Mt. Morris Mill sign

152

Highway 152 shield

Wisconsin Highway 152 Route Map, statewide size“Seven Miles from the Christmas Tree Capital of the World to Mount Morris’ Nordic Mountain”

Quickie Summary: Wisconsin Highway 152 is a brief State Trunk Tour route – it’s quite hard to see almost on our state map here – that runs from Wautoma (which bills itself as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World”) to the tiny town of Mount Morris, which hosts camps, forests, and the Nordic Mountain Ski Area. On this brief connector route off of Highways 21 and 73, you can enjoy some nice scenery, a 19th century dam and mill, and some nice topography amidst this glaciated area of central Wisconsin – plus a few cool things just beyond its finish.

Highway 152 eastbound near the start in Wautoma

It may only be seven miles, there’s a lot of zigging and zagging on this lil’ State Trunk Tour.

Highway 152 Road Trip

The Drive (West to East): We begin in Wautoma (pop. 2,218), the county seat of Waushara County. “Waushara” is a Native American name, believed to mean “good land” (but isn’t that what Alice Cooper said about Milwaukee in Wayne’s World??) Anyway, Wautoma bills itself as the “Christmas tree capital of the world” since The Kirk Company started growing and harvesting trees on over 10,000 acres in the area in 1953. The company, headquartered in Washington State, continues to grow trees for market and offers the opportunity to color trees in all sorts of shades – so maybe Wautoma is the “multi-colored Christmas tree capital” too?

Lovers of historic buildings can head downtown and check out the Waushara County Courthouse, Waushara County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail on Ste. Marie Street. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Waushara County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail is a brick Georgian Revival building built in 1908 which now serves as a museum of the Waushara County Historical Society. The Waushara County Courthouse (209 Ste. Marie Street) is a Classical Revival-style building built in 1928. They’re both one block south of Highway 21/73 (Main Street) along Ste. Marie in the downtown area. You’ll also find some cool antique shops and Graf’s Sweet Shop, in case you need a little sugar for your seven-mile journey on Highway 152. You need a throwback burger or shake, the Milty Wilty Drive-In will take good care of you in-season, just blocks to the east of Highway 152’s start via Main Street.

Highway 152 itself begins a little further to the east, at Townline Road, which it follows briefly before turning east onto Mt. Morris Avenue. Then we have some zigging and zagging through peaceful, pleasant Wisconsin countryside in the midst of Waushara County.

Highway 152 near Wautoma

One of the few longer straight stretches of Highway 152. Lovely farmland abounds, even though a “mountain” lies ahead.

Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran Church along Highway 152 in Wisconsin

The Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran Church is a great example of how a beautiful church in a rural area just adds to the sense of serenity as you drive.

Highway 152 approaches Mt. Morris, an unincorporated town, and prepares to finish its short journey – but not before several areas of interest!

Mount Morris Dam – and Coffee

Mount Morris Dam marker along Highway 152

As you enter Mt. Morris (we’re intertwining “Mount” and “Mt.” here as we see fit) you’ll find a historic dam just off the road. The Mount Morris Dam & Grist Mill was built in 1860 by two men (James Morse and Henry Seabolt) who helped found the town. Running through several ownerships through the years, the Dam and Mill started providing electric power to Mt. Morris in 1925. It was renovated in 1995 and you can enjoy how it is today by not only exploring it from the outside but by popping into the Mt. Morris Mill Coffee Shop (N3694 State Road 152, (920) 787-7830.) This charming coffee house, open seasonally, runs inside the mill and refers to itself as a “no rush zone” –  even though they tend to fill customers with caffeine. You can explore the interior of this historic space or walk around the lock and dam area outside; the directional sign (below) will tell you which way to go and describe their coffee at the same time.

Mt. Morris Mill Coffee

Mt. Morris Mill sign

Mt. Morris Dam

After just seven miles, several turns, beautiful farm and recreation land, camps, a lovely church, coffee, and a dam and mill, Highway 152 comes to an end. Not at another state, U.S., or Interstate highway, but two county roads, making it almost a “spur” on the state trunk highway system. County G takes you west and northwest; County W takes you northeast and north. Either way, there are several points of interest within a very short drive – practically within eyeshot – of the eastern end of Highway 152.

