Practically Perfect In Park Falls
by Louis Bignami, Editor and Publisher
More than just the Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World
Park Falls doesn't shout its low key Wisconsin virtues. Whip through town on the way to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at Lake Superior or to the canoeing and fishing joys of the Flambeau Flowage and you only glimpse the North Fork of the Flambeau River and its namesake mill -- the latter is both an historic landmark and the town's major employer. You can't miss the St. Croix Rod Company that's right on Highway 13 -- check out the bargain rods in their shop. You can't miss Park Fall's ruffed grouse sign or the American Legion "Old Abe" eagle either.
But small country towns, like shy girls, don't always display their true worth at first glance. So turn off Highway 13. Drive Park Falls' wide, clean streets. Inspect the nicely landscaped homes - many proudly display American flags. It takes only minutes to spot the Norman Rockwell values that survive here. Pause at a local hangout like the Pal Café, and, in addition to decent coffee and an amazingly inexpensive breakfast or lunch, you meet the locals whose tales trapped me there for over an hour on my last visit.
You may also, as I did, get asked to someone's home to see prized fish mounts and meet quiet, well-behaved children. But the Pal Café banter features tales mighty muskie and piscatorial prowess limited only by the teller's imagination and your apparent gullibility. If you're very lucky you may, as I did, even find a local willing to take you fishing. I promised not to disclose the name of this master muskie specialist who produced a muskie on the middle of a flat calm Sunday when everything that floated churned the waters, but his initials are "C.W." and his dog Elmo eats bucktails and other discusting baits.
Given fine fishing and the solid selection of local resorts, campgrounds and other lodging options, it seems silly not to stay overnight to see and savor the old-time values and lifestyle most miss in city and suburb. Prices are modest. An excellent breakfast ran three dollars and came with uncounted coffee refills. Dinner at a local steakhouse hit $15 for a steak that overlapped the edges of the plate and the seven dollar walleye dinner's not to miss.
Visitors might be surprised at the number of spots that sell maple syrup and, in the summer berries and produce offer bargains as well. Craft, pottery and other artistic offerings seem underpriced to city visitors "Affordable excellence" seems the best capsule description of the area.
Local Polaris dealer and "big fish" angler Jim Bukacheck with a mighty 35-pound muskie
Photo: LOUIS BIGNAMI
Anglers can't miss a stop at the St. Croix Rod Company discount store where the locals load up on rods with cosmetic defects. Last visit I spotted license plates in their parking lot from Canada, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and a stray from Maine!
"Load up" is the operative word here. One local confessed to owning 43 St. Croix rods stored at home and in a neighbor's garage to avoid, according to his buddy on the next stool a "spousal rod census." His buddy continued, "Yep, and you can't catch a sweat with any of them."
You'll also see more St. Croix Rod caps in the Pal Café than you might find in the St. Croix Rod Company store north of town. Obviously the locals like "their" rod company.
You won't miss anglers in Park Falls. Everybody fishes! Why? Check out the "bragging Board" at MJ Lures Fishing Tackle Store south of town to see for yourself.
A bit further north the turnoff to Butternut Lake rates a look as a Class A muskie water and site of an Annual August Muskie Tournament. Local experts also catch muskie out of the North Fork of the Flambeau River in, above and below town, and the amazingly good fishing just northeast of town in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage -- "the flowage" --suits visitors and residents.
The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage rates its nom de plume as "The Crown Jewel of the North" and its comparison with Minnesota's Boundary Waters. Except, it's not nearly as crowded except for the largest concentration of fish eating bald eagles, ospreys and loons in Wisconsin. Eagles seen last trip scored one fish per three dives!
Over 19,000 acres of lakes and many streams in the Flowage hold muskie, pike, trout, lake sturgeon, burbot, bass, delicious walleye and some amazingly large crappie. Note: if you catch a fish that's indescribably ugly, it's probably a burbot. Fillet it and you're in for a taste treat most feel runs only behind walleye and crappie.
