Devil’s Lake, Vilas Zoo, Taliesin at 100 years

Three major southern Wisconsin attractions this year reach the same milestone – 100 years of existence. Their centennial celebrations stretch through the summer. — Living at the 30-acre Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, are around 700 creatures that represent 170 species. These numbers are average for an accredited zoo, Director Jim Hubing says, but two facts(…)

Chambers Island: open for quiet exploration

Mysterious Chambers Island is a 45-minute boat ride from Door County’s Fish Creek, but most of us only see it from a distance and hear incidental references from excursion leaders or hiking guides. Now the historically private island, seven miles northwest of the mainland shore, has become more accessible for quiet exploration. The partnership of(…)

Color them cool: Walldogs to paint Plymouth

Who doesn’t want to leave their mark on the world before leaving it? Hundreds of strangers will do just that in Plymouth this month, and the community of 8,000 seems to welcome it. About 160 artists – billboard painters, graphic designers, portrait artists and more – from throughout the U.S., Canada and Germany will migrate(…)

Beloit gains Great American Main St. Award

The Facebook conversation begins in a neutral manner: “Heading to Beloit; seeking your input,” I write. “Head SouthWest – LOL,” responds a high school classmate, two minutes later. “Beloit. The sound a nickel makes when dropped into a bucket of water,” adds a friend in Illinois. “Gentlemen, your reactions are what I suspected. Hope to(…)

Newly noticed in, en route to Door County

I’m waterlogged from writing about lakefront destinations at least a half-dozen times this spring, at the request of magazine editors who know that many of us long for “a shore thing” when vacation time arrives. Much of what makes these getaways special are the little discoveries that pop up along the way, the detours we(…)

Native American tourism: beyond the casinos

When dinner arrives, my side dish of wild rice is enough to feed two. The grains are large, almost meaty in texture and slightly nutty in taste. The robust dish is a simple, buttery and meaningful connection to age-old times. I am eating lake-grown rice and told these fat grains are longer than those found(…)

Old World Wisconsin: How the gardens grow

May is a month of hope and faith for gardeners who begin with seeds or fragile stalks and dream of a cornucopia of color and food. A shady yard, brown thumbs and limited dedication challenge my own success, but even visions of spindly tomatoes and out-of-control perennials get me revved up during this time of(…)

Spider Lake Lodge: one classy fishing camp

Go fish, but when the angling ends as sun sets, a remote log lodge could be your finest catch of the day in Northwoods Wisconsin. The fishing season for many species opens May 7 on thousands of the state’s inland waterways. These include Big Spider Lake, the largest in a five-lake chain that is home(…)

Dandelion Fest: enemy weed to edible green

What does it take to turn your enemy into a friend? A May 7 visit to Wisconsin’s Holyland – the German-Catholic towns that dominate parts of Calumet and Fond du Lac counties – will help sort things out, if the subject is dandelions. Activities at the state’s only known Dandelion Festival aim to elevate respect(…)

Pinehurst Inn, Bayfield: Color it deep green

Listen to how Nancy Sandstrom torments herself. The topic is organic cotton sheets, and these are a few of the questions she contemplates: Where does the cotton come from? Who’s picking it, and how are these workers treated? How far are the raw materials, and the sheets, transported? How long will they last? What is(…)

al corso: fine dining in rural Wisconsin

I am chasing the sun as it turns the sky a moody rose-gray near twilight, zipping past farmland and swampland that are steeping in the waters of melted snow. Dam construction on Mud Creek during the 1960s ensures marshy terrain year-round. Sandhill cranes, herons, pheasants, bobolinks, osprey and many other birds like it this way.(…)

Tommy Bartlett’s Exploratory, love of science

It’s mid afternoon on a weekday, and for a while I have dozens of games, lessons and challenges all to myself. My greeter is a robot named Celsius, who is showing his age but not a lack of enthusiasm. Soon I am trying to tell time with a binary clock, then a clock of marbles.(…)

