Concrete Park Resoration

PHILLIPS – As Ruthie Rolfsmeyer fills in cracks on a concrete horse, she can’t help but take a moment to appreciate the artist that created the sculpture more than 50 years ago.

“Fred was kind of a live in the moment kind of guy,” said Rolfsmeyer, who was hired to repair statues at Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips.

Unfortunately, that live-in-the-now attitude meant Fred Smith’s statue weren’t built to last.

“To think that they’ve lasted this long in this environment is amazing,” said Friends of Fred Smith Executive Director Pam Retzlaff.

Retzlaff wants the works of art to last for generations.

“We have thousands of tours here every year. We have people that come in and want to see what’s happening here,” said Retzlaff.

Thanks to donations, grants, and the Kohler Foundation, Retzlaff was able to hire Rolfsmeyer and Benjamin Caguioa to restore some of the sculptures at concrete park.

“Trying to reinforce any of the structural breaks is the hardest,” said Caguioa.

One horse statue they were working on needed one of its support rods replaced.

“The metal rod that was through the back leg was just completely corroded,” said Rolfsmeyer.

Rolfsmeyer and Caguioa have spent the last three weeks repairing a dozen of the hundreds of sculptures.

“We’ve been mostly stabilizing bases and ankles of the human figures,” Rolfsmeyer said.

They do all this work to keep the legacy of an artist alive for years to come, even if the artist himself wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

“He just wanted to make something fun. I don’t think he thought at all about whether it would last 50 or 60 or 100 years from now,” said Rolfsmeyer.
Caguioa and Rolfsmeyer will finish their restoration work Friday.

Adding to the pack

 – Looking around Kathy Lass’s restaurant in St. Germain, it’s pretty obvious why she and her husband named it the Wolf Pack Café 19 years ago.
“We had a lot of artwork that had wolves on it, so it was a no-brainer,” said Lass. “We took the pictures off the walls of our house and hung them in the café and decided the Wolf Pack Café was it.”
That theme will carry over to the café’s new sign.
“Well, the old one was ready to fall down, so I thought before it hurts somebody I better replace it,” said Lass.
When it came time to replace it, only one artist came to mind.
“I just couldn’t think of anybody else but Kenny Schels,” she said.
Lass knew of Schels work. She’d hired him before to make the sign on the front of the café.
“Wolf Pack Café has a wonderful reputation here. They have a lot of business. It’s a class act, and I think they need a sign on the highway here to match that,” said Schels.
Schels and his team spent Friday carving wolves on top of the new poles that will hold the already completed sign.
“Just, I can’t describe how amazing I thought it looked. It’s beautiful. He actually outdid himself,”
said Lass.
It’s a work of beauty Schels will always be proud of.
“As I drive by this sign probably for the rest of my life, it will put a smile on my face,” he said.
It’s also one that Lass hopes will inspire that same proud feeling in her town.
“Just take pride in your town, that’s all. I think this sign will do it,” Lass said.

Snowy Owl Release

RHINELANDER – Wild Instincts Director Mark Naniot hasn’t treated a snowy owl in 20 years. This year he’s had four.

“It’s kind of a rare treat to see them,” said Naniot.
Every winter, snowy owls will fly thousands of miles south to the Great Lakes and Northeast region of the U.S.
Usually, Wisconsin sees about 20-30 of those owls.
DNR wildlife biologist Ryan Brady says the most recent count is 215, but he warns that the number could be double counting some birds.
“This year’s irruption has been notable in its size,” said Brady.

Researchers think an irruption happens after a good breeding year, which usually happens when there’s a high population of their biggest prey, lemmings.

“We have a lot of juvenile owls that hatched this summer. That’s pretty good evidence that it was a really good breeding season for owls up north,” said Brady.
While this year has brought more owls than average to Wisconsin, 200 is about average for an irruption year.
“I think if we haven’t been tracking their numbers, we would think this is the biggest irruption ever,” said Brady. “But really this is somewhat similar to ones we’ve had even in the recent past, let alone decades ago when actually there were more snowy owls than we have today.”
Brady says there are two big misconceptions when snowy owls come to Wisconsin in large numbers: that they’re all going to die off, or that they’re all just fine.
In actuality, it’s a mix of both.
“They do arrive somewhat stressed. It’s a long flight here. They’ve flown a thousand miles, or two thousand miles in some cases,” said Brady.
Many of the owls are tired and even starving by the time they reach their winter habitat.
Most are also juveniles born this past summer and have lived their entire lives in the arctic in northern Canada.
All that makes the snowy owls more likely to get injured and end up in the care of a wildlife rehabilitator like Naniot.
“They have a personality. They don’t really have a fear people necessarily. Just a lot of fun to work with,” Naniot said.
One of the owls came to Wild Instincts eight weeks ago from the Butternut area with a broken bone in its wing.
Wednesday, it had healed enough for naniot to experience his favorite moment, letting it go.
“It’s pretty neat. They’re some of the most beautiful birds you’ll ever see,” said Naniot.
Hopefully others can now experience the rare treat of seeing a snowy owl, even if it’s not so rare this year.

