The Totogatic River is Running Wild!

At long last, the Governor has signed into law the bill designating the Totogatic as Wisconsin’s fifth Wild 
River. The Totogatic joins the Pine, Pike, and Popple in northeastern Wisconsin and the Brunsweiler in 
Ashland County as the best of our best, to be protected and kept wild...


for future generations. 

In 1965, the Wisconsin “Wild Rivers” designation was established by the legislature to afford the people of the state an 
opportunity to enjoy natural streams.” Section 30.26 of the statutes further states that “it is in the interest of the state to 
preserve some rivers in a free-flowing condition and to protect them from development.”

Washburn County and Washburn County Lakes and Rivers Association, local citizens, the River Alliance of 
Wisconsin, UW-Extension and Wisconsin DNR have been seeking this designation since 2004. These groups 
worked very hard researching how to designate a river, and what the designation would mean for local river 
protection. There were several public meetings in 2005 and 2006, along with letters to legislators to ask for
their sponsorship. Finally early this year, Senator Bob Jauch and Representative Nick Milroy introduced 
legislation in the State Senate and Assembly (respectively). The bills passed committee hearings and floor 
debates, and Wisconsin Act 32 officially designating the river was signed into law by Governor Doyle on July 
10, 2009. 

The bill signing ceremony was held at Totogatic Park northwest of Minong on the Minong Flowage (an 
impounded reach of the river). The Slow no-wake legislation was also signed there that day, with young 
children having a swimming lesson in the flowage as a backdrop. Tony Tubbs was our eloquent Master of 
Ceremonies, with speeches by Washburn County Board Chair Michael Bobin, Washburn County Lakes and 
Rivers Association President Cathie Erickson, and Wisconsin DNR’s St. Croix Basin Supervisor Kathy 
Bartilson. Earl Cook, President of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, spoke on the Slow-no wake bill, as did 
Jim Brakken, Bayfield County Lakes Forum President. Dale Cox, a National Park Service Ranger with the St. 
Croix National Scenic Riverway encouraged our river protection efforts, and shared his poem “I Will Meet you 
at the River.” Governor Doyle, Senator Jauch, Representative Milroy and DNR Secretary Matt Frank were
present for the official signing of both bills in the park pavilion, under a “Totogatic – Wild by Law” banner. 

The Totogatic is a wild gem flowing through Bayfield, Sawyer, Washburn, Douglas and Burnett Counties. It 
provides rich habitat for diverse aquatic and terrestrial species, has excellent water quality, beautiful scenery, 
and great fishing and paddling opportunities. The free-flowing reaches are now designated wild, with the four 
flowages (Nelson Lake, Totogatic Flowage, Colton Flowage, and Minong Flowage) excluded. Here is a 
description of the designated reaches: 

oFirst Reach: From the outlet of Totogatic Lake (located in Bayfield County) to the upstream end of 
Nelson Lake (located in Sawyer County). 
oSecond Reach: From a point 500 feet below the dam in the Totogatic Wildlife Area to the upstream end 
of the Colton Flowage (both located in Washburn County). 
oThird Reach: From a point 500 feet below the dam that forms the Colton Flowage to the point where 
the river crosses the Washburn-Douglas County line immediately above the upstream end of the Minong 
oFourth Reach: From the bridge on CTH “I” in Washburn County to the confluence of the river with the 
Namekagon River in Burnett County. 

From the beginning, the goal of this effort has been for all landowners and visitors to work together to keep the 
river wild. The land ownership includes county forest frontage (some in all 5 counties), commercial forest, 
private recreational parcels, and a very small amount of state and federally-owned frontage. Wisconsin 
Administrative Code NR 302 specifies how land and water activities will be managed on Wild Rivers. This law 
specifies that the landowners along the river need to recognize and protect the wild characteristics. The rule 
limits grading on the banks to less than 10,000 square feet (the point at which a permit would be needed from 
the DNR), and prohibits docks, dams, bridges (other than on public roadways), dredging, filling, and removal of 
natural obstructions. 

A special case was written into the Totogatic Wild River bill to allow docks that were placed before the 
designation to remain, provided they are sized to meet current pier standards. These docks can be repaired and 
replaced, but not enlarged. New docks will not be allowed, in order to preserve the wild appearance of the river 
banks. Anyone who had a dock prior to the bill being signed is encouraged to contact Kathy Bartilson at 635- 

This is a great accomplishment on the part of local landowners, the counties, Washburn County Lakes and 
Rivers, and all of the citizens and agencies involved. It is one of the highest levels of stream protection possible 
under Wisconsin Statutes. With everyone working together, we can keep it not only “Wild by Law” but also 
“Wild by Example” with good stewardship, care and respect from all who live along it and visit it in years to 
Read 526 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 March 2016 19:32
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