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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
Collected and posted by RITA
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Oconto County

contributed by
Bill Fonferek
and Rita

Chute Lake is man-made. Originally it was two creeks, one named Bonita, which came together and joined the Oconto River. Vast amounts of land in this northern part of Oconto County were owned by various logging firms. It accounts for most of the land that is now Nicolet National Forest. 

To use the Oconto River for floating the logs to the mills in the cities miles downstream, wooden dams were build to create bodies of backed up water. During the winter, when the ground was frozen hard, the logs were cut and moved to these "ponds", some of which were good sized lakes. At the thaw in early spring, these bodies of water were choked with huge cut pine logs, ready to "run" downstream to the mills for sawing into lumber. The dams were opened, starting with the ones farthest up stream, and as the water gushed over the dams, a "chute" was created that carried the logs along with it.

Lumbermen who guided the logs through the chutes and down the flooded streams were sometimes called "River Rats" for their abilities to run along on top of the rapidly moving floating logs to keep them from "jamming". Log jams allowed the precious water to continue downstream and leave the logs piled up on the land it drained from, so men had to act quickly and know exactly what they were doing. This was an extremely dangerous job and accounted for many deaths each year. The "Rats" rarely drowned, so knowing how to swim was optional. Instead, they were crushed by the heavy, slamming timbers moving at tremendous speeds along with the rushing floodwaters.

It took a hydro engineer's knowledge to coordinate the opening of these log dams to keep the ever increasing number of logs floating the floodwaters downstream, clocked to be in the range of  60 to 100 miles per hour. That meant the "Rats" had to stay ahead of and on top of this roiling deluge. Buffalo and cattle stampedes of the old west were not regarded nearly as dangerous.

After the lumber companies moved westward to new forests, many of these temporary dams were abandoned.  However, some were privately maintained to provide fishing  lakes for local residents. After the government gradually took possession of these lands in the early 1900's, it was decided to use the CCC men to build permanent dams for the creation of recreational lakes along the waterways. Chute Dam and Lake was one important project.

 CCC Camps during the Great Depression of the 1930's were responsible for many large projects in Wisconsin woodlands.  One of the projects that some of these men did was at the County Park in Oconto at Chute Lake (Pond).  The County unofficially changed the name of the park from Chute Lake to Chute Pond as a tourist attraction gimmick when Bill Fonferek's folks were the park managers from 1954-1966.  The reservoir was originally created to float logs down stream to the saw mills.  There was a log dam there first then the WPA built the concrete structure you see now.

The Park at Chute Pond was originally named Fisher Memorial Park.  There is a memorial near the entrance with the name on it.

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