“When I see one I know it came from a very wild place. They spend their summers up in the arctic well north of us, a couple thousand miles north of us. I feel a connection to that place when I see a snowy owl right here in my backyard,” said Brady.

Snowy owls are most active at dawn and dusk.
To see one, you’ll want to go to open areas like farm fields or marshes.

Eagle River Ice Castle: Harvesting the Ice

EAGLE RIVER – Take 3,000 blocks of ice, more than 100 volunteers, and a community built on ice and snow, and you’ve got just about everything you need to a build an ice castle.

“This is volunteerism at its best,” said Eagle River Fire Chief Michael Anderson.

The Eagle River Fire Department takes charge of building the ice castle each year.

It takes about five days to score the lake, harvest the ice, sand the blocks, and build the castle.

Thursday, volunteers spent the day cutting and removing the ice blocks.

“Today is my favorite day. Pulling the ice out of the lake is my favorite day,” said Anderson. “It’s intense. You have to get all the ice out in one day. All the guys working together on the ice, doing this with the deadline that we have to meet.”

Despite the cold, nearly all 45 members of the volunteer fire department help in the process, but they’re not the only ones.
“Getting all the community involved, not only the fire department, but people who just want to come and help out. It’s awesome. It’s great,” said volunteer firefighter Andrew Nelson.
More than 60 other members of the community come out to help any way they can.
“[They] support the community by bringing them soup, cookies, and all that kind of great stuff,” said Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Events Coordinator Natalie Spiess. “It is such a great feeling being here and seeing things like this happen. It just fills my heart. It just makes me so happy to be here and to be a part of it.”
“When it’s subzero weather and all these people come out from the community to assist the volunteer fire department. It really means a lot. It shows the love that we have for our community,” said Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Director Kim Emerson.
All of these people coming together to build an ice castle and a community they can be proud of.
“The ice castle is so good for Eagle River. We get all the tourism that comes in and it’s a great sense of accomplishment,” said Anderson.
The castle should be finished this Saturday or Sunday.
It will be built next to the Eagle River Depot Museum.

Franklin Lake Campground

Nearly 350,000 acres of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest make up Forest County. Tucked away in the northeast corner of the county is Franklin Lake Campground, one of the most popular campgrounds in the forest.

Sled Dog Superstar

BAYFIELD, WI- For the third year in a row, Martha Schouweiler won the Beargrease Mid-Distance Race in northern Minnesota. She’s the first person to ever do so. This year, she won it by only five seconds.

Winter Weekend


The snow cancelled my original weekend plans so instead I took advantage of the warm weather and went hiking around northern Wisconsin.




Holmboe Conifer Forest State Natural Area




Copper Falls State Park

















The Alphabet Collector

EAGLE RIVER – When you meet Adam Lehl, he skips the handshake in lieu of a pen and paper.

“They look at you kind of strange,” said Lehl.

The Wisconsin native asks random people to write their alphabet in his notebook.

“Pick a page, write your alphabet and whatever you’d like to call yourself,” said Lehl.

But that’s just the start of it. Lehl uses it as way to break down barriers and get people to open up to him.

Early Tree Tapping

ATHENS– Maple syrup season usually starts about three weeks from now.

But this unusually warm weather has maple sap flowing and maple syrup producers hard at work.

The early start has potential for a great season, but that’s mixed with concern for producers.

Winter Camping

MARATHON COUNTY – Summer in Wisconsin doesn’t last long enough for a lot of people. Those of us who love to hike and camp are left trying to squeeze in those adventures in a short time frame.
But some UW-Stevens Point students don’t let the seasons or the snow stop them from enjoying the outdoors.