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Sawmill Hot Pond, by Bill Rutherford.

Away back when horses provided the pull, water the power, and men with caulks in their boots rode the logs to the mills, Winegar was a boom town.

In the 1930’s, having cut most of the trees from the area, the owners of the logging mill closed up shop, and moved the mill to Lake Linden, MI. With the death of the forests, due to the lack of re-planting, came the paralysis of the town and scores of other towns like it.

One of the things that were left behind was the 23 acre pond that had once been an essential part of the mill. The mill pond site became a stagnant puddle, cluttered with pilings and the shore strewn with the lumber and concrete of the horse barns, drying sheds, mill houses, abandoned machines, and other sheds. There was no way in which the people of the town could utilize the area for industry, or raise sufficient funds to make it into a park.

So, when the fisheries division of the Wisconsin Department of Conservation said that the pond was ideally suited for a hatchery, Carl Spencer, president of the Presque Isle Sportsman’s Club, and Cy Graham, former town chairman, were the spark plugs in the drive to get the property quickly deeded to the state.

Cleaning up the sink hole should be a success story enough as far as this community is concerned, but is only half of the story.

Nowhere in the state, except perhaps at the Maple Plains rearing pond in Barron county, had the fisheries division ever had such singular success in rearing walleye fingerling.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, After the township donated the land, the Vilas County Sportsman’s Club sent volunteers into the area to provide some of the labor. A long diversion channel had to be dug, so that the water level could be raised and lowered at will. Tons of debris and sawdust had to be hauled from the old "hot pond”. Hills had to come down so the shores would present a gentle slope up which to slide the nets. And, before the project was completed, $22,000 had been spent in dykes, control dams, and channels to bypass the Presque Isle River and Horsehead Creek.

Men worked steadily, day and night, to get everything ready for the first pike fry planting. Upon completion of the new pond, 2,270,000 pike fry were planted one afternoon in May, 1949. Some of those present for the occasion were Carl Spencer and Cy Graham, along with Verna Clement, Al Benson, Mae Prosser, Milton Tice, Al Eschenbauch, Chet Dumask, and Fred Wolter, who had his movie camera and took pictures of the planting.

On July 11th, the first 11,000 pike were cropped, between one and one-half inches long and went about 650 to the pound. On August 11th, the nets were again pulled and the fish taken out for planting were between three and four and one-half inches long and it took 105 to make a pound. The last cropping was made on August 25th, by then, some of the fish measured five and one-half inches, and now it only took 80 to make a pound.

The little pond that had bred nothing but mosquitoes since the lumber interests had abandoned it had, by now, sent 324,340 fingerling walleyes into many other lakes across the state, and officials hoped to take between 20,000 and 50,000 more before the fall freeze-up.

Instead of an eyesore, the old mill pond was now a beautiful lake, and one of the largest of such rearing ponds in the state. Landscaping was done, and the pond became one of the beauty spots of the county, and attracted many visitors to the area.

Although the rearing pond is no longer used to plant walleye fry, many species of fish are there, just waiting to be caught. Today the area is home to a beautiful park, walking paths, snowmobile trails, and even some geocaches. Winegar Post 480 of the American Legion is located there, along with the newly dedicated “Wilderness Flame” Veterans Memorial.

That is the story of Winegar’s front yard: From a roaring lumber camp, to a stagnant hole piled with debris, and finally a 23 acre lake, alive with walleyes-another one of the final chapters in the “remaking of the northwoods”.

For a collection of 20 more of Bill's essays on Winegar/Presque Isle read his book:

WINEGAR Reflections, Shelbyville, KY: Wasteland Press, 2016.

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