III. NICOLET NATIONAL FOREST BEGINNINGS
Federal forestry had its beginning 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when Congress authorized the appointment of a special forestry agent in 1876. In 1898, Gifford Pinchot assumed the top position of what was then the Forestry Division in the Department of Agriculture. Finally, in 1905, Congress established a national forest conservation and management policy, along with the basic structure of today's Forest Service. When the Forest Service took charge of the forest reserves, they numbered 60 and covered 56 million acres of federally owned land. The forest reserves became National Forests in 1907. The Forest Service, under the leadership of Chief Forester Pinchot, was made responsible for managing the National Forests, ". . . for the greatest good of the largest number of people in the long run."
In Wisconsin, much of the northern timber stands had been clearcut by the early 1900's. The lumber companies were followed by fire, and the flames licked the unprotected earth until it lay black and ashen. Between 1918 and 1925, numerous land speculation companies sprang into existence. Having purchased the abandoned lands at very low prices, the companies then printed maps and pamphlets which promised "satisfaction guaranteed", good soil, healthful climate, good market facilities, plentiful lakes and streams, and a location where droughts were unknown. Much of this, of course, was not true.
However, many families were lured into buying much of the land. Those who tried farming soon found the land to be generally unproductive, transportation poor and the area with very limited access to markets. Many were forced to sell out or abandon their lands because they could not pay the taxes.
It was from these scraps of land cut-over, scarred by fire, worked to the point of infertility that the Nicolet National Forest began to take shape. Both the State of Wisconsin and the Federal Government realized that something had to be done if these lands were to receive the protection and reforestation necessary to return them to their original productiveness.
On December 12, 1928, the National Forest Reservation Commission approved the Oneida Purchase Unit, consisting of 151,680 acres in Oneida, Forest and Vilas counties. Much of this land was purchased under the authority of the Weeks Law of 1911, which enabled the Government to purchase those lands necessary for the protection of the flow of navigable streams. The first lands in the newly established Oneida Purchase Unit were bought from the Thunder Lake Lumber Company.
A Forest Service office was set up in Park Falls in 1929. S. D. Anderson headed that office, overseeing the management of the unit along with the acquisition of new lands.
In 1932, Ray Iverson became the first ranger on the Forest. His office was over the Vilas Theatre in Eagle River. He moved to a new ranger station on Highway 32 near Virgin Lake with his wife Helen in November of that year. (Today, the assistant ranger's dwelling is on the site.) Years later, the ranger station was moved across the highway, and was used as a bachelor's quarters.
Ray Iverson's first help on the Argonne District came in 1929 and consisted of Henry Gagen who served as compassman while examining lands, and Don Kelsey, who helped on land purchases and fire control. A graduate of the Iowa Forestry School, Sam Battel came to work on the district in 1930, and was employed as a general district assistant and fire guard. I assisted some in those days as a fire fighter, crew foreman, timekeeper, truck driver, and in other ways. The same organization continued until 1931 the big job being fire control and custodial duties to see that Government lands were not trespassed on, especially the cutting of timber.
I will never forget some of my first days working for Ray Iverson who was a man who wanted to get things done and got satisfaction out of doing so. He never carried a watch, and this was so you could keep right on working until the sun went down. Also, at that time we were all on salary no overtime. We were supposed to work a 44-hour week, and I worked six months before learning no one was supposed to work Saturday afternoons. Jobs were not plentiful during those depression days, and one gratefully accepted almost any conditions of employment
On March 10, 1932, the National Forest Reservation Commission approved a 68,000-acre addition to the Oneida Purchase Unit and the establishment of the 204,800-acre Oconto Unit. This new acreage covered portions of Forest, Vilas, Oconto and Langlade Counties.
One year later, on March 2, 1933, a proclamation was issued changing the name of the Oneida Unit to Argonne, and designating the area the Nicolet National Forest.
On July 1 of that year, headquarters for the Nicolet National Forest were established in Rhinelander. The headquarters office was located in rented space above DeByle's store. Park Falls remained a Forest headquarters, with the designation of the Chequamegon National Forest in November.
S. Duval Anderson was the first supervisor of Forest Service activities in the Nicolet National Forest area, and served from 1928 to 1932. He was followed by Raymond Harmon in 1932, and by Paul Wohlen in 1934.
The National Forest Reservation Commission extended the Nicolet Forest boundaries into Vilas, Florence, Forest and Oconto Counties on March 26, 1934. The first three districts and rangers were: Argonne District, Ray Iverson; Peshtigo District, V. C. Sheffield; and, Oconto District, Rene LaRocque. Two more districts were established in 1936. The Florence District was headquartered at Keyes Lake and Louis Tausch, Jr. was named Ranger. The Phelps Ranger District office was in Eagle River, with Walter Nicewander as Ranger.
A major job of the Nicolet National Forest managers was acquisition of new lands. In the spring of 1934, acquisition crews were organized to examine lands for purchase under the Emergency Conservation Work Program. Members of one of the first crews included: William Emerson, Pete Super and John Riss, foresters; and, Gordon Baken, Larry Williams and myself, Ken Elliott (author), compassmen.