Highway 152's eastern terminus in Mt. Morris

Highway 152’s brief tour comes to an end at two county highways in Mt. Morris. But cool parks, ski areas, and even a covered bridge beckon just beyond via County Highways G & W…

From Highway 152, just one-half mile to the west via County G you’ll find Mt. Morris Hills County Park. Developed in the 1960s by locals hoping to create a state park, this fine county offers some nice facilities from electricity and running water to all kinds of sporting fields along with 4.3 miles of hiking trails, which double in the winter for cross-country skiing. It’s a good place to have a little cookout, to; Morris Lake can be accessed via the town park across County G.

On a drive briefly to the east on County W, you’ll access Nordic Mountain (920-787-3324), an 18-run ski, snowboard, and tubing complex with a 265-foot vertical drop from the top of the hill to the start of the beginner’s area. All skis and snowboards must have metal edges, by the way. They offer two chair lifts and two conveyor lifts (one 80′, one 200′) and for visitors they offer overnight accommodations, a bar and restaurant focused on locally-sourced food and beer. For night skiiers, boarders, and tubers, 16 of the 18 runs are lit, and the runs range from black diamond to beginner. There’s also a Tubing Park and an Alpine Adventure Challenge, so there’s plenty to do here in winter. During the warmer months, mountain biking trails criss-cross and cover much of the 104 acres of Nordic Mountain, so there’s plenty to check out in every season.

And that’s a good way to end Highway 152 on a high note!

Just Beyond Highway 152: Covered Bridge Bonus

Shout-out to State Trunk Tour reader Michael K. who alerted us to one more “beyond the terminus” ride from Highway 152: a covered bridge near Saxeville called the Springwater Volunteer Covered Bridge. It’s not one of the old originals; it was built in 1997 to replaced the earlier covered bridge. Local people, unsatisfied with replacement funding that would only call for a non-descript bridge, volunteered their time, skills, and money to build this. A garden park adorns the bridge – property of the adjacent landowner – to make it even more enjoyable. We found this video from Laurie Kutil, who has a YouTube channel called Adventures In Travel. So until we see it for ourselves, we’ll share hers! (Thanks Laurie!)

To get to this bridge from the end of Highway 152, Michael says the following: “Take W out of Mount Morris to Saxeville. Stop at the little park on the left as you come into town and you’ll find a bell that supposedly was taken from Union forces from Jefferson Davis’ plantation. I think the road to the left that the park is at the intersection with W is called Portage Rd. [It is, we checked — STT] Stop at the historic Ding Tavern for some bar food, then continue to the west and Covered Bridge Road will be on your right.” Thanks Michael! 

There’s always cool stuff just beyond on these State Trunk Tours.

Highway 152 CONNECTIONS:

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 21, Highway 73
Can connect nearby to: Highway 22, less than one mile west

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: County G, County W

By the way, road geeks will note this unusual western end of Highway 152, where the “ENDS” sign is below the shield; maybe the sign person was from Michigan? That’s how they do it there. Huh…

Highway 152 end sign at Highways 21/73 in Wautoma

Unusual sign for the western end of Highway 152 in Wautoma, from the font to the “END” sign below the 152. Yeah, we notice goofy things like that.

 

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22

STH-022“Seed Spitting, ATV’ing & Copper Culture”

WisMap22Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 22 is one of several state highways that meander a bit while changing direction. Running right up the center of Wisconsin at first, Highway 22 winds through a number of central and northeastern Wisconsin towns, providing access to lakes and rivers that offer some of the state’s best fishing, eventually providing access to the waters of Green Bay at Oconto.

** NOTE **
The stretch of Highway 22 between Oconto Falls and U.S. 141 will be closed for reconstruction until early August. Check this link from DOT for the latest detour and project information.

Wisconsin Highway 22 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North, then East): Highway 22 starts out at a rural crossroads where U.S. 51 veers away from its journey due north of Madison and cuts towards Portage; the east-west crossroad is the “coast-to-coast” Highway 60.

