History of Our Lake Association

Lake associations come in many forms and may have been created with specific purposes in mind, including shoreline developmental oversight, water management, safety oversight, and the social aspect of meeting others on the lake, to name a few. In the 1950s, there was an effort to create an association, mostly driven by the resort owners, with a primary purpose of more effectively managing the fishery as tourism to the area was heavily driven by the angling experience in the Northwoods. That effort never advanced beyond the discussion phase.

Moving into the late 1980s and 1990s, the effects on water quality of acid rain and groundwater run-off, along with the introduction of invasive plant and animal species, brought a whole new set of issues to riparian owners and lake users regarding the protective management of their respective water bodies. It is this focal point that has been the catalyst for the creation of many of the newly-formed associations in the Northwoods area, and ours is no exception.

HFRLA – A GRASSROOTS BEGINNING - During the summer of 2005, Bob Jenkins, Stan Ellis, and Fred Rathke, property owners on High Lake, met with Wes Kiley, president of the Cisco Chain Riparian Owners Association, to discuss lake associations, their purpose and benefits, organizational mechanics and operating pitfalls. The hope was that a lake association would provide the structure needed to organize volunteer efforts to monitor water quality and invasive species threats, as well as represent property owners and their interests with local and state government. Convinced that organizing a lake association was worth pursuing, that fall Fred developed a list of 150 property owners on High, Fishtrap and Rush Lakes from the various township property tax records.

In early April, 2006, notices were sent to property owners inviting them to a meeting to be held on May 27, to determine interest levels in establishing a lake association. Also, on the meeting agenda were two guest speakers—Bob Korth from the Wisconsin Lakes Program, UW Stevens Point College of Natural Resources, and Carolyn Scholl, Lake Conservation Specialist, Vilas County and Water Conservation Department. About sixty people attended the first meeting. After the guest speaker presentations and open discussion about lake associations, a straw vote was taken resulting in a majority in favor of forming a lake association. A steering committee to continue the organization of the lake association was formed made up of Katie Darling, Patt Ellis, Richard Mathias, Patt McCarthy, Sally and Fred Rathke, Helen Schott, and Ken Wiesner.

A second property owners’ meeting was held on September 2, 2006, to elect ten “interim” board directors and to discuss a draft mission statement and a questionnaire that had been mailed to property owners about the lakes and the lake association. An "interim" board of directors was elected and included Jay Christgau, Katie Darling, Stan Jozefiak, Mark Lavin, Patt McCarthy, Sally Rathke, Fred Rathke, Helen Schott, Ken Wiesner, and Ron Winter.

The Board worked to organize the lake association’s first annual meeting held July 7, 2007, with about thirty people in attendance. The membership approved the proposed bylaws and the slate of directors. At this time there were twenty-one members in the association. The first officers of the Board were elected at an August 25, 2007, board meeting and included Fred Rathke, President, Mark Lavin, Vice- President, Leslie Gauberti (who filled Jay Christgau’s vacancy), Secretary, and Ken Wiesner, Treasurer. High-Fishtrap-Rush Lakes Association (HFRLA) was up and running.

THE FORMATIVE MILESTONES - During the next two years, the Board worked to further develop the association’s organizational structure, increase membership, and begin to collect and review information related to the health of the lakes. During 2007, the Lakes Science Committee focused on monitoring the lakes for aquatic invasive species along with member volunteers who were periodically testing water clarity and taking samples for water quality chemistry testing. It is interesting to note that volunteers on High Lake had already been monitoring water quality for over twenty years. In 2007, the HFRLA became a member of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes (now known as Wisconsin Lakes) and the Vilas County Lakes Association (now known as the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association). Then in the fall of 2007, Leslie Gauberti, with a team of writers and photographers, published the first HFRLA newsletter with the goals of providing information about the lake association’s activities and increasing membership.

By the May, 2008, annual meeting, the lake association had thirty-six members— enough members to become a WIDNR “qualified lake association,” making the association eligible to apply for lake-management planning grants at some time in the future. In June 2008, the lake association completed the formality of incorporation and became a Wisconsin, non-stock corporation. By May, 2009, HFRLA membership had increased to sixty-eight members and in June, the lake association established a free Google website, www.sites.google.com/site/hfrlakes . On June 27, 2009, the 1st annual potluck picnic was successfully held after the conclusion of the annual meeting.

