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.