Monthly Archives: February 2011

February 17, 2011

Wisconsin’s Tasty Trio

A quick tour of Wisconsin’s best makers of beer, cheese and sausage

Cheese!Wisconsin is famous for its uniquely indulgent culinary traditions. The state’s fascination with beer, cheese and sausage is famous throughout the nation. Watch any nationally televised Packer game and you’ll see the ubiquitous foam “cheese head” hats and hear the sportscasters going on and on about Wisconsin brats. Wisconsinites’ enthusiasm for these foods has much to do with the German and Eastern European heritage of many of the Badger State’s communities. That heritage lives on in the many breweries, meat markets and cheese makers that dot the state map. Hungry, thirsty and curious travelers will find that Wisconsin’s culinary traditions are alive and well. Here are some “must-taste” attractions for your next trip to Wisconsin.

Beer Extraordinaire
In the heart of Black River Country, you’ll find the Sand Creek Brewing Company, one of the best and most respected small breweries in the Midwest.

Black River Country has a long history of beer making. The building that houses the Sand Creek Brewing Company began as a brewery in 1856. The Sand Creek Brewing Company carries on that long tradition, brewing an impressive line-up of beers, as well as hard lemonade.

The Sand Creek Brewing Company is so good at what they do that other breweries contract with them to brew their beer. That delicious Wisconsin microbrew or specialty soda you’re drinking might have been made at the Sand Creek Brewing Company.

Tours of the brewery are free and offered every Friday afternoon at 3pm. From May through September, tours are also offered from 3pm to 9pm. Other times can be arranged if you call ahead. The brewery is located minutes from the Black River and downtown Black River Falls. Learn more about tours.

Two Magical Meat Markets
The Lake Tomahawk Meat Market in Oneida County is arguably the best butcher shop in the Northwoods. Recently, the market was featured on Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre World” on the Travel Channel.

The highly talented staff at the Lake Tomahawk Meat Market produce 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of sausage each year. And although they are most famous for their sausage making, their devoted customers will tell you that their jerky is the best anywhere. Their naturally smoked bacon gets rave reviews as well. If you’re in southern Wisconsin, you’ll need to head to Dodge County to get your sausage fix.

When you walk into Leroy Meats, you take a step back in time. Located in Horicon, this old-fashioned meat market specializes in having the freshest meats and making the finest homemade sausages.

The sausage that Leroy Meats is most famous for is bratwurst. They produce a staggering twenty different flavors of fresh brats. You’ll also find a full selection of cheeses from local cheesemakers, including our next featured stop on the tour – Widmer’s.

The King of Cheese
Widmer's CheeseIf you love cheese, you need to visit Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in the tiny hamlet of Theresa in Dodge County.

Theresa is surrounded by dozens of dairy farms and some of the most fertile farmland in Wisconsin. If you intend to be the king of cheese, it’s the ideal place to set up shop. For more than 80 years, the Widmer family has lived and worked in the same cheese factory, crafting some of world’s finest cheeses.

Third-generation cheese maker Joe Widmer reigns supreme in three particular varieties of cheese: traditional stirred-curd Wisconsin Colby, aged Cheddar and Wisconsin Aged Brick. These three cheeses have earned Widmer’s Cheese Cellars numerous awards and a huge following among cheese aficionados. People speak about the lusciousness of Widmer’s Colby with reverence. Chefs around the Midwest wax poetic about the tanginess of Widmer’s aged Cheddars. And cheese lovers, young and old, give their highest praise to Widmer’s Wisconsin Aged Brick, a variety that Widmer’s does better than anyone else.

Visitors to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars will be dazzled by more than 70 varieties of cheese as well Wisconsin-made sausages. You’ll be able to watch cheese being made as you shop. Tours are available by appointment. Try leaving without a few pounds of cheese under each arm.