After months of difficult work and multiple responses to and from the Internal Revenue Service, HFRLA obtained, on January 24, 2011, tax exempt status from Federal income tax as a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, effective back to June 2, 2008. Donations to the organization would now be tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

A MOVE TO PROACTIVE PLANNING - In July, 2009, with a solid organizational base in place, the HFRLA, with its seventy-five members, welcomed a new president, Dan Johnson, to lead the organization into a phase of proactive planning for the “preservation and protection” of the HFR Lakes area. By this time, the organization had already accomplished an important step in its conservation agenda: in 2008, an aquatic plant survey was conducted on High Lake by a team of member volunteers that was led by Susan Knight, UW-Center for Limnology, Trout Lake Station. Susan reported that High Lake had excellent aquatic plant diversity, with no exotic species and no threatened, endangered, or special-concern plants. The survey also revealed that High Lake's water quality was good and compared very well with similar lakes in the region. This was followed in July, 2009, with an aquatic plant survey conducted on Fishtrap Lake by a team of volunteers and again, was led by Susan Knight. Similar to High Lake, plant diversity and water quality were high — an indication of a very healthy lake. There was identified, however, an extremely high presence of southern naiad, a native plant not usually found in abundance in Wisconsin waters. While not considered an invasive species in Wisconsin, the concentration level of this plant continues to be of on-going concern.

During the summer of 2010, Helen Schott and her husband, Roger Larson, coordinated and trained member volunteers to staff the county Highway B boat landing on High Lake to perform boat and trailer checks for plant material and offer reminders about how not to transport fish and live-well materials from lake to lake. The program was well organized and effective, but had the downside of taking volunteers out of substantial portions of their limited time in the Northwoods, and as a result, it lost sustained momentum. Fortunately, years later, a solution was found to remedy this problem.

At the June 25, 2011, annual meeting, members approved moving forward with a comprehensive lake study and planning initiative. The resulting lake management plan would include a variety of lakes-related information gathering and data collection for bench-marking purposes, member training programs, angler journaling, water clarity/chemistry analysis, and an aquatic plant management plan. The study and planning would allow the HFRLA to be more proactive regarding lake issues that may arise in the future. It would be considered “a first necessity” in soliciting help from the WIDNR on remediating or resolving any future lake problems. Dan Johnson and Ken Wiesner led the initiative that would require a sizeable volunteer effort on the part of members. The Board contracted with Whitewater Associates to assist the Association as consultants for the project, with expected project duration for completion of three to four years. On November 1, 2012, WIDNR approved a $25,000 grant to the HFRLA to support completion of Phase I of the lake planning study—the project was officially underway. In the spring of 2014, a status report on the project was filed with the WIDNR, demonstrating satisfactory completion of the first phase objectives. In April, 2014, the WIDNR approved the final $25,000 grant which allowed the association to move towards the completion of Phase II, which was estimated to finish in June, 2016.

During May, 2013, three members, Ken Wiesner, Greg Van Grinsven, and Dan Johnson, began work to assist the WIDNR in performing inspections at the Fishtrap Dam to help identify dam operating and maintenance needs as well as regular monitoring and measurement of water-retention levels. The scope of this work was somewhat beyond the original scope of the original lake plan initiative, but it promoted a valuable “partnering” concept with the WIDNR. This activity will continue on into the future.

To complete a major objective of the Phase II project work, and to fulfill a void created when the volunteer boat landing monitoring initiative stalled, HFRLA contracted in the spring of 2015 with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to implement the Clean Boats Clean Waters program. The program placed trained student interns at the public boat landing to heighten awareness of the problem of inter-lake transportation of aquatic invasive species as well as to assist boaters in the inspections of their watercraft for extraneous plant materials. The program will continue into the future if finances permit.

PEOPLE WORKING TOGETHER - A real highlight for the association and the Town of Boulder Junction occurred during 2013, when HFRLA members donated over $80,000 through the Lakes Challenge Fundraiser for the new Boulder Junction Community Center and Library, obtaining the naming rights to one of the Community Center’s large meeting rooms—the High-Fishtrap Lakes Room. The community effort continued when at the July, 2015, Board of Directors meeting, five directors pledged sufficient funds to install an audio-visual system in our “named” High-Fishtrap Lakes meeting room at the community center.

During 2011, the Lakes History Project was born—an HFR lakes community project to create and capture narrative and pictures in a book that brings back to life people, places, and events connected to the lakes. This publication, Heaven on the Headwaters, is the result of that effort and the contributions provided by so many of our association members.

Thinking back to 2007 when the HFRLA was supported by twenty-one charter members, it is truly remarkable to realize that membership has grown to over one hundred members today. A “thank you” is due to those dedicated members who donated and continue to donate their time and resources to the organization. Your commitment and initiative resulted in the steady and solid growth of an organization that has already accomplished much toward preserving and protecting the lakes that so many enjoy, appreciate, and love. Margaret Mead had it correct when she said — “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The hope is that the HFRLA will remain active and continue to provide a common voice for the concerns, needs, and challenges that may face High, Fishtrap, and Rush Lakes and its watershed into the future.