Our visits to the Willow Wood Lodge astride the massive and wild Willow Reservoir-Flowage and Tomahawk River introduced us to a neat geographic learning experience and plenty of fun recreational opportunities. We also saw first hand what a small dam can do to a low lying region and how it can harness the enormous power of regional watersheds.
December 20, 2006
We were drifting around the area of Hazelhurst, Oneida County, "The quiet side of the Northwoods," on Hwy 51 and then on County Y south of the town. We took some photography of the wilderness around McCormick Lake and an area known as the Tomahawk River Pines and presented that in our Oneida County section of our suite about the Northern Highland Geographic Province.
As we made our way through the area, on County Y heading south, we came across Willow Dam Road, so we turned on to it, in part because we are gluttons for dams and waterways and figured there was something nearby. It's fun driving without a map!
Well, map or no map, we were right. We came across the Willow Reservoir, perhaps better known as the Willow Flowage.
An aerial shot of the Willow Flowage. Credit: Robert Queen. Presented by Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine.
On the east side of the Willow Reservoir-Flowage is a wonderful lodge called Willow Wood Lodge.
We will talk more about and show you photography of the Willow Wood Lodge in a bit.
We first want to introduce you to the Willow Reservoir-Flowage area. It is an important region of the state, it's pretty much raw wilderness, and it's fun.
We are going to present you two high altitude aerial shots of the entire flowage, one in color, the other in black-white.
This shot, provided by Mapquest, is a nice one because it gives you a clear outline of the entire flowage area.
This shot, provided by terraserver-usa.com is nice because we can use it to provide some detail such as rivers and roads that do not show up well on the other photo.
James C. Bishop, Jr. and Vicki Miazga, in an article entitled, "Solitude on the Willow Flowage," published by Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine in December 2000, provide good background on the flowage system. We commend it to you.
The 6,300 acres now under water was once a low area at the confluence of the Tomahawk, Squirrel and Willow rivers. A dam was built there in 1926 to provide electricity. It created the reservoir-flowage. A flowage is a body of water that has been created by deliberately flooding an area. The watershed drains 310 square miles of rough country that in many places is virtually inaccessible. Let's go back to that black-white aerial.
The Squirrel River at present is north of all this, flowing from Squirrel Lake east to meet the Tomahawk River above the photo.
Here's a zoom aerial shot of the area in which we are interested. It was so hot on the day we drove through, and we were on the way back to Wausau after a day of exploring, that we did not take as much photography as we should have. We went back on December 19, 2006, a sunny but cooler day in the 20s-30s, and explored more. So you'll see a mix of summer-winter photography.
Using this last aerial photo as a guide, we'll walk you down from the dam to Willow Wood Lodge.
Your editor is a kid at heart, and loves dams. This is a small one, but while standing over it and in front of it, with only one of three gates open, you could feel the power of the water rushing through. We'll show you some shots from the front, and you'll see that it looks big from that vantage than from the backside.
On the previous aerial photo of the dam, you can see seven white spots strung across the water to the west (left) of the dam. Here are those seven spots at ground level. They are orange buoy rafts strung together by two wire lines. These are meant to keep boaters and swimmers out. But, should you get caught in the flow, you have something to grab on to and ultimately sit on until help arrives.
This is a closer look at the west side of the dam, the section of the dam that is keeping the Tomahawk River backed up to form the Willow Flowage. By our reckoning, there are three gates, a large one in the middle, two smaller ones on each side.
This is a real nice look down the inside of one of the small gates. We are looking down from the Willow Dam Rd. as it crosses over the dam. This gate is closed. The white at the bottom is an ice buildup. It is interesting to see the walkways and ladders for maintenance workers, and the heavy steel construction.
This is a similar look, except we are looking down the inside of the larger middle gate, which is open. The force of the flow of water through the gate is something to see closeup.
Now let's go over to the other side of this dam, to the continuation of the Tomahawk River which is receiving this flow of water from the Willow Flowage.
There is a set of stairs on either side of the dam taking you down to the river level. Here we took a shot from the northern side about halfway down.
Once down, we walked a bit upstream the Tomahawk River to get a good frontal shot of the dam. You can see the middle gate is open and the water is "screaming" through. It looks a lot bigger from this view than from the backside, doesn't it?
Here we zoom in on the open gate. Note the buildup of ice on the left side. Pretty neat; it is a fairly large protrusion of ice sticking out. Also note the ice on the left side "climbing" up and over the incoming water. It would be fun to study how such a formation can build up and hang over that rush of water.
Here you see the water crashing over the rocks. Once again, note the block of ice "climbing" over the water and rocks. It almost looks like a mountain lion trying to climb around the rocks.