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February 11, 2011

Need an Excuse for a Spring Getaway? Try an Overnight Package

Special overnight packages and discounts are convenient and affordable

tulipsSpring is a great time to travel. After a long winter, it’s refreshing to hit the road and get a new perspective. The landscape coming back to life can be a beautiful sight to see. With fewer crowds, shop owners and other merchants have more time to talk with you. And, best of all, many hotels and other businesses offer travelers special packages and discounts during the spring.

Using an overnight package has many advantages. Overnight packages often feature a discount from the standard room rate. Many packages also come with added activities and amenities, such as meals or admission to area attractions. Packages are also convenient—you pay one amount and receive a number of trip components, which decreases your planning time and increases your relaxing time. Packages are often the ideal choice for last-minute planners.

Here are some Wisconsin travel destinations that are offering packages this spring:

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This entry was posted in Uncategorized on Friday, February 11, 2011.

February 11, 2011

Wisconsin Roadside Wonders

Interesting attractions for those who love the unusual and eccentric

There’s something in the water in Wisconsin that makes people want to follow their dreams, no matter how strange. Some of those dreams involve building museums and other exhibits that become fascinating roadside curiosities. Here are four of Wisconsin’s most original and refreshing attractions.

Visit the Stars!Visit Outer Space
Located just a few minutes outside Rhinelander, the Kovac Planetarium is one of Wisconsin’s greatest manmade wonders. It’s the only the fourth globe-style planetarium ever built, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Most incredibly, it is the work of one man — Frank Kovac — who designed and built it himself over the course of 10 years. The CBS Evening News recently did a feature on Mr. Kovac. See it here.

Visitors to the Kovac Planetarium will be treated to a 90-minute experience in which they’ll see the complete rotation of the night sky as it would appear through a 24-hour period. The planetarium is open year-round by reservation only, and accommodates up to 25 people. It’s a fascinating show.

Find more Oneida County attractions at www.oneidacountywi.com.

West Bend JailGo To Jail
In downtown West Bend, next door to the beautiful red brick courthouse—home of the excellent Old Courthouse Museum—you’ll find the Old Jailhouse Museum. The museum perfectly preserves a sheriff’s residence and jailhouse from the turn of the last century.

This free museum is located in one of the last remaining sheriff residence/jail combinations in the United States. Built in 1886 to be “escape proof,” this facility served as the county jail until 1962, when Washington County turned the use of the building over to the Washington County Historical Society. This museum is a favorite with young and old alike.

Learn more about attractions in West Bend by visiting www.wbachamber.org.

Seven BridgeesSee the Seven Bridges
The unusual steel bridges of the Van Loon Wildlife Area, known by locals in Onalaska as the McGilvray Bridges, are some of Wisconsin’s best kept secrets. The bridges are not simply beautiful, they are historically quite significant. The arch-truss design of the bridges dates to the late 1800s, and the McGilvray Bridges are some of the last examples of this design in existence.

The forest you will walk through is part of the floodplain of the Black River, which flows into the Mississippi River a few miles downstream from this area. The bottomland forest supports a number of species of birds and other animals that depend on the intermittent flooding for survival. The manmade bridges and the untouched forest make for an interesting contrast.

Find complete trip planning information for Onalaska at www.discoveronalaska.com.

Fort CrawfordThe Strange Frontier
In a region known for eclectic museums and roadside curiosities, the Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien along the Wisconsin Great River Road is in a class by itself. Equal parts frontier history and medical history, even the most experienced roadside oddity seeker will be impressed by this museum.

The combination of frontier artifacts and medical exhibits comes from the fact that the old Fort Crawford, which once protected this part of the American frontier, was home to Dr. William Beaumont. Dr. Beaumont was a medical pioneer. The museum not only showcases Dr. Beaumont’s revolutionary work, it also contains a series of exhibits that tell the story of the development of modern medicine. It’s a fascinating and very unusual museum that you won’t want to miss.

Get more information on the Fort Crawford Museum and other attractions along the Wisconsin Great River Road at www.wigreatriverroad.org.

