Wisconsin: Say Cheese!

While we had planned to travel north through Wisconsin as part of OTR 6.0 we did not initally envision visiting the southwestern part of the state. But, after coming across some information about the Badger State Trail, it looked as if it would provide several days of enjoyable riding through the countryside. We decided to swing west to camp, bike and explore the region.

The geography of this area is predominated by rolling hills and dells. This is dairy country with much of the milk going to the production of locally made cheese. The picturesque countryside is dotted with dairy farms.

There is a large Amish community here, it is quite a sight to see fields being plowed using horse drawn equipment. The winding hilly roads require extra caution due to the presence of horse drawn carriages.

Badger state trail

The Badger runs north/south from Madison to the border of Illinois. This trail was originally the rail bed for the Chicago, Madison and and Northern Railroad, with successor railroads carrying freight until the mid 1980s. The trail was opened for cycling and walking around 2007. The trail is not paved but the dirt and sand surface is good. We thoroughly enjoyed riding through the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin.

Irma’s Kitchen

On the advice of a local resident we met while doing laundry in Monroe (The Cheesemakers) we had breakfast at a local institution in the nearby Village of Argyle (pop.857). Irma’s Kitchen was founded in 1976 by Irma Collins. Irma has retired but IK continues as a family operated business with two of her daughters serving classic and delicious breakfasts between 6:30am and 11:00am. Another of Irma’s daughters is an extraordinary baker, making pastries and PIES for the cafe.

We ended up having breakfast at Irma’s several times – not just because the breakfast and pie was delicious – we met the local guys’ coffee group on our first visit and knew we had to go back to capture more of the local flavor and history. Thanks guys! We really enjoyed chatting with y’all.

Jane Addams Trail

Crossing Richland Creek

With continued good weather we decided to bicycle south from Monroe and ride the Badger Trail into Illinois where it becomes the Jane Addams Trail. The trail runs 19 miles from the border to the town of Freeport.

The trail is named in honor of Jane Addams, the second woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. She worked for many years lobbying the major nations of the world to disarm and sign peace accords. Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois which is located close by the trail.

Mineral point

On the advice of our new friends at IK we spent an afternoon in Mineral Point. The town was founded in 1827 and is Wisconsin’s third oldest city. The town grew rapidly for a number of years after the discovery of lead deposits.

As the scope of the mining operations increased, experienced miners immigrated from Cornwall in England. The arrival of the Cornish miners enabled a significant increase in lead production.

The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s coupled with diminishing lead production triggered an exodus of the miners from Mineral Point.

The legacy of the Cornish immigrants is still prevalent today in Mineral Point thanks to the construction of many stone cottages and buildings by the Cornish miners and the work of a number of residents to preserve the cottages and buildings.

Mining returned in the late 1800s due to the discovery of zinc at the bottom of the lead mines. The zinc mining played out by the 1920s. Today the town draws many tourists to see the architecture and shop and dine at the beautifully preserved historical buildings.

The mulberry pottery

Mineral Point has become an artistic enclave and we were fortunate to stop in to see the pottery of Frank Polizzi. Frank has been creating wood fired stoneware and pit fired earthenware for over forty years. Frank’s lovely wife Barbara shared the history of the pottery and explained the process for us.

The Mulberry Pottery utilizes a wood burning kiln built by Frank which can hold up to 300 pieces of pottery and achieves a temperature of 2400F during the roughly 15 hour process.

Yes, of course we loved many of the pieces and are now the proud owners of a beautiful vase!

Camping at Yellowstone Lake

More from Milwaukee (MKE) soon. Be seeing you!

Madison:post script

We had never been to Madison so decided to spend an afternoon there as we traveled from Yellowstone Lake to Milwaukee. We had read about the vibrant and pedestrian friendly shopping and dining area along State Street near the State Capitol Building. We thought it would be nice to stop for coffee and tea and explore the area.

We were saddened to find that protests last April-May had turned into violent street riots in which 75 businesses in this area were damaged and looted. Today 30 of the 75 businesses remained closed, boarded up and covered with graffiti.

The business owners requested financial support from the city in the amount of $250,000 to help repair damages and reopen. The city council voted not to provide funding since most of the State Street businesses are white owned and as such providing funding would constitute an act of systemic racism.

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