Living with Loons

In Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, loons typically begin to arrive on their nest lakes around mid-to-late April. The first order of business is to establish a territory then attract a mate. This is done during the last weeks of April and early in May – then nesting begins. Read more “Living with Loons”

Izabella Mitchell of AV-W Wins Vilas County Poster Contest

Written by Cathy Higley

The winner of the 2021 Vilas County Land & Water Conservation Poster Contest is Izabella Mitchell of Arbor Vitae – Woodruff Elementary School. The Vilas County Youth Conservation Poster Contest is held annually to promote youth awareness of local land and water conservation issues. Vilas County Land & Water staff partner with teachers, home schoolers, and other educators to offer lessons that meet academics standards. This year’s theme of “Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities” meant a virtual lesson on forest management, multi-use management, and a virtual interview with the DNR’s Vilas County Forester Jill Nemec.

“With the covid pandemic, many educators are working long hours to stay on top of students’ learning.  Thank you to Mr. Wauters and Mrs. Dunsmoor for promoting the contest to their students in spite of their workload,” complements Cathy Higley, the contest coordinator with Vilas County Land & Water.

The Olson Memorial Library managed poster intake and the People’s Choice Award voting.  Voting will be open until the end of January 2021 on the Olson Memorial Library website.  Vote for your favorite poster!

The Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association offered to up the ante this year on prizes for students.  The Discovery Center and The Waters of Minocqua also contributed to prizes.  Prizes included:  4 day passes to The Waters of Minocqua, a certificate to Discovery Center programming; a 2021 DNR State Parks & Forests Annual Pass; and a Whitewater boardgame.

Volunteer judges Ryan Brown (DNR Forestry); Emily Heald (Discovery Center); and Nancy Schwartz (Land O’Lakes Arts) dedicated their time to offer scoring and feedback to all students on their posters.  Thank you to all who helped make this contest happen in spite of the pandemic!

The winning poster created by Izabella Mitchell will move on to compete with nine other county winners in WI.  Congratulations Izabella!

Any educators interested partnering with the Vilas County Youth Conservation Poster or Speaking contests for the 2021-2022 school year can contact Cathy Higley with Vilas County Land & Water Conservation at or 715-479-3738.

Standings for Division Grades 4-6
Student Name  School Place
Izabella Mitchell AVW Elementary 1
Maya Anderson AVW Elementary 2
Kendra Jeschke AVW Elementary 3
Sylviann Berklund AVW Elementary Honorable mention
Aubree Williams AVW Elementary Honorable mention
Victoria Reichel AVW Elementary Top 10
Miranda Schneider AVW Elementary Top 10
Avalon Collins AVW Elementary Top 10
Nahla Sloan AVW Elementary Top 10
Zackary Amershek AVW Elementary Top 10


Cathy Higley is the Invasive Species Coordinator at Vilas County Land & Water Department and also serves as an adviser to VCLRA.

Debbie Millar (Ballard Lake) receives Blue Heron Award

The Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association (VCLRA) awarded our Blue Heron Shoreland Stewardship Award to Debbie Millar of Ballard Lake for restoration completed on her lakefront property. This award was presented at our “Celebrate the Lakes Day” on July 10, 2020 via Zoom Conference Call. Congratulations to Debbie Millar!

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Lake Turnover: Seasonal Nutrient Cycling in Lakes

Turnover is a phenomenon that occurs in terrestrial bodies of water, such as lakes and ponds, in which the water near the surface of the lake (epilimnion) is replaced with the water near the bottom of the lake (hypolimnion) to establish a homogenous mixture. Lake turnover occurs during both the fall and spring when the thermocline (temperature gradient relative to lake depth) is nearly uniform throughout the lake. Read more “Lake Turnover: Seasonal Nutrient Cycling in Lakes”

Dissolved Oxygen in Lakes

Similar to the stratifying temperature gradient of any given lake, dissolved oxygen also exhibits a stratified nature that is directly influenced by the lake thermocline, and thus season. Dissolved oxygen refers to the individual molecules of oxygen taken up from the atmosphere and in some areas where groundwater discharge occurs. Read more “Dissolved Oxygen in Lakes”

Noah Miller awarded 2019 VCLRA Scholarship

Part of our effort to preserve our natural waters for future generations is to encourage youth to discover and protect our natural world. Each year we are excited to award a scholarship to a local high school graduating senior interested in continuing their education in a conservation or related field.

This year, we are pleased to recognize Northland Pines High School senior Noah Miller as our 2019 VCLRA scholarship award recipient.