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February 11, 2011

Three Super-Secret Spring Birding Destinations

Go off the beaten path for Wisconsin’s best spring birding

Birding

In Wisconsin, springtime brings some of the year’s best birdwatching. Birds returning north from their winter grounds stop in Wisconsin to rest or make their nests. Birdwatchers have a chance to see a huge variety of different species, from rare warblers to seldom-seen shorebirds.

One of the best aspects of birding is the chance to get away from it all, with nothing to disturb you except bird songs and the opportunity to see a bird you’ve never seen before.

Having an unforgettable birdwatching excursion starts with finding a great birding spot. In a state with a large number of high-quality birdwatching locations, here are three of Wisconsin’s very best—and least utilized.

A Finch in Oneida CountyWild Rice Hotspot
In Oneida County, just three miles north of Three Lakes, you’ll find the Thunder Lake Wildlife Area. Within this nature preserve, you’ll also find a smaller parcel—the Rice Lake State Natural Area, designated as such because of its high-quality habitat. Rice Lake is large and shallow and has an abundance of wild rice. The wild rice provides a rich source of food for birds of all types, making this a birding hotspot.

Species seen at this site include sedge wren, common yellowthroat, swamp sparrow, red-winged blackbird and Le Conte’s sparrow. Some years, birdwatchers can see more than 20 species of warbler. During the spring, migrating diving ducks, particularly the ring-necked duck, are sometimes seen. The occasional bald eagle can be seen soaring over the sedge meadows. Osprey, which are known to nest nearby, often make an appearance at Thunder Lake.

Find more Oneida County trails and birding locations at www.oneidacountywi.com.

Early Robin in Vilas CountyA Wilderness Wonder
The Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area in Vilas County offers birdwatchers a smorgasbord of habitat types. Few places in the Northwoods offer such an ecological variety. Birdwatchers can expect to see a wide range of birds.

This wilderness area consists of 2,189 acres of northern forest and 15 lakes and ponds. Bird sightings at the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area include loons, osprey and bald eagle, as well as a variety of warblers, including black-throated green, black-throated blue, golden-winged, magnolia and mourning.

To get to the property, head southeast from Presque Isle on Hwy B and travel approximately 3 miles to East Bay Road. Turn north and travel a half mile to the parking area.

Find more Vilas County birding opportunities at www.vilas.org.

Birding in Rusk County by Jeff MillerRiver Birding
If you’re looking for a unique birdwatching trip, grab your paddle and head to Rusk County. The Thornapple River, a tributary of the Chippewa River, runs through untouched wilderness. With the help of a canoe or kayak, a birdwatcher can access pristine forests and remote backwaters. It’s an absolutely outstanding birdwatching destination.

The forested banks of the Thornapple attract the full range of woodland birds, from the tiny ruby-crowned kinglet to the brawny pileated woodpecker. Wetlands associated with the river are home to nesting wood ducks and mergansers. Don’t be surprised if you see other forest inhabitants, such as white-tailed deer and even otter.

For your first trip on the Thornapple River, try the stretch between Highway 27 and the confluence with the Chippewa River.

Learn more about the Thornapple River and other Rusk County rivers at www.ruskcountywi.com.

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February 10, 2011

Wisconsin Family Biking Getaways 101

With a little preparation, your family can have an unforgettable bicycling adventure

Biking in WisconsinOn one end of the bicycling spectrum, you’ll find carbon-framed road bikes, space-age helmets and lycra racing bibs. On the other, you’ll find comfy hybrid bicycles, fat tires and tagalongs—the ordinary world of families bicycling for the sheer fun of it.

For your next family vacation or getaway, consider planning the trip around bicycling. Being outdoors, sharing a common experience and seeing beautiful scenery are some of the things that make bicycling a superb bonding experience for families. Plus, it’s hard for kids or grown-ups to get bored when the scenery is constantly changing. Bicycling is also an affordable activity—bikes need no gasoline and the only cost of pedaling is a usually just a trail pass.

Getting Ready
Your preparation should begin a few weeks before packing up the bicycles and heading to your destination. Take some rides with the whole family around your hometown. It’s the best way to test your bicycles’ roadworthiness and gives the family a chance to practice riding together. Those rides also build a sense of team—everyone working together and looking out for one another on the road.