The crew stayed in a cabin on Elvoy Creek, about 4 miles west of the Town of Nelma. With no maps, every day was an adventure as the crew knew little about the area they would be examining until they actually arrived on the site. Evenings were spent computing volumes, matching map lines, and completing the necessary paperwork. Although the Country was under prohibition, crew members would take turns walking the half mile to Madam June's saloon to buy "beverages" for the camp.
In the fall of 1934, I was promoted to Forest Land Estimator. The crew started examining lands of the Thunder Lake Lumber Company in Townships 40 and 41N, Ranges 12 and 13E. We had to ride the company's Narrow Gauge Railroad train from the Thunder Lake store on State Highway 32 to Camp #14 R13E in the SWSW, Section 11, T40N, where we ate our meals.
We slept a few nights in Jack Mylrea's private railroad car until a cabin was completed to use as sleeping quarters and an office. Later, the Forest Service purchased some railroad speeders that we were able to travel to and from camp with, and to also get closer to the work area by traveling some of the railroad spur lines. John Hammes, an old woods cruiser from Padus, Wisconsin, and Byron Kent, an old woods cruiser for Holt Lumber Company, and Ed Anderson, a Forest Service employee from Lakewood, joined the crew.
The acquisition team gradually increased until, in the summer of 1935, a Chief of Acquisition was appointed to head the 18-member group. Vernon C. Sheffield was the chief, and he worked out of the Supervisor's Rhinelander office. Much of the land acquired during this early period was purchased at $0.50 to $1.00 per acre. A complete cover type and general type map for the Nicolet National Forest was completed by the end of 1936.
Once the Government began to purchase lands for inclusion in the National Forest System, fire prevention became a major concern. In 1932, funds were allocated for construction of fire towers at Hiles, Lake Julia and Anvil Lake. Money was also set aside for fire access roads and road crews.
The first fire trail was built from Virgin Lake on Highway 32, into the east side of Lake Julia. It was later extended to the Scott Lake area. Today, this is Forest Road #2183. Pine River Road was constructed next. It began at Old Military Road about 2 miles north of the ranger station, then east to Thunder Lake Lumber Company's railroad grade, and on east to the Pine River. This road, which is currently Forest Road #2183, was completed and graded to within about 1 mile of Highway 55 in 1932.
On a road crew, every day things were often an inconvenience. For example, food! A supply truck would usually go for fresh food once a week. The only refrigeration at camp was a metal box that was stored in a nearby spring. Therefore, there was fresh meat just once a week, when the truck returned. The men ate ham or bacon the remaining 6 days.
With construction of the towers and roads completed, foresters were hired to man the three fire towers in the spring of 1933. Ed Lee (he later became a Nicolet National Forest Supervisor) was stationed at Anvil Lake Lookout. Allen Jackson kept guard at the Lake Julia Tower, while Robert Sowash manned the Hiles Lookout. Communication between lookouts and the ranger stations was limited to a single ground wire telephone system. The wire ran through the woods or along roads and was fastened to trees. Split insulators were used to let the wire slide through, thus avoiding breakage should a tree fall on the line. Portable telephones were used in emergencies, and were hooked onto the line near a pole with wires. Each station had its own signal consisting of a series of short and/or long rings.
The establishment of a good transportation system was important to overall Nicolet Forest management. In the early 1930's, the main travel routes consisted of State Highways 55, 32, 64, and 139, and county and town roads. None of the roads were surfaced, making many of them impassable by auto during the spring of the year due to the thaw. Winter driving was also hazardous; snow plowing equipment was primitive. Often, an individual would be forced to abandon his vehicle and walk to the nearest residence to await the snow plows.
Located at the end of one of these forest roads was Mrs. Carrie ("Shorty") Fournier's resort. It was situated on the north end of Franklin Lake, where Camp Nicolet for girls is today. Mrs. Fournier was quite a north woods personality, and she had numerous friends. She came to northern Wisconsin with her first husband, Jack Mann, a whiskey salesman. After his death, she married "Shorty" Fournier. "Shorty" was killed in a car accident in 1919, and ever after Carrie was called Mrs. "Shorty."
The Fourniers purchased land on the south shore of Butternut Lake around 1902, and constructed a resort. They also built a cabin on the north shore of Franklin Lake, bringing the building materials across the lake by boat. After "Shorty"'s death, Carrie sold the Butternut Resort to Gus Griswald.
Some of the first guests came to "Shorty" Fournier's Resort on Franklin Lake by boat. Carrie later located a road by herself. The Town of Hiles eventually constructed a rut road into her resort area. Mrs. Shorty's daily attire consisted of corduroy knickers or blue and white striped overalls, a man's shirt, a bandana tied around her hair and Indian moccasins. Her nearest neighbor was 15 miles away. Her only regular company was a pet deer named "Junie".
Carrie operated the resort for 44 years, before selling it to Wendell Schroeder in 1953. She died in 1963, at the age of 91.