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Highway 22 begins in a nondescript way as U.S. 51 veers westerly at Highway 60 about 20 minutes north of the Madison area.

The first ten miles of Highway 22 take you through wide-open spaces – for Wisconsin – and a series of “Ethanol YES!” signs, indicative of corn and politically active farmers in the area. Highway 22’s southern section traverses the Central Sand Hills, an ecological landscape influenced heavily by glaciers. Within close range of this area, you have the Dells are to the west and a close passing of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers nearby. Sandy soils, abundant small lakes and many streams created an environment favorable for good fishing and crop-raising.

Some good-sized hills emerge a few miles further north of where Highway 22 begins, including a pretty scenic one as you cross Rocky Run. The first town you enter is Wyocena (pop. 768), where Highway 16 crosses. They built an interchange for a “U.S. 16 bypass” decades ago, and the “old” 16 just north of it shows just how tiny some of the major routes used to be. Try following it; it’s a small side street that, prior to the 1950s, was the main route for Milwaukee-Minneapolis traffic. Makes one appreciate expanded bypasses sometimes!

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Just north of where Highway 22 crosses Highway 16 today is the marker showing the origin of Wyocena, founded by Major Elbert Dickason in 1843. His wife was named Obedience, which has sort of fallen off the “popular baby names for girls” list over the last century or two.

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For an area thought of as fairly flat, this part of central Wisconsin sports some sizable hills and nice views as you cruise. When the glaciers came down across the state many millennia ago, they formed ridges in this area that helped form lakes and rivers that provide great fishing today..

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Three miles later lies Pardeeville (pop. 1,995) and yes, it’s pronounced “partyville”. Not that it’s known for parties… or is it? You’ll have to find that out on your own. In the middle of a Saturday, things were pretty calm. Pardeeville was named for John Pardee, a Milwaukee merchant who owned the land here and sent agents to develop it. And develop it they did – at least to an extent. The town’s location along the Fox River gave it strategic importance, especially back when the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway system was considered the possible main boat route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River – though that ended up not happening.

Highway 22 at Highway 44, Pardeeville

Where Highways 22 & 44 meet in Pardeeville. This is, technically, the downtown crossroads.

Pardeeville’s downtown strip runs for only a few blocks; Highway 44 begins its run towards Oshkosh at this point, and 22 jogs past Park Lake and over the Fox River, the first of many crossings over that river.

Highway 22 serves as Pardeeville’s main street. While looking for a pardee of some sort, I came across an Everbrite factory that caught my eye because gas prices were even more shocking than usual. This wasn’t as a gas station, however; Everbite makes some of those digital signs that show prices at gas stations, and the examples they had out there weren’t pretty. If you want to see what $6 gas looks like, just check out the picture:

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Thankfully, those aren’t real prices (at least as of press time). Everbrite’s facility in Pardeeville makes some of the digital price signs gas stations use. It scared the heck out of me for a second.

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When a business uses the road number in its name, we include a shot of it on the State Trunk Tour!

Watermelon Seed-Spitting and Curling. Pardeeville is big on watermelons in summer and curling in winter. Every year, Pardeeville hosts the U.S. Watermelon Eating and Seed-Spitting Competition. One edition was visited by the State Trunk Tour, and featured here is Colton Ketter of Lomira. Spitters from all over came to Pardeeville for the chance to take home glory – and a ribbon. Creative decorations with watermelons, like the flower basket and the one puking here to the left, are also potential contest-winners.Pardeeville also has a very active curling club that has been at it since 1875; they’re just off the intersection of Highway 22 and 44 downtown. Curling Olympian Debbie McCormick hails from Pardeeville and still serves as the organization’s vice president.

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Watermelon art. Including one throwing up. Creative, if not appetizing.

Between Pardeeville and Montello, County F provides access to John Muir County Park, which boasts a broad array of diverse and rare plant species, lakes and wetlands. This area was the boyhood home of Sierra Club founder John Muir (hence the county park’s name) and also features a trail and boardwalk around 30-acre Ennis Lake.

