Memory lane leads back to good times with friends
It was a trip down memory lane earlier this month. It began and ended in Portage County and along the way, made me pause and reminisce.
The journey commenced when arriving at the doctor’s office early and I had a half hour to kill. So I drove down Maria Drive on the city’s north side. I pulled over on the right side of the wide road so a couple of drivers in a hurry on their way to work could pass me by. A pair of deer bedded down under several stately white pines caught my eye on the Schmeeckle Reserve. I stopped and stared. My gaze drifted past the deer, between the branches and toward the mist of bygone years.
I came to Portage County at the ripe old age of 17. Boyhood friends Mike and Ron joined me for a short weekend visit to scope out the university – well known for its premier College of Natural Resources (CNR). We three were hunters, fishers and trappers and sought careers related to the out of doors. The CNR was calling out our names and a weekend in Point with Ron’s older brother Dave – already enrolled on campus – was all it took to seal the deal. Four years later, I had fallen in love with the place and the people.
During our freshman year in the dorms we met Dale, a fish management major. Suddenly, we were four and proceeded to hunt and fish our way through four-year degrees. Ron went on to a federal career fighting forest fires in Montana, Dale a state career in fish management based in Wisconsin Rapids, I a career in water resources here in the county and Mike, with a double major in natural resources and business, a career in insurance beginning at Sentry.
Speaking of Sentry, this all happened while the university was acquiring land north of the dorms surrounding what would become Schmeeckle Reserve. Before Sentry purchased their piece of the area – a mixture of forest, abandoned farmland and rather large wetland complex. Before 24-acre Lake Joanis. Before the Sentry World Headquarters and its exquisite golf course. Before “No Trespassing” signs.
During the early ’70s a good portion of the student body living on campus kept shotguns, rifles and bows in their dorm rooms. Times were different back then and hunting and fishing after classes and on weekends was commonplace. I remember a black bear and several deer hanging from lower branches of pines growing near our dorm. I chained my 10-foot john boat to one of those pines. We’d walk across Maria Drive, load our guns and bows and disappear into the woods to the north.
That was 44 years ago. Earlier this month Mike, Dale and I met for dinner at the SentryWorld Grand Hall and the local Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) annual banquet. As we often do, we reminisced about the good old days at UWSP.
“I remember my first grouse hunt in Wisconsin,” said Dale. “I read a how-to article in Outdoor Life about hunting grouse – a bird I never had seen before. The writer said follow a stream through the woods and you’ll find grouse. So I followed the Moses Creek ditch into the woods north of campus and shot three grouse my first time out.”
My trip down memory lane took another turn the week before the banquet while attending the Bill Cook Chapter of the Izaak Walton League’s gun show. Back in the ’70s and ’80s I was very active in the Ikes. There, I met the likes of George Rogers, Ranger Bill Peterson, Will Lehner, Mayor Jim Feigleson and a host of other like-minded conservationists. Today, the clubhouse looks different, but the membership appears true to its roots.
Next that day I headed northeast on Highway 66 to Jordan Park, turned on County Highway Y and followed the Plover River north toward Shantytown just over the county line. Along the way I looked for Wolf’s Tap. Yes, I’m old enough to remember that classic country tavern. Alas, it appears long since gone.
Farther up the road I stopped at Hamel Forest Products. Way back when, I knew the owner’s brother Ed “Spudze” Hamel and his good wife Linda and was honored to serve in their wedding party. Together with friends Mike, Dale and Ron, we accessed duck and grouse hunting by crossing the sawmill’s dam.
A few miles down the road I came upon Shantytown and Wadley Lake, just as I remembered. I stopped and took pictures as three brave souls ice fished on black ice. Around the corner I discovered the Shantytown Tavern we frequented was gone – just like Wolf’s.
Sometimes trips down memory lane are bittersweet, but by in large, they bring back good feelings and make us smile.