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Ten Great Things to Know About Your Favorite Lake

Written by Ted J. Rulseh
When you look out on your favorite lake, what do you see? Beautiful blue water? A place for a refreshing dip on a summer day? A surface on which to paddle a canoe or kayak? Favored spots to catch fish for sport or dinner? Your lake is all this, but also much more. A lake is a fascinating living system, full of mysteries and things to discover, if you look closely. Here are ten things you may not know about the world beneath the waves.
  1. It all starts with the sun. That’s right. The walleye you fry up for supper owes its existence, first and foremost, to the sun. It’s sunlight that enables plants and algae in the lake to manufacture food through photosynthesis. The food these primary producers make forms the base of the lake’s food chain.
  2. Your lake’s water is a thin soup. The water is the broth; the meat and vegetables consist of tiny organisms called plankton. The vegetables are the cells of algae that float freely in the water; they’re called phytoplankton. The meat is made up of small creatures, called zooplankton, that swim through the water, feeding as they go. They feed on the algae and in turn become food for fish in the very early stages of their lives.
  3. Your lake has ‘fleas.’ Tiny creatures called Daphnia, crustaceans from the same family as crayfish and shrimp, float in the thin soup. They’re often called water fleas because their herky-jerky swimming patterns remind observers of the jumping of fleas (those you hope never infest your dog). Daphnia are an essential food source for baby fish (called fry), water insects and the immature forms of frogs and toads. You don’t need a microscope to see them – they’re about a millimeter long. So if you scooped up a jar of lake water and looked through it, you’d probably see a Daphnia or two kicking about.
  4. Your lake has layers. The water is not a pool with a uniform temperature, at least not in the warm months of the year. As spring turns to summer, the lake separates into layers. Cold water lies at the bottom. Warmer water, being less dense, floats on top. The zone where warm water meets cold is called the thermocline. You can experience the thermocline by swimming out into fairly deep water, then doing a feet-first surface dive. When your feet reach a depth of about 12 to 15 feet, you will feel a sudden change from warm to cool. You’ve penetrated the thermocline.
  5. There’s only “one water.” There are lakes, rivers, and the vast resource known as groundwater. These are not really separate entities. They are all part of the same system. The top of the groundwater is called the water table. In an important sense, a lake is a depression in the land that intersects and exposes the water table.
  6. Your lake has a “skin.” You’ve seen the rounded shape of water droplets on a lakeside leaf. What gives that droplet its shape is something called surface tension – it’s as if the water had a very thin, invisible skin. That’s why the insects called water striders can skim across your lake’s surface on their long, spindly legs: The surface tension keeps them from sinking.
  7. Water has a unique behavior. Most liquids, as they cool, become progressively denser. Water is different. It becomes denser until it reaches 39 degrees F. Below that temperature it becomes less dense, until finally it becomes ice, only about 90 percent as dense as water (this is why ice floats). That’s important, because imagine what would happen if ice were denser than water and would sink. Through the winter, ice forming on the lake’s surface would drop to the bottom, and eventually the entire bowl of the lake would be frozen solid. It might never thaw; almost everything in it would be dead.
  8. Making ice is hard work. Your lake can take a long time to freeze, even with a number of cold and wintry days and nights. Because of a property of water called the heat of fusion, it is eighty times harder to freeze a given volume of water than to lower its temperature by one Celsius degree. Put another way, a drop of water has to give as much energy to freeze as it would give up to lower its temperature by 80 Celsius degrees.
  9. Your lake breathes. Dissolved oxygen in your lake is the single most important component of water quality, because without adequate oxygen, next to nothing could live. Your lake breathes by taking in oxygen from the air (with help from the stirring action of waves) and as a product of photosynthesis, the process by which algae and plants use sunlight to create food. The air we breathe contains about 20 percent oxygen. By comparison, the amount in lake water is tiny. A healthy lake contains 6 to 8 parts per million of oxygen – or 0.0006 to 0.0008 percent. Yet, that’s enough to enable fish to breathe, because of the miraculous structures they have called gills.
  10. Your lake is aging. All lakes go through a long, slow process of getting older and filling in. Every year, silt enters the lake with runoff from rainfall. Water plants grow and die, and their remains sink to the bottom. Gradually the lake takes on more nutrients, and more plants grow and die. It’s called eutrophication. We can all help slow this process down by keeping nutrients out of the lake. We do this by forgoing the use of fertilizers on our lakefront lots, keeping our septic systems maintained and in good repair, and limiting runoff into the water by keeping land near the water’s edge in a natural condition.
The closer you look at your lake, the more you’ll discover, and the more you will treasure and want to protect that natural wonder.

Ted J. Rulseh writes the newspaper column, “The Lake Where You Live.” An advocate for lake improvement and protection, he lives in the lake-rich region of northern Wisconsin. This article is adapted and excerpted from his book, A Lakeside Companion. It is printed by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2018 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

VCLRA Scholarship awarded to local student

The Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association (VCLRA) was pleased to award its inaugural scholarship to Lakeland Union student, Joseph Boyle.  The annual VCLRA scholarship is awarded to a graduating senior and Vilas County resident aspiring to make a positive difference in the world by choosing to further their education in natural resources or a related field.

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