Continuing along Highway 22, one notices many antique stores… and you gotta love the ones that, in addition to “classic” antiques, also sell a wide variety of live bait. The bait is popular, though, because there’s tons of good fishing in the area. Dotting Highway 22 are side roads to Fox River and area lake fishing and recreational trails. Marquette County alone has 60+ lakes and 15 trout streams, most of which have good public access.

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From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” department: lawn jockeys in their Packer gear, lighting the way in for these Green-and-Gold-worshiping residents.

This area is also home to a significant Amish population. Use caution in case you share the road with them, since their horsepower amount is usually one or two.

When you reach Montello (pop. 1,495), you’re about 35 miles from the southern end of Highway 22. Montello’s downtown spreads along Highways 22 and 23, and the aforementioned Amish sell many a craft in stores along the route. At the intersection with Highway 23, beautiful, rocky waterfalls greet you, all part of a transformed former granite quarry. Montello claims Wisconsin’s largest tree in front of Le Maison Granit, a historic mansion (oui, a French one at that) on Underwood Avenue, which requires just a short jog on adjacent Highway 23. Wedged between Montello Lake and Buffalo Lake, the city of Montello is very water- and water sports-oriented.

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Montello’s main crossroads at Highway 22 & 23 offer a nice waterfall.

The countryside meanders north of Montello; few towns or points of interest lie between in and Wautoma (pop. 1,998), which you reach about 56 miles north of Highway 22’s starting point. Wautoma features antique stores a’plenty and a nice shopping strip on the main street, which is along Highway 21 just after 22 turns back north to head out of town. Highway 73 also intersects here.

Once out of Wautoma, open spaces greet you for a while. You go through small burgs like Wild Rose, where you can sit atop the upper level balcony at the Duck Blind or enjoy coffee or tiramisu at Pumphouse on the Mill (430 Main St./Highway 22, 920-744-8499), a gastropub located in an old gas station along the mill pond in town. Just north of Wild Rose, Highway 22 enters Portage County and cuts the southeastern corner for literally about a mile and a half before heading into Waupaca County. At this point, you’re making a beeline for Waupaca itself; and yes, it sounds like Wautoma, but it’s Waupaca. You’d think they’d come up with a wider variety of name styles back in the 1800s when all these towns were founded (there’s a Waushara too, don’t get us started.)

Waupaca

Waupaca (pop. 5,750) is the central town in an area known as the Chain O’ Lakes. Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry – now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca – and its foundry locations in Waupaca and Marinette, with one each in Indiana and Tennessee. The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
Now, officially Highway 22 goes around Waupaca on the same bypass that carries the U.S. Highway 10 expressway. You can join it and go around town, but what’s the point in that?? It’s worth the trip on the “Old” 22, past the bypass interchange on County Highway K into town. A leisurely drive past South Park (not to be confused with the TV show) on a nice summer day reveals local residents enjoying the beach nearby on Shadow Lake. You can’t see this on the bypass:

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Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year. One popular summertime treat is Strawberry Fest, which I could only assume celebrates strawberries. On a day when I visited, downtown was loaded up with berry, berry happy festival goers (sorry, I couldn’t resist), bands playing the park, and stores eager to serve the people visiting from other places. 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.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.
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The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.

Following Highway 54 and/or Highway 49 east through the rest of Waupaca will bring you back to Highway 22 for the trip on northeastward – if that’s a word. Highways 22 and 54 combine for a while before 54 heads east toward New London. At this point, Highway 22 joins Highway 110 and heads for rodeo country in the form of Manawa.

Yes, it’s east-central Wisconsin, and I said rodeo country! Manawa (pop. 1,330) is home to the annual Manawa Midwestern Rodeo, which has been active for over 55 years – bring your boots. In winter, you can use the rodeo grounds to access the network of snowmobile trails, of which there are 165 miles in Waupaca County. There are 21 snowmobile clubs in just the county maintaining these trails.

After departing Manawa and the combo with Highway 110, Highway 22 heads east again. Dropping into a nice little valley over the Wolf River and through the town of Symco, I knew I was away from it all when the dominant station on my radio was called “Moose Country” – it’s AM 960, for all you country buffs.

