaunee County Fairgrounds. Also nearby is the Luxemburg Speedway, which hosts IMCA modifides and other races. The Speedway is on the south side of town, best accessible via 3rd Street.
Continuing east, Highway 54 heads through Casco (pop. 572), Rio Creek and Rankin, all very small settlements about 2-3 miles apart.
And with that, we come to the eastern end of Highway 54 at Algoma (pop. 3,357), perched atop the Lake Michigan shore and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach. Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, "Shanty Days", which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and - if you ask nice - beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in "numerous.")