If you can put up with the Dells, you’ll love Mirror Lake

Morning coffee and park guide

State parks are family, and we love them unconditionally. But sometimes it’s harder to tolerate the hangers-on who family members bring along as baggage.

That’s the case with Mirror Lake State Park, which is like your cool brother who has a lovely wife. Let’s just call her Rocky Arbor State Park, and let’s just NOT talk about her father, the highly successful but brash and overbearing guy whose name is Wisconsin Dells.

OK, let’s.  You can’t discuss Mirror Lake without the conversation turning toward the obnoxious father-in-law, who, truth be told, has his good points.

So this week’s column will be about bad weather, good shelter, wonderful trails, high prices and everything else that comes with a foray into Wisconsin’s most beautiful and overpopulated tourist attractions.

Plan B for “beautiful” 

The intent had been to drive Thursday to Devil’s Lake State Park, south of Baraboo, and hope we were lucky enough for a first-come, first-served camping spot before another busy weekend.  A week before, the online reservation system had shown no reservable sites available at Devil’s Lake, but there were still multiple sites available at Mirror Lake, just up the road.

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Knowing what we know about non-reservable sites, we figured we at least had a shot. They’re often available during the week, but we needed a backup plan.

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Setting the record straight on “Waupaca”

“Menominee Morning Song” by James F. Frechette, Jr. Photos by author; permissions courtesy of Mike Hoffman and UWSP Museum of Natural History

Seeing clearly often means going directly to the source, and when it comes to native Wisconsin terminology, there’s none better than one of our few remaining speakers of the Menominee language.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about a hike on the Waupaca River segment of the Ice Age Trail and devoted two short paragraphs to the puzzle of why the Waupaca River is named “Tomorrow” on its upper half. In doing so, as I noted in a later column, I passed on some incorrect information regarding the meaning of the Menominee word “waupaca.”

The mistake did give me, however, a chance to visit with Mike Hoffman, a Menominee elder who is one of perhaps a dozen remaining fluent speakers of Menominee. We conversed over coffee in June to talk about the Waupaca, among other things.

Trying to get to that place  

The dual-named river is the result of a great deal of storytelling and misinformation. Incorrect or inaccurate interpretations of the name are published in multiple places, including the main web page of the Waupaca Historical Society (which notes that it is a Menominee word meaning “tomorrow” or “pale water”).

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