Rice Lake Ice Fishing
More Than 10,000 Lakes...
Cars, Trains and Ducks!
Ice Fishing and Other Winter Fun
True or False: The days following August 16, 1896, when
George Washington Carmack pried a gold nugget from the bed of Rabbit
Creek in the Klondike area of the Yukon were collectively referred to
as "Klondike Days".
- it's a trick question. George Carmack was a real person and
he actually did find a gold nugget that led to one of the greatest gold
rushes in history. But the Klondike Days I'm talking about is
an annual event that takes place in
Eagle River, Wisconsin. It's
much easier to get there then to the Yukon and the event is much more
fun. Not that finding gold wouldn't be fun... But I'm talking
about a weekend chock-full of entertainment and activity that the whole
family can enjoy; it was developed to encourage families to enjoy the
Northwoods in February.
Heidi and I headed north on a Friday
morning and, after a fairly leisurely drive north -- by that I mean
that the weather cooperated quite nicely -- we found ourselves in downtown
Eagle River (population 1,512 according to the sign) by mid-afternoon.
I have only had the pleasure of visiting Eagle River on two other occasions:
once for a Fourth of July celebration back in the late 1980s, and once
as a very young boy when I attended a nearby church camp (Camp HoneyRock;
Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Ill.,
has owned and operated HoneyRock Camp since 1951).
of the things that impressed me most about the town was the people:
without exception, everyone was friendly and treated us like we were
family. Smiles were commonplace and conversation was easy and
genuine. It was a very comfortable feel... something that one
does not usually encounter in today's world. After stopping for
a few groceries, we headed to our accommodations for the next two days:
Lodge, just a bit north of the town proper, is a premiere resort
on the Eagle River Chain of 28 Lakes (and overlooking both Duck and
Lynx Lakes), the largest chain of inland freshwater lakes in the world.
Our lodging consisted of a two-bedroom unit (with a King bed and two
twins) complete with two full bathrooms, a gas-operated stone fireplace,
satellite television with DVD player, full kitchen, high-speed internet
access and a marvelous view of the lake that was about seventy-five
feet from our patio. Other amenities existed as well, such a pool,
whirlpool spa, and sauna. There is also a private massage room and locker/shower
rooms as well.
A plethora of lakes and streams provide
endless opportunities for adventurers, anglers, and nature enthusiasts
during the warmer months and five hundred miles of groomed, snowmobile
trails can be accessed -- right from your front door -- during the winter
months. The arrival of Klondike Days, as well excellent snow conditions
on the trails were ample reason for the many sleds we saw in the parking
lot at the resort. We settled in to our cushy accommodations,
lit the fire, opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured a glass to celebrate
a weekend away from the demands of the office. The weather was
perfect -- albeit a tad warm for snow-machiners at thirty-nine degrees
-- and it was nice to relax as we watched a few ice-anglers setting
up for some late afternoon fishing.
setting sun added a warm glow to the snow-covered lake and a long plume
of smoke from distant fires (more on that later) wafted through the
pines. This was perfect, and Heidi and I smiled as we contemplated
the perfect place for a fish fry. A little homework before we
left had provided us with several possibilities, and I thought the decision
might be a difficult one. But we opted for a restaurant at the
Chanticleer Inn, overlooking Lake Voyager and just a few miles away,
our choice made easier by the fact that it boasted a smoke-free environment.
We started with an appetizer of giant portabella mushrooms -- a pair
-- with a crabmeat stuffing. For dinner, Heidi chose a sampler
platter, consisting of portions of haddock, cod, shrimp and scallops
and I had the lake perch dinner. The food was excellent; served
hot and on hot plates; if I were a food critic I would certainly give
Chanticleer Two Thumbs Up!. My perch (five pieces) was fresh,
lightly battered, crispy and tasty and accompanied by some excellent
potato pancakes; Heidi's dinner was excellent as well, and served with
an outstanding rendition of German potato salad. The prices were
reasonable, service was super and I would return in a heartbeat!