Get Those Bikes Ready
Do a basic check of all of the bikes you’re going to bring along on your trip. Check and adjust air pressure on the tires. Make sure the brakes work. Check the derailleurs on multi-speed bicycles. Be sure trail-a-bikes, tagalongs and trailers are in working order. And be sure to check your own bike—often, the bicycle that fails on a family outing is mom or dad’s.

Biking in Minocqua, Oneida County, WisconsinPack Up and Go
There are a number of ways of transporting bicycles to the trailhead, including stuffing them in the trunk, tying them to the roof with bungee cords, attaching them to a sophisticated bike rack or pulling them in a trailer. While some of these options aren’t pretty, all of them work. In addition to your bicycles, be sure to pack water, spare inner tubes for each of the bikes, inner tube patches, basic bicycle repair tools, sunscreen, snacks, cell phones and maps.

Have a Ride Plan
Before you spin your spokes, make a rough plan. At a minimum, you need to decide where you’re going to start your ride, how far you’re going to ride and where you can stop along the way. Plan for food, water and restroom stops. If a trail map is available, print it out and note where amenities are located.

You have several types of choices when it comes to routes. “Shuttling” involves parking a vehicle at both ends of the route. This requires two vehicles, so it generally isn’t a suitable option for most families. “Loops” are another route choice. Riding a looping route allows you to circle back to your starting point. But the most popular route is the “there and back.” This means you’ll ride out along the trail, turn around at some point and ride back along the same trail.

Start Out Short and Sweet
While some families can handle the rigors of a full-on road touring expedition, shorter rides are what suit most families. From there, add on a few more miles for each ride, allowing everyone to build up endurance and riding skills. If you follow this approach, you’ll be surprised how quickly your family improves as a riding team.

Biking in Dodge County, WIBe Ready to Turn Around
Never ride out farther than you can comfortably ride back. It’s a simple rule that, if followed, can ensure a good time for everyone in your group. Ignored, it can mean a grueling experience for all. Be ready to do an about face if you sense that someone in the group is seriously running out of gas, the weather is turning foul or one of the bicycles is having mechanical issues. Whatever the reason, the group leader—mom or dad—need to be alert and know when to throw in the towel.

First Ride – State Trails Are A Perfect Choice
Wisconsin has a number of outstanding state bike trails. These trails are level and can accommodate all types of bikes. Built on former railroad lines, the trails are generally quite wide. This allows ample space for two-way traffic and gives bicyclists some room to pull off to the side to view wildlife or fix a flat tire. The state trails’ parking areas and trailside amenities tend to be very good.

To ride the state trails, you will need a Wisconsin State Trail Pass. You can also pay a daily trail fee. At most trailheads, you’ll find fee payment stations which allow you to buy a pass or pay the daily fee. A Wisconsin State Trail Pass can also be purchased at many bike shops. Wisconsin State Trail Passes are currently $20 for the year or $4 for a single day. Riders under 16 do not need a trail pass.

Trails to Try
Wisconsin has more than 40 state trails. Where should you start? Below are three of the best bets for families:

  • Great River State TrailThis 24-mile trail crosses the Wisconsin Great River Road and follows the Mississippi River. Kids will love the section that traverses a 287-foot former railroad trestle.
  • Wild Goose State Trail – Ride through 34 miles of wetlands, farmlands and forests along the western edge of Dodge County’s Horicon Marsh.
  • Bearskin State Trail – From Minocqua, ride 18-miles south through the heart of the Northwoods in Oneida County.

The Final Word On Family Bicycling: You Must Have Fun!

If you want your first family bicycle outing to be the first of many, you need to make sure everyone enjoys the ride. No one will want to go on a family bike ride again if they have a bad first experience. Common pitfalls include riding too many miles, never stopping to rest, failing to accommodate the slowest riders in the group, and making the ride feel like work. Avoid those mistakes and you should have a fun, healthy and affordable outdoor pursuit that the family can enjoy together for many years to come.

 

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