Winter is coming; here’s to the spring chickens who will lead us

By Steve Hill, The Portage County Gazette

A cabin full of teen boys with stinky socks may not sound like the best locale for relaxing, but it’s a lot better when another cabin is available next door.

This past weekend, I finally had the good fortune to spend a couple of nights at the Central Wisconsin Environmental Station (CWES) at Sunset Lake. My son, Sam, and eight other Boy Scouts were taking part in a leadership workshop.

That’s good, as we’re heading into a period when we’ll need plenty of help to stay the course.

But before discussing CWES, Sunset and scouts, I’ll honor the upcoming shortest day of the year by trying to write a shorter column.

That will mean refraining from hurling a bucket of curses at some of our so-called leaders – a restraint many of us have difficulty practicing right now. In the best spirit of our holiday season, I’ll curb my impulses with a quick shout-out to one of the good leaders.

Shankland is true park champion

In a period with precious little good news, especially for natural resources, our local representative to the state Assembly is one of those rare politicians who truly leads.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, is both social-media savvy and smart enough to realize that public servants like her truly are tied to and should serve the public.

Shankland has spearheaded efforts to keep our most precious resource – water – safe and available to all. She’s a tireless advocate of the state’s Water Sustainability Act, which failed to get a hearing in 2016 but is slated for reintroduction in 2017.

She has criticized the current administration’s destructive approach to reducing Department of Natural Resources staff sizes at the expense of good science and good service.

Now, she’s drawing attention to state attempts to further increase park fees, perhaps dramatically, even as it minimizes state support – an approach that ultimately could throttle access to parks for those who need it most, but can afford it least.

As the 2017 biennial budget process approaches, we’ll learn more about lawmakers’ continued calls for “self-sufficiency” of state parks. That’s a loaded term that sounds good politically, but is practically impossible in a cooperative society that values a common natural heritage.

I’ll keep up with this in coming weeks. For now, I’ll leave it at this: for natural resources, having Shankland represent our area and all of Wisconsin’s people is like having a bright star to guide us through the night.

A tradition for environment

Anyone who loves summer camp should love CWES, even in winter.

The station focuses on environmental education and is administered by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s (UWSP) College of Natural Resources. Most of its work is geared toward schools and other groups seeking planned programming.

It has a classic camp setup that may best be experienced in the traditional way, with group meals and the entire grounds full of rowdy campers. It’s possible, however, for individual families to get a cabin for public events, like February’s Winter CWEStival, on limited occasions during the year.

Extended families (or simply large ones, generally 20 or more) are encouraged to consider CWES for reunions or other gatherings, said Tom Quinn, CWES director. More information is available at

CWES was among the first places my wife and I visited near Stevens Point, well before we ended up in Wisconsin, but we didn’t stay there and I was unaware of its history as a Boy Scout camp.

The land’s original owner, Mark Nelson, donated the land to the Scouts, who ran a camp there, but have since leased the site to UWSP. The station’s history means scouts are especially welcome, and Dec. 9-11, we (five adults, nine scouts) were the only occupants at the station besides caretakers.

The boys stayed in the Anderson Lodge, which sleeps 24 and has a fine wood-burning stove and simple kitchen. Adults stayed in one of the five Scandinavian log cabins, which are solidly built, rustic accommodations that sleep eight.

Those Lincoln-log cabins have no cooking facilities. There’s a $20 per-person, per-night fee for all lodging, with a minimum charge of $80 a night for the cabins. Those have electric heating that generates a lot of white noise, but firm mattresses on the eight individual bunk beds combined with the heat allow a comfortable sleep.

A sturdy but small table and four solid chairs complete the cabins.

While there are other lodging options, and it’s possible to have a group of 20 or more that simply goes out to eat, groups that don’t stay in Anderson Lodge would almost certainly want to contract with CWES for meals.

The wooded, hilly grounds are perfect for wandering. They are big enough and with numerous paths to walk for an hour or two without losing sight of the camp unless you walk east across the road to Minister Lake, a relatively recent addition to the station.

Recreational facilities like Iola’s ski trail aren’t far away.

Only parts of the Sunset and Minister shores are accessible by walking, as CWES property intersperses with private land, but the peace and relative isolation of the station mean it feels like a true getaway.

My 36-hour stay was highlighted by a couple of quiet hikes through the woods. Meanwhile, the boys played fantasy or ball games around the main campgrounds during breaks from learning how to lead.

At night, there were movies, card games or “ghost in the graveyard” outside. Saturday night’s snowfall made the setting even more idyllic the next day.

Here’s hoping Sam and his youthful buddies grow into great leaders who value and preserve places like CWES, state parks and nature in general – for all of us.