Highway 22 reaches U.S. Highway 45 at a junction with Highway 76, which continues east. We head north with U.S. 45 for several miles into Clintonville (pop. 4,559), which is named after first settler Norman Clinton as opposed to the former president. This small city is home to Seagrave Fire Apparatus, the longest-running fire apparatus manufacturer in the nation. Its airport, Clintonville Municipal (CLI), is historically recognized as the birthplace of Wisconsin Central Airlines, which eventually became North Central and then Republic Airlines, which in 1986 was purchased by Northwest Orient Airlines. Today, it’s all part of Delta Air Lines. Clintonville is also a water city: along with recreation and fishing on Pigeon Lake and along the Pigeon River, Clintonville won the “Best Tasting Water in Wisconsin” contest in 2005, as sponsored by the WWA.

22embras_smShortly after Clintonville is a town many have heard of when commercials or shows are pointing out interesting American place names: Embarrass, Wisconsin. Embarrass (pop. 487) is a small village, named after the river that flows through it. And they’re not ashamed to say it!

Shawano (pop. 8,298) is the county seat of Shawano County and is the largest town on Highway 22. Abutting Shawano Lake, it’s also the largest town between Green Bay and Wausau along Highway 29 and is a major point along the Mountain-Bay Trail, a great 83-mile rail-to-trail bike route that connects Rib Mountain in Wausau with the shore of Green Bay.

Highway 22 doesn’t exactly traverse tons of major cities, so Shawano seemed like a metropolis compared to most towns on the route. The cheapest gas on the route is here, as well as restaurants and hotels. The stretch of Green Bay Avenue lasts for several miles and combines State Trunk Tour Highways 22, 47, 55 and the old – now Business – 29. The mainline Highway 29 now runs south of town on a freeway bypass. At the junction of these highways downtown, this attractive statue illustrates the farming history – and hard work put in – of the area surrounding the city.

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This statue marks the downtown crossroads in Shawano.

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Four State Trunk Highways converge and go through Shawano’s main drag: 22, 47, 55, and “Business” 29, which was the mainline 29 until they built the bypass.

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From the “You Never Know What You’ll See on a State Trunk Tour” Dept: a camel grazes in the front yard of a home along the main drag downtown. The Shawano County Fair was in town at the moment – we can only assume there was a connection there.

shawanolk_lgShawano is considered by many to be “up north”, but its Native American name is actually “to the south.” At 6,100 acres, Shawano Lake was big enough to mark the southern border of Chippewa tribal territory. Highway 22 runs for over seven miles along the lake’s southern shore, passing a historical marker (pictured below) that tells you more. Meanwhile, you run into Cecil (perhaps a Shawano suburb? Maybe?) and make your way towards the highway’s final easterly push.

Past Cecil, you begin to weave over and past the Oconto River, a key stretch of running water that 22 will follow towards its terminus. Rolling hills line sections along the river, and evidence of the “old” 22 abounds:

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Rolling hills make the ride fun as Highway 22 crosses, and then parallels, the Oconto River…

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…and paralleling much of the way is the Old Highway 22, making us thankful for modern engineering.

Into Gillett (pop. 1,303), you meet up briefly with Highway 32. The town was named after Rodney Gillett, an early settler in the 1860s. Gillett is home of the Earthaven Museum, an earth sciences museum a few miles north of town up Highway 32 just down Valley Line Road. The Earthaven Museum features thousands of rocks, minerals and fossils with extensive collections of early human tools and artifacts. It’s a rockin’ time. Get it? Okay, we’ll move on…

Gillett ATV Capital along Highway 22

ATV Capital of the World

Gillett bills itself as the “ATV Capital of the World,” owning the trademark and everything. While a tall order to claim, Gillett backs it up with over 18 miles of maintained ATV trails just within their small city limits and the adjoining towns of Underhill and Maple Valley. A popular starting point is at Zippel Park, which is also home to the Oconto County Fair every summer.