The morning brought an azure-blue sky, ample sun and
a crisp five degrees; it was going to be a great day in the north woods!
After a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, we headed over to Klondike
Days. It was just after nine o'clock and the thermometer had now
passed eighteen; cars were already arriving, as competitions were scheduled
to start at 9:00am. Held every year during the third week in February
on Saturday and Sunday, this year's event took place at the Eagle River
High School and Rocking W Stable. Now celebrating its 20th year, the
event has grown in size every year and continues to attract more visitors;
more than 10,000 people now enjoy the weekend festivities. From
River stalwart and business owner, Trig Solberg, of Trig's Stores
has been a major sponsor and supporter of Klondike Days right from
Trig's has been a
major sponsor from the get-go, but is now joined by about four dozen
additional supporters -- including numerous banks, resorts and businesses
-- from the local area; hundreds of volunteers are also key in helping
to make the event the huge success that it is.
entering the grounds, the first thing that I heard was the sound of
chain saws, so naturally we headed in the direction from which the sound
emanated. Shortly we came upon the source of the noise: the Chainsaw
Carving Competition. What took place over the course of the weekend
was nothing short of amazing. Like artists working with canvas,
these carvers took three to four-feet in diameter logs that stood eight
feet tall and, with the dexterity of surgeons, turned them into beautifully
textured eagles, Indians, hunters and various forms of wildlife.
It was mesmerizing to watch and difficult to leave, but there were many
more events to see. Nearby was the Dog Weight Pull... but the
dogs weren't quite ready yet, so we ventured over to River Country Red's
Rendezvous and Living History Encampment.
by Wild Eagle Lodge and presented by the "Hidden Prairie Rendezvous
Club" from Phillips, Wisconsin, this had to be one of my favorite
events of the weekend. Lots of people may wonder what is was like
to live in the 1800s: the days of the fur trapper and buck-skinner,
but I doubt that few ever ever actually "walk the walk"...
As we entered the encampment, the very first thing that we noticed was
a canvas teepee. Naturally, I assumed that it was simply there
as a replica. Suddenly I noticed that Heidi had disappeared.
She had poked her head inside the tent and had been invited in by the
inhabitant: he was sitting there in a long-sleeved tee-shirt and sipping
his morning coffee. What was unusual was the fact that the canvas
teepee was a toasty 75 degrees, heated only by a tiny wood-burning stove.
He had spent the night -- mind you, the temperature had fallen
to five degrees -- warm and snug inside the teepee!
later stopped at another teepee where the occupants were slow-roasting
a leg of venison, at a lean-to where a blacksmith was plying his trade,
at a Tomahawk and Knife Throwing exhibition, at a Black Powder Shooting
demonstration, fire starting, cooking and more. Some may say that
a weekend jaunt such as this, done every now and then, would be an easy
accomplishment; I would strongly disagree. Setting up, taking
down and living in a teepee for three days in a Wisconsin winter would
definitely be a challenge, even for a seasoned "camper".
And it surely and easily should remind all visitors just how cushy we
have it in 2010.
outside the encampment I noticed a flurry of activity. Getting
closer, I saw the reason: an assortment of of every size, shape and
type fur hat that would have made even
Daniel Boone jealous. Ranging
in price from about $50 to several hundred, the variety was endless.
