Wisconsin, one of the Great Lakes states in the U.S., has many lakes. As a matter of fact, with over 15,000, it is second to only Alaska. Many of these lakes were formed in the last Ice Age, and of course, the Great Lakes are world-renowned. Many lakes within the state are manmade, the result of flood control, municipal water, and hydroelectric projects. In the past 50 years, the state has repaired, drained, and rebuilt reservoirs, but these don’t result in new lakes. With this in mind, what is the newest lake in Wisconsin? Strangely enough, the newest lake in Wisconsin, Lake Joanis, exists just because a university president wanted a lake!
History, Planning, and Cost
A New Lake Proposed
Lake Joanis was the brainchild of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point President and Chancellor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who served from 1967 to 1977. He felt the campus was too flat and featureless. He was disappointed that Ice Age glaciation bypassed the Stevens Point campus. Early in his administration, he began to push for a campus lake to improve the campus’ appearance.
The Land Purchase
In 1966, a university-affiliated foundation had purchased 50 acres of land just to the northeast of the campus. The foundation purchased another 120 acres of land to expand student housing. Dreyfus thought this would be an ideal location for his lake. Unfortunately, there were no funds for the project.
A Potential Partner
In 1973, Sentry Insurance announced that it was looking to build its new world headquarters north of the campus, next to the 50 acres purchased by the university foundation. The building’s construction needed a significant amount of fill, and Dreyfus saw this as an opportunity for the university.
A Plan for the Lake
After extensive negotiations, Sentry Insurance, the city of Stevens Point, and the Regents of the university agreed, closing off a busy access street through campus and allowing for the development of Dreyfus’ desired lake. Sentry Insurance would pay for the excavation of the lake in exchange for fill for the headquarters site, the city would reroute the local creek around the proposed lake location, and the university would be responsible for shore development and upkeep of facilities.
Cost and Construction
Construction crews began excavating the lake in 1975. It cost about $1 million to excavate the lake, and 19,000 truckloads of fill, approximately 540,000 cubic yards of soil, were taken out of the site. Contractors had overestimated the amount of fill needed for the site, so they used the remaining fill to create an island in the middle of the lake. Crews completed the lake in the Spring of 1976.
At about the same time, students and faculty determined that the remaining university-owned land surrounding the lake should become an environmental laboratory. By 1977, the process was underway that would lead to the creation of the Schmeeckle Reserve, named after Fred J. Schmeeckle, the professor who had created the country’s first conservation education department.
The Lake’s Name
At its creation, the lake had no name. Finally, in 1994, the university officially named it after John Joanis, the president of Sentry Insurance, who agreed to the plan to create the lake in 1975. Though he had already passed away, his family attended the naming ceremony.
The lake takes up about 24 acres of the original 50-acre purchase. It was excavated to a depth of about 24 feet to provide a stable environment for fish and other wildlife. The teardrop-shaped island near the middle of the lake totals about one acre.
Where on a Map Is Lake Joanis?
Though it is a small college lake, fishing is permitted under the rules of Schmeeckle Reserve. Fishing can be done from the shore, the pier, kayak, rowboat, or canoe. The reserve does not allow motorized boats on the lake, and anglers cannot fish while standing in the lake. Swimming, wading, tubing, or entering the lake in any way is against the reserve’s rules.
The lake is not regularly stocked, but periodic stocking has resulted in an assortment of fish. Anglers will find sunfish, northern pike, smallmouth bass, rock bass, perch, and walleye. There are also bluegill, pumpkinseed fish, crappie, and green sunfish.
A valid fishing license and adherence to Wisconsin fishing regulations are required.
The reserve around the lake has over 5 miles of trails and boardwalks. Most of the trails are covered with mulch, providing a quiet walking or casual jogging route. Biking is okay if you stay on the paths and yield to pedestrians.
Snowy paths are ideal for snowshoeing, winter hiking, and cross-country skiing during the winter months. Enthusiasts can rent skis and snowshoes from the Schmeeckle Reserve Visitors Center.
Kayaking and Canoeing
Lake Joanis is an excellent lake for boating. The Visitor Center rents canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. They even rent out wet bags and canoe/kayak trailers.
Many mammals live throughout the reserve and around Lake Joanis. White-tailed deer graze in abundance, and chipmunks, gray and red squirrels, and northern and southern flying squirrels roam the trees. Beavers, muskrats, weasels, river otters, and minks find the nearby lake, creeks, and wetlands ideal habitats. The wooded areas abound with raccoons, opossums, striped skunks, porcupines, and woodchucks. There have also been reports of coyotes and the occasional bobcat.
The lake, creeks, marshes, and wetlands attract a variety of waterfowl, including mallards, swans, geese, bitterns, and herons. Killdeer, chimney swifts, downy woodpeckers, house wrens, and American robins flit through the skies and trees surrounding the lake. With all of the wildlife, it’s no wonder that a variety of hawks, falcons, kestrels, and the occasional bald eagle appear.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The waters of the reserve are home to common mudpuppies and blue-spotted salamanders. Frogs and toads also love the waters, represented by species such as the American bullfrog, American toad, spring peeper, and green frog. On the reserve trails, you may come across painted turtles, common snapping turtles, garter snakes, and northern red-bellied snakes.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Oleksii Liskonih
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