We need to press on to the Willow Wood Lodge, which is most fascinating, but first we have to lure any budding engineers out there to try to figure out how these gates work.
We are not engineers, and these are our best views of two gates, open on the left, closed on the right. We'll have to do our engineering study from these photos. The open gate is much wider than the smaller one, which probably explains the bar going across the open gate. In studying the closed gate, there are tell-tale markings on the concrete side; it sure looks like the top portion lifts up as shown by the red arrow, while the bottom one also lifts up, in tandem pulling the gate upward to allow the water through. You can see the pivot point in the middle. Remember that on the other side the water is pressing up against the gates with varying degrees of force, depending on how high it is, so there must be significant power moving the gate. Our guess is they use hydraulic power.
Two more shots before moving to the lodge.
You see the ice fisherman sitting on the frozen Willow Flowage, perhaps 100 yards or so from the dam.
He's got a little raft there, "just in case." It was a beautiful day, in the 30s, with a bit of a wind coming off the flowage, so we understand why he's dressed so warm.
Here's a look at the flowage from the beach across the street from the Willow Wood Lodge.
This is a look at the vegetation on the beach.
On the other side, the tranquil Tomahawk moseying her way to the Wisconsin River.
Now to the Willow Wood Lodge. It's within walking distance of the dam.
The Willow Wood Lodge has been described by the Hazelhurst, Wisconsin web site as follows:
"Cozy and unique rustic log cabin bar, offering sandwiches, pizzas and a full liquor bar. Also offering cottages, boat rentals, bait shop, gas, camping, showers, electric and water. Located on the Tomahawk River across the road from the Willow Flowage. Open year-round. Your hosts, Herman and Vicki Bartels."
This sign out front certainly vouches for Herman and Vickie!
This is a look at the main lodge dining and bar building. We want to give you a closer view of the stone entryway to the right.
Just gorgeous vegetation in the summer. Let's go inside. You'll get a real treat.
As soon as you walk in, you see a pool table and the bar. It all has a log-cabin feel to it inside, neat, clean, warm. It's December so the Christmas decorations add a lot. The lady with her back to you is Mary. Look carefully above her head and you'll see some fish mounts hanging from the ceiling. Well, those are just the tip of the iceberg.
We'll show you a series of taxidermy mounts inside the lounge area. All the taxidermy work was done by Robby's Taxidermy of Tomahawk (715-453-7108), located on CH Y a mile or two south of the Willow Wood Lodge. By the way, in case you're wondering what those "things" are hanging from the ceiling in the photography ahead, they crumpled and oft autographed one dollar bills thumb-tacked to the celling all over the place! Delightful.
As we indicated earlier, this taxidermy work was done by Robby's Taxidermy on CH Y, close to Willow Wood Lodge. We understand that many of the animal mounts in the lodge were hunted in the Willow Flowage area.
Based on what you've seen, we think it worthwhile to brush up a little on what's involved in taxidermy. We did, and were surprised at what we learned. We started at taxidermy.net.
Let's take a walk around the grounds outside.
Herman and Vickie were doing a land-office business in this little bait and tackle shop they operate at the lodge on the hot day in July we visited. Ice and cold drinks were going like hot-cakes. It was closed the day we were there in December.
The next photos were taken in December 2006.
This is the main lodge area, with bar and restaurant, but without the summer vegetation we saw in July.
Willow Wood Lodge offers one house to rent. The Tomahawk River is to the rear, and you can walk across the street to the Willow Flowage.
The lodge also offers two small cabins. While small, they are very pleasant and nicely appointed. We think they are trailers that have been gutted with log-style siding put on their outside. You can see they are sitting off the ground.
This cabin is right on the Tomahawk River.
This cabin looks a tad smaller than the other, and is located in the middle of the complex.
The lodge also offers a group of trailers, of various sizes. Herman and Vickie, the owners, grabbed up a group of old trailers, completely gutted their interiors, and refinished and refurbished them. We peeked through the windows and they look very nice and modern inside. These have the Tomahawk River to their backsides. Here are a few shots of what you would see of the river in the winter in this area; you'll have to imagine it in the summer.
The lodge also offers a great large picnic-party area.
There are also some individual picnic table areas scattered throughout the grounds.
It's worth noting that one of Oneida County's strengths in general, and certainly a strength of the Willow Flowage area in specific, is that people have generally left the region alone. That is a great attraction to many who prefer the pristine wilderness. In the case of Willow Wood Lodge, where man has stepped in, the look remains rustic.
Here's a road sign outside the lodge in case you get lost.
Kidding aside, the lodge is located at:
4950 Willow Dam Rd.
Hazelhurst, WI 54531
Willow Wood Lodge
Merry Christmas, 2006.