ColdCache, Native American, Dells tourism

Five newcomers to notice this year: You’ve heard of geocaching – treasure hunts for families or adults that require little more than a GPS and tips from geocaching.com. Now work has begun to develop a ColdCache program along the Ice Age Trail. ColdCache refers to geological treasures – barrens to swales – that are found(…)

Wisconsin in labor: work museums, tours

A lot of us in Wisconsin are seeing red or feeling blue because of this winter’s legislation and citizen protests about collective bargaining rights for state workers. To understand the deepest hues of work, head to Milwaukee, where hundreds of paintings and sculptures show the sweat, hazards and triumphs of manual labor. The Grohmann Museum(…)

Port Washington Inn tops state B&B contest

Atop Sweet Cake Hill, four blocks from Lake Michigan, sits a bed and breakfast with five guest rooms near downtown Port Washington, an unassuming community of 11,000 that does little to brag up its attractive lakeshore. Book the Port Washington Inn’s third-floor Top of the World Suite, and accommodations include a sitting area with a(…)

Tourists assist at Apostle Isle sled dog races

We know we are in the right place because tire tracks over fresh snow lead only one way, to the Echo Valley gravel pit, and because the howling is incessant. It’s the sound of impatience and high energy. Fifteen miles from Bayfield, near the northern peak of Wisconsin, dozens of eager dogs and their mushers(…)

Distil, Merchant mixing craft, classic cocktails

While you’re nursing that Bloody Mary, mimosa or screwdriver during Sunday brunch, I’m discovering Milk Punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and Corpse Reviver No. 2. The three cocktails are a study in history, and you’ll find them on the brunch menu at Merchant, a new place to dine and imbibe in downtown Madison. At the(…)

Finding Elvis: impersonators all hail The King

The guy in front of us is shaking his hips so hard that he almost loses his fringy belt of macramé. The gyrations remind me of a washing machine gone awry during the spin cycle. Is this a good thing? I sneak a glance to my right, before filling the score sheet. My colleague seems(…)

Valley of the Kings: exotic animals’ last stop

I have not met Jill Carnegie, but I know what’s on her wish list: blankets, office supplies, wheelbarrows, lumber, fly traps, chest freezers, straw and many other items. She needs food, too, about 1,500 pounds every day. Send money, and you’re officially part of a family with Chelsea, Jasmine, Shera, Nadia, Bruno and dozens of(…)

Oshkosh studies deer hunting history, habits

As weather cools, so does the desire to stay indoors. That’s not the same as wanting to stay at home: Consider this trio of recently opened exhibits as a good reason to bundle up and head out. — You don’t have to shoot a gun to appreciate the many history lessons that “Deer Hunting: Wisconsin’s(…)

Inside Madison’s Underground Kitchen

When I met Jonny and Ben Hunter three years ago, they were rebel caterers keen on cooking adventurously with locally grown food, but without the trappings of tradition. Their work was fine art, but customers wouldn’t know the exact menu until the day of delivery. That’s how serious the brothers were about using in-season ingredients.(…)

Georgio’s: Perfecting the recipe for pizza

USA Today readers know by now that Georgio’s in Milton, a Rock County community of 5,100, is my Wisconsin recommendation in a nationwide roundup of great pizza places. The owners of this cozy, little Italian restaurant – George Rakidzich and Cheryl Ryan – have Serbian and Irish roots. They discarded corporate careers 13 years ago(…)

Reedsburg thinks food, Fermentation Fest

Everybody has a story, including the guy who shows up at Donna Neuwirth’s place with an odd contraption just before closing time. The device looks like a thick and makeshift set of wooden tongs that sits atop sturdy arcs of attached metal. “Bet you don’t know what this is,” the unannounced visitor teases. The antique(…)

Wisconsin Feargrounds: frightful fun

Tim Gavinski’s livelihood depends upon what happens during 14 days of frightening work this month. He has built a production that requires 152 paid actors and 12 makeup artists, plus dozens of other support staff. The stage is 58,000 square feet of the Waukesha Expo Center. The theme is fear and suspense. During the duration(…)