From Gillett – via car, truck, motorcycle, or ATV – Highway 22 more or less follows the Oconto River into Oconto Falls (pop. 2,843), a lovely town where a dam expands the river into a more lake-like recreation setting. The dam, of course, replaced the “falls” part of Oconto Falls in 1883, but they chose to keep the original name. Built on sawmills and solidified on papermaking, Oconto Falls continues to be a source for tissue and other paper products that get shipped all over the world, some of which have to perform very unenviable tasks.

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Rising like a wooden dinner fork, this tree provided a nice foreground subject with the dammed (not damned, dammed) Oconto River in the background.

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A nice day at the riverside beach in Oconto Falls.

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Built in 1885, the Caldwell House hosted new workers and visitors to the pulping operations of the time. They came often by railroad, which came to Oconto Falls two years earlier.

Highway 22 dips into Oconto Falls’ downtown area and then heads back out, pushing east to the railroad – and now highway – stop at Stiles (not named after Julia, although I think of her every time I drive past), you cross U.S. Highway 141, a four-lane expressway letting travelers speed ever faster go get “up north.”

From Oconto Falls to Oconto – the end of the line
The last eight or so miles of Highway 22 is a pleasant, peaceful drive on the way to its eastern end. Right before it ends, though, you approach the outskirts of Oconto and some fascinating history at Copper Culture State Park. This park contains artifacts over 5,000 years old, is a former Native American burial ground – the oldest cemetery site in Wisconsin – and one of the oldest metal use archeological sites in North America. The park is free to visit, although you are encouraged to make a donation at the Werrenbroeck Museum, which takes care of the area and also chronicles the area’s extensive Belgian history. No, they do not make waffles.

Highway 22 comes to an end at the western edge of Oconto (pop. 4,513), which is now bypassed to the west by an expressway upgrade of U.S. 41. Highway 22 technically ends at the highway, but used to continue east to the “old” 41, where more of the activity is. Oconto is the seat of Oconto County and shares a similar history with Oconto Falls in that lumber, sawmills, and papermaking were all important industries.

Oconto

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Old-school beer drinkers may recall Oconto Beer, and signs sporting the brand are still up in various parts of town.

Oconto borders the waters of Green Bay, however, as serves as a port city between Green Bay and Marinette. Consequently, it’s where they build Cruisers Yachts, a luxury pleasure boat manufacturer established here in 1953. Oconto also has a long history of producing gloves – not surprisingly, considering the winter climate – and during the 1930s Oconto’s Holt Company was the largest producer of maple flooring in the United States. The city is the main town between Green Bay and Marinette, has a view of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula across the bay, and it’s where we reach the eastern end of Highway 22 on the State Trunk Tour.

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For those who imbibe too much, the lovely Oconto County Courthouse is not far away.

 

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 60, U.S. Highway 51

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 41
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 141, about 7 miles west

HIghway 21 Tank Crossing

21

STH-021“Bikes To B’Gosh”

 

WisMap21Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 21 cuts across much of central Wisconsin, joining Sparta and Fort McCoy with Oshkosh and the Fox Cities. Used as a primary route for cross-state traffic, it’s the main street for several key towns and provides access to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, as well as both the Wisconsin River (which flows into the Mississippi) and Lake Winnebago (which flows into Green Bay to Lake Michigan and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean.)

Wisconsin Highway 21 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 21 begins in the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta (pop. 9,522). Sparta is the western host of Fort McCoy, the eastern terminus of the La Crosse River Trail, and the northern terminus of the world-famous Elroy-Sparta Trail. It’s also childhood home of a famous astronaut and current home of the World’s Largest Bicyclist (more on that below.) I-90 and Highways 16, 27, and 71 also meet in Sparta.

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Sparta’s traditional downtown runs along Highway 21, with shops and bikers lining the street.

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Ben Biken, Sparta’s bicyclin’ mascot, looks over Highway 21’s western start. He was manufactured locally by FAST Corp., which we’ll get to in a second.

The town’s enthusiastic support of bicycling extends to street name signs that bear bike symbols. Numerous motels and B&B’s cater to the cycling crowd while downtown establishments offer supplies for your bike and sustenance for your tummy.

