Relaxing on the back roads
By Dawn Schuett
Among Wisconsin’s tourist attractions, perhaps none are more popular than those in the Wisconsin Dells area, but anyone who wants to escape the crowds just needs to veer off the Interstate and travel down some rural roads.
For a vacation in the country, I head to southeastern Wisconsin, and for good reason: I grew up there on the family farm in Dodge County.
Located halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, the area has plenty to offer for outdoor recreation, historical points of interest and destinations geared toward agricultural tourism, and it’s also less than an hour’s drive from the cultural attractions of the two largest cities in the state.
I return to Dodge County frequently to visit family but my husband and I wanted to experience it as tourists. So we took a week in the summer to see places we hadn’t been to in years and others that we had yet to visit.
At the top of my must-see list was a place well known by bird watchers, the Horicon Marsh. The largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country covers 32,000 acres and is touted as the "Little Everglades of the North."
The marsh provides habitat for more than 200 species of birds. We saw just a few during a pontoon-boat tour offered through Blue Heron Landing in Horicon. Our guide mentioned that the majority of visitors to Horicon Marsh never get out of their cars. That’s unfortunate considering what they’re missing.
During our tour, cormorants, kestrels and herons flew in front of our pontoon and we heard even more birds in the tall grass and nearby trees. We saw a snapping turtle sunbathing on a log and a beaver dam that recently had been built.
The same day, we explored nearby Mayville, a city of about 5,000 where Main Street is designated as a historical district. Local landmarks include the Audubon Inn, a boutique hotel built in the Queen Anne style of architecture in 1896 and named for the French-American ornithologist John James Audubon. A restaurant and pub at the inn are worth patronizing even if there’s no time for an overnight stay.
Agricultural tourism is alive in southeastern Wisconsin. Cheese factories, orchards, family farms and even an apiary welcome tourists.
Among the sites we visited was Honey Acres, an apiary near Ashippun founded in 1852 by German immigrant C. F. Diehnelt. The apiary teaches visitors at its "Honey of a Museum" about beekeeping and honey production. The museum displays a live bee hive (encased behind a window, of course). A visit should conclude on a sweet note by sampling the different varieties of honey such as clover, wildflower and orange blossom.
Sticking with the food theme, we checked out Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa. The small factory, known for its brick, cheddar and colby cheese, has a long tradition in southeastern Wisconsin since it was founded in 1922 by Swiss immigrant John O. Widmer. Tours are available but visitors can see the cheese being made as soon as they walk into the building, where workers labor over open vats of curd.
We strayed from Dodge County one day to visit the Sassy Cow Creamery & Store, a small milk-bottling plant near Columbus, on the border with Columbia County.
The facility bottles milk produced by cows on a farmstead run by brothers James and Robert Baerwolf and their families. The farm has a 400-cow conventional herd and a 100-cow organic herd.
Milk bottled at the creamery is sold at the on-site store and at several grocery stores. Tours of the creamery are offered during special events. Chocolate milk from the creamery is so good that it recently won first place in the Dairy Product Championship Contest at the World Dairy Expo.
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