The Amazing Castle Rock Lake Draw Down
Early Spring is the time when the annual Castle Rock Lake draw down takes place. The end of this low water period is near, so pack up the kids and the dog and get on over to Castle Rock Lake in the Greater Mauston area! But first, read a little here on the background of The Castle Rock Lake Draw Down.
The History of Castle Rock Lake Draw Down
The Wisconsin River is the hardest working river in the nation. From its headwaters, it falls more than 1,000 feet taking a 500-mile journey until it meets with the Mississippi River. Since The Ice Age, the river has scoured gorges and cut great rapids and waterfalls. The Wisconsin River, long notorious for devastating floods, is now partially controlled by 21 reservoirs (flowages) on the river.
It is no wonder, the land mass lying between the Wisconsin and the Yellow Rivers was dammed and flooded for hydroelectric generation in 1947, creating Castle Rock Lake. At 16,640 acres, it is the fourth largest inland body of water in Wisconsin.
Because of its southern position, the flowage from the entire Wisconsin River System funnels into Castle Rock Lake. It plays an integral part in flood control. Just before spring, the lake level is drawn down in anticipation of high water from melting ice and snow above. How much and for how long is determined by winter snow accumulations and anticipated temperatures.
The draw down creates an incredible opportunity for nature explorers and photographers. There are years you are able to walk almost to the middle of the lake bed. And you are walking on Wisconsin’s Central Sand, the ancient bed of Glacial Lake Wisconsin that was a prehistoric one-million-acre body of water.
Buckhorn State Park north end access
Buckhorn State Park offers many places to park a vehicle with an easy walk to the land mass and beaches of Castle Rock Lake. Stop at the ranger station for a map and directions on the easiest way to reach various points. And be aware that it changes. What is easily navigable on foot one day can become knee high mud a few days later. The draw down uncovers farm foundations, fantastical twisted tree stumps, artifacts and, some claim, a silo (though this author has yet to find it). As you walk the bed, keep your eyes open for buried treasures uncovered by the draw down, (an anchor was part of our discoveries). The Village of Werner was part of the flooded area in the Buckhorn. It takes an effort to get there but usually unearths fascinating foundations and artifacts.
No matter where you hike, don’t neglect looking up. Eagles, ospreys, pelicans and seagulls are a few of the birds that will fly overhead. An ancient bugle call alerted us to the majestic presence of two Whooping Cranes, one of North America’s rarest and tallest birds with wing spans up to 7-feet.
Position yourself north of the Buckhorn Beach for a sunset view that will astound you. The combination of ice, sand and water creates a breathtaking palette of beauty. And very often you will not pass another soul, leaving you to revel and connect to nature.
Alcatraz (also known as Devil’s) Island, is a popular stop for summer boater’s on Castle Rock Lake. During a draw down, you can walk to the island and explore the land formations usually hidden under water. Be aware, it is better than a mile hike.
Castle Rock Lake south end access
For a truly spectacular sunrise experience, there is a place on the southern end of Castle Rock Lake in Mauston, just north of the convergence of Hwys G and HH. You can pull into a small parking area and walk a trail that leads to the Mauston Dam. During the draw down, you can step down off the trail onto the beach and explore a mile of shoreline dotted with small bluffs and caves usually underwater. If the weather is right, a few clouds, a bit of fog and you will be exported to a place of magic.
With 60-miles of shoreline to explore, there are untold mysteries to discover on Castle Rock Lake during drawdown. Though it does vary, the draw down usually starts in late March and goes until the middle of April. As you read this article the lake is slowly beginning to fill. There still might be a few places left to explore but draw down or not, Castle Rock Lake never disappoints. And failing all else, put it on your calendar for next year.
Submitted by Diane Dahl, Juneau County photographer and writer.