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The Sparta Depot serves as a trailhead for the La Crosse River and Elroy-Sparta Trails. Here, a group of bikers begin the 32-mile trek toward Elroy.

On top of bikes, Sparta has a number of attractions. Some kids who grow up in Sparta leave for big cities; Deke Slayton left for Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum honors the astronaut, native son, and head of NASA Operations from 1963 to 1972.

Deke Slayton Museum, Sparta

An out-of-this-world statue of Sparta son Deke Slayton adorns the Space & Bicycle Museum that bears his name.

So, you know that fiberglass hippo? The one whose mouth you putt golf balls into while playing mini-golf? Chances are it was made in Sparta at the FAST Corp. (FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks.) FAST does business all over the world, and few companies like it exist. A drive into their lot yields a sprawling field filled with fiberglass fun: large cows, alligators, elephants that double as childrens’ slides… the list goes on. You may traverse the field and marvel at their creations, as long as you behave and don’t climb on anything. Their lot can be found by following Highway 21 to the northeast edge of town, at the junction with County Highway Q. Look for giant fiberglass things.

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Fiberglass animals of all kinds, including this elephant hanging out in the pasture, dot FAST’s lot on the northeast side of Sparta. You are welcome to wander around and check out all the fascinating pieces, just be careful. Watch for wasps, which sometimes make nests inside the displays. Nobody needs somebody getting hurt, stung, or whining off to their lawyer. It is forbidden on the State Trunk Tour.

Highway 21 into Fort McCoy

Highway 21 crosses a stretch of Fort McCoy between Sparta and Tomah. They encourage you to just keep driving…

HIghway 21 Tank Crossing

Now HERE’S a “crossing” sign you don’t see that often…

Northeast out of Sparta, Highway 21 follows the La Crosse River and then beelines it across Fort McCoy, a military reservation in service since 1909. Amidst a beautiful setting with valleys, coulees and hills, about 100,000 members of the military are trained here every year.

Tomah

After a 5-6 mile straightaway, Highway 21 winds past Tunnel City and across the northern end of Tomah (pop. 8,419), which holds the Monroe County seat. Tomah itself sits right where the Driftless Area gives way to cranberry bogs and forests. Transportation has long been a hallmark of Tomah; it holds an Amtrak station for the Empire Builder and is where roads going through Wisconsin from Illinois to Minnesota tend to split. Pre-Interstate days, it’s where then-main roads U.S. Highways 12 and 16 split; when the interstates were built in the 1960’s, they decided to split Interstates 90 and 94 here as well. Highway 131 also starts here and makes a trek south through Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, an incredibly beautiful drive. Even shows of power congregate here: the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull is one of the largest in the country and takes place every June at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. Not coincidentally, lots of hotels, truck stops, warehouses and transport companies are located here. In keeping with the transportation theme, Gasoline Alley comic strip creator Frank King grew up in Tomah. The city’s downtown is south of Highway 21; just follow U.S. 12 south and when you reach downtown, it’s a pretty cool main street boulevard. Meanwhile, along Highway 21,you’ll find a plethora of gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and more at the busy junction with I-94.

Tomah water towerIn addition to transportation, Tomah is known as one of America’s cranberry capitals. The world’s largest cranberry festival is held during late September in nearby Warrens, which also holds the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. Warrens can be reached by heading north on I-94 to County E, about 8 miles north of Highway 21.

You can see cranberry bogs for yourself along Highway 21 just east of the intersections with U.S. 12 and I-94.

East of Tomah, it gets more forested. Just past the junction with Highway 173, an angled road that sends you up towards Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids, you enter a busy area – for wildlife.

The massive Necedah National Wildlife Refuge covers 43,696 acres in the largest wetland bog in Wisconsin. Established in 1939, the Necedah N.W.R. hosts many rare or endangered species; the Refuge played a key role in the reintroduction of the whooping crane and the gray wolf. Over 110 species of migratory birds and 44 species of butterflies (did you even know there were 44 species of butterflies??) along with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and several threatened species like the Blanding’s turtle all get to hang out here. Hiking, fishing and berry-picking are just some of the activities one can participate in at Necedah.