Since there's so much water, and productive methods vary so wildly from season to season, savvy visitors fish their first day or two with a guide who can hone skills, check tackle and offer the usual amazing assortment of fish stories that entertain you even when the fish don't bite as well as they might.
"Go with a guide" goes triple if you seek musky which like any other huge fish, require considerable dedication. Go it alone and you might fish a season without a hit. Go with a guide and you'll probably see, and hopefully, catch one muskie every day or so The best guides know their favorite mighty musky by name, size and, I suppose, serial number because almost everyone practices loving catch and release with these formidable fish.
Do take care. Off personal experience, I know one swirl from a mighty muskie can hook anglers for life, and casts per musky boated can run into three or four figures!! So if you want fish to fry consider crappie or walleye which some argue taste even better than the local trout.
Do take mosquito repellant! Lots of water can mean flotillas of mosquitos until the crisp fall weather decimates their squadrons!
Given the thick local woods often
overhang streams and you know why canoes suit the many slowly
winding rivers, back country ponds and other sheltered, narrow
waters. On stillwater skiffs and john boats work too.
Besides offering easy drive, drag or carry-in fishing access, canoes suit down river days. Take your pick. The North Fork Water Trail in Flambeau Forest upstream from Park Falls presents 23 rapids to challenge day trippers. Downstream from Park Falls the South Fork flows just fast enough to move an casting angler over the action all the way to the Flambeau State Forest.
Resorts like Dave & Jeans or 9 Mile Resort feature canoe rentals, shuttles and pickups for half-day, day or longer trips. Guides add their own coddled comforts such as shore lunches and help with fishing, portages, etc.
History and Hunting
Like most Northern Wisconsin towns Park
Falls established itself as a lumber center before the last of
the big pines got logged off before World War One. Today, pulp,
high-quality paper, newsprint and wood products take advantage of
the area's thick second growth that lines the banks of the many
lakes, ponds streams and bogs of the area.
Locals do well with deer, bear and other game, but if you walk the miles of logging roads now gated and carefully planted to grass you find what many consider the the best ruff grouse hunting in the Midwest. Well over 5,000 acres are intensively managed for grouse, suit deer and other species You'll certainly see deer, probably see bear and in the early season each and every pothole and pond supports more ducks and geese than you expect until the winter freeze sends locals to skis and snowmobiles.
East of town on the Pike Lake Chain, Round Lake now centers a 2,600 acre semi-primitive non- motorized area with an attractive network of large and small lakes, a few old forest patches and wonderful quiet hiking and biking. This quiet area particularly suits x-c skiing on winter days with "double diget" temperatures. When it drops below zero a cabin with a fireplace and a nice view of a frozen lake, or a heated ice fishing shack seem more comfortable venues!
Round Lake's traditional Logging Dam just off Road 144 once held water and logs cut over winter. Come spring it crashed open to flush logs to mills as far away as the Mississippi as nimble loggers demonstrated frisky footwork only seen today in log rolling contests. Tip: Round Lake's boarders the primitive area so wise visitors who hike or backpack in should "cheat" by getting a ride across the water rather than walking around the lake.
Even in summer, you know snow's the show in upstate Wisconsin. Local street signs trace snowmobile routes all summer. Cross-country skiers enjoy more than 60 miles of x-c ski trails that function in the summer as hiking venues. Given the "snowmobile in every garage" look of Park Falls it's no surprise that winter visitors enjoy hundreds of miles of public, county and club snowmobile trails in and out of the Chequamegon National Forest. Fortunately you can rent your own snowmobiles.
Even though there's so much recreation, the prime pleasures of Park Falls remain its people. The helpful young lady at the market who gives specific directions to a cabin I'd never seen in daylight sticks in my mind. So does "C.W." and his muskie expertise and Elmo his bucktail eating Golden. So too, do Jim Bukacheck at the snowmobile shop and his lovely daughter who showed me their prized fish mounts.
Do good people make good towns? Or do good towns make good people? It's hard to say, but one happy result's Park Falls.
For information contact: Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Box 246 Park Falls WI 54552 1-800-762-2709