It seemed as if everyone on the grounds wanted one. An by the
end of the day... it seemed as if everyone had one! A short walk
from hats brought us to the Great Northern Lumberjack Competition, where
there was chain sawing, crosscutting, and ax throwing. We watched
as a pair of lumber "jills" went head to head in a crosscutting
contest; the winner sawed through the (approximate) 16-inch diameter
log in just under fourteen seconds! Immediately adjacent to the
lumberjack competition was the event I knew would be Heidi's favorite:
the Great Northern Log Pull Classic. How did I know? Well,
it was because horses -- draft horses in this case -- would be doing
love for horses goes way back to an early age when she owned a couple
of them, and the love has remained strong. Any time we are anywhere
near a horse farm, stable, pasture or horse event, we make it a point
to stop. In this case, single horses as well as two-horse teams
were competing for prize money. Not only were the horses at Klondike
Days well-cared for, they were possibly some of the biggest and strongest
I have yet seen... and they were eager to take on the challenge.
now, our stomachs were beginning to growl. Luckily for us, a food
tent was close by; inside it was warm and filled with great aromas from
elk and buffalo burgers, as well as chili, soup and other delights.
We both dined on a buffalo burger and chips, washing it down with some
very cold Leinenkugel draught beer as we were treated to some excellent
bluegrass music performed by the band Sloppy Joe. The musicians
added some jug-band instrumentation (spoons, jug, wash-tub, etc.), while
band-members exchanged guitars, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and bass around
the stage. Great and original stuff; check 'em out on
MySpace! By the time we had listened to most of a music set,
sated our hunger and warmed our feet, the line for food extended right
out the front entrance to the tent!
over to the high school field house, we checked again on the chainsaw
carving; the lifeless logs were beginning to take on a personality and
the pile of sawdust around the carvers was getting deeper. Inside
the 55,000 square-foot field house was the giant Klondike Craft Show
offering every imaginable craft possible from 100 crafters (rugs bowls,
artwork, wood, leather, furniture, photography, personal items and more
fur hats... to mention only a few). And there was Educational
Programming 2010, with everything from lessons in how to pan for gold
(yep, there really is gold that can be panned for in Wisconsin!),
to lessons in native skills and primitive crafts, to minerals, outdoor
lore and more. There was definitely something there for everyone's
I mention the free dogsled rides for children, sleigh rides, the Klondike
Antique Sleigh Rally, snowshoe races, more food, more music and entertainment,
and on Sunday, a Native American Cultural Exhibition? Phew!
There is a lot to see and do... and it can all be done at a very reasonable
price: a Family Pass (two adults and three children for one day) is
$35.00 in advance or $40.00 at the gate. The sun was getting
low and the carvers were almost done. I knew I was done, and was
looking forward to a hot shower back at Wild Eagle Lodge.
I would be remiss
if I didn't mention one last "event" for the day. We
were only mildly hungry, but we had seen a place in town (while checking
out the Ice Palace -- something that has been "happening"
since the 1920s. From the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce website:
winter, volunteers headed by the area firefighters, put in more
than 700 “man hours” to cut nearly 3000 12-inch-thick ice blocks
from a local lake, haul them to downtown Eagle River, Wisconsin,
and build a huge ice palace."
Very cool -- don't
miss it if you are in the area! Anyway, the place I want to mention
is a restaurant called Riverstone Restaurant and Tavern, where we enjoyed
a marvelous Walleye Cakes appetizer and a cocktail as we discussed
the days sights and sounds. Riverstone is another smoke-free environment
and the food is excellent (really excellent home-made bread) -- I only
wish we were hungry enough to have stayed for dinner; we will definitely
go back next time we are in Eagle River as the menu included numerous
and interesting selections of beef, veal, pork and seafood.
It would be difficult
to say too much about Eagle River, Wild Eagle Lodge and Klondike Days.
It is also mandatory to again mention how great the people of that area
are; we really enjoyed our time there. (For more information about
Eagle River, contact the Eagle River chamber of Commerce & Visitors
Center at 800-359-6315 or visit the Eagle River
And I think that
I'll start saving now, because I am going back to Klondike Days
next year... and I will come home with a hat!
Special thanks to
Heather Beach, Director of Sales;
Wild Eagle Lodge for some great accommodations
Klondike Days' current Executive
Director, Christine Schilling, the Eagle River businesses and
dedicated volunteers who put together such a great event
Naomi Shapiro of Creative Brilliance,
for her assistance in connecting me with the event