Necedah Visitor Center sign

The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge can be accessed right off Highway 21.

Necedah NWR guide signs

Necedah is known as the “Land of the Yellow Water” due to the Yellow River flowing through (and no, it’s not a book by I.P. Daily.)

Further along Highway 21 at the southeast end of the National Wildlife Refuge is the village of Necedah (pop. 916). Founded as an early lumber town on the banks of the Yellow River near Petenwell Rock, a popular climbing bluff, Necedah hosts a number of visitors from the National Wildlife Refuge as well as water lovers wishing to recreate on nearby Petenwell Lake. Petenwell Lake is a wide area of the Wisconsin River formed by a dam in 1948; it’s now the second largest lake in Wisconsin. The dam itself is just east of town along Highway 21, just past the intersection with Highway 80 downtown. Despite Necedah being home to NASCAR drivers Jim, Jay, Johnny, Tim and Travis Sauter, remember to obey the local speed limits. For something slower and more reflective, the Necedah Shrine (W5703 Shrine Road, 608-565-2617) is a Marian shrine officially called the “Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix Between God and Man Shrine.” They welcome visitors with free admission and an Information Center that is open from 10am-4pm daily.

While plying the beautiful farmland and forests that characterize much of the drive from Necedah eastward on Highway 21, you will cross the occasional curious landform such as Ship Rock, described by some as “an isolated pinnacle of Cambrian sandstone” and as a “cool rock formation” by others.

shiprock_800

Ship Rock, one of the most eastern outposts of Wisconsin’s “Driftless Area” and a fun place to go rock climbing.

It’s a beautiful outcropping, marred in places by graffiti for no good reason whatsoever. But check out the angles, because from many of them the rocks do resemble a “ship-shape.”

Coloma

Further east on Highway 21 we approach Wisconsin’s spine, the I-39/U.S. 51 highway. It tends to mark an unofficial boundary between the western and eastern halves of the state, and right where these two highways cross you’ll find little Coloma (pop. 450). Through history, Coloma has shifted to where the action is; it began four miles west of its present location where the stagecoach route once came through; when a railroad connecting Stevens Point to Portage was built in 1876, Coloma shifted over to where the rail was – its present downtown. U.S. 51’s original route came through on Main Street; today’s U.S. 51 & I-39 run through within a mile of Coloma’s main crossroads now, meaning the town could stay put. The original location four miles west is now known as “Coloma Corners.”

Glover Bluff Meteor Crater

A little-known, under-studied but significant feature on the landscape a few miles south of Coloma is the Glover Bluff Meteor Crater. This impact crater, estimated to be less than 500 million years old (you know – give or take), is five miles wide and is exposed at the surface. However, natural plant and tree growth coupled with quarrying for dolomite rock means the crater itself tends not to be uber-noticable. However, scientists and researchers are starting to recognize the need to study this crater in more detail, and we’ll keep you posted if becomes something where a visit will reveal something cool.

Highway 21 entering WautomaContinuing east from Coloma on Highway 21, you angle through Marquette County into Waushara County, heading east-northeast through the “sand hills” into Waushara’s county seat, Wautoma (pop. 2,218). The city bills itself as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” due to a major tree-growing farm that established in Wautoma in the 1950s. Highways 22 and 73 also converge here; Highway 21 joining 73 for a brief ride north into the city’s downtown before angling southeast. A brief offshoot is Highway 152, which runs for seven miles to Mount Morris and the Nordic Mountain Ski Area.

** Drive-In Alert **
On the east side of town along Highways 21/73, Wautoma offers an old fashioned drive-in, the Milty Wilty. Open since 1947, the Milty Wilty (920-787-2300) is known for delicious old-school burgers, hearty yet light milkshakes, ice cream, and just all-around fun.

The rest of Highway 21 from Wautoma to Oshkosh is coming soon!

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 16, Highway 27Highway 71
Can connect nearby to: I-90, about 2 miles east via Highway 16

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-41, Highway 76, U.S. Highway 45
Can connect nearby to: Highway 26, about 4 miles southwest; Highway 44, about 3 miles southwest