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Wisconsin River: Wikis


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Wisconsin River
Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River
Origin Lac Vieux Desert
Mouth Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Basin countries United States
Length 430 mi (692 km)
Source elevation 1,683 ft (513 m)
Avg. discharge 12,000 ft³/s (340 m³/s) at mouth
Basin area 12,280 mi² (31,805 km²)
Dells of the Wisconsin River, May 2002.
A dam in Stevens Point
Highway 82 bridge over the Wisconsin River
Boating on the Wisconsin River
Delta at the Mississippi River, seen from Wyalusing State Park

The Wisconsin River is a tributary of the Mississippi River in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. At approximately 430 miles (692 km) long, it is the state's longest river. The river's name, first recorded in 1673 by Jacques Marquette as "Meskousing," is rooted in the Algonquian languages used by the area's American Indian tribes, but its original meaning is obscure. French explorers who followed in the wake of Marquette later modified the name to "Ouisconsin," and so it appears on Guillaume de L'Isle's map (Paris, 1718) This was simplified to "Wisconsin" in the early 19th century before being applied to Wisconsin Territory and finally the state of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin River originates in the forests of the Lake District of northern Wisconsin, in Lac Vieux Desert near the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It flows south across the glacial plain of central Wisconsin, passing Wausau and Stevens Point. In southern Wisconsin it encounters the terminal moraine formed during the last ice age, where it forms the Dells of the Wisconsin River. North of Madison at Portage, the river turns to the west, flowing through Wisconsin's hilly Western Upland and joining the Mississippi approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Prairie du Chien. Although the river was originally navigable up to the city of Portage 200 miles (320 km) from its mouth, it is now considered non-navigable beyond the lock and dam at Prairie du Sac.[1]



The modern Wisconsin River was formed in several stages. The lower, westward-flowing portion of the river is located in the unglaciated Driftless Area, and this section of the river's course likely predates the rest by several million years. The lower reach of the river is narrower than its upstream valley, leading to the suggestion the upper portions of the ancestor of the river flowed east previous to the Pleistocene.[2] The remaining length of the river was formed gradually as glaciers advanced and retreated over Wisconsin. The stretch of river from Stevens Point north to Merrill was a drainage route for meltwater flowing away from glaciers which covered northern Wisconsin during the Wisconsin Glaciation. As the glaciers retreated further northward, the river also grew in that direction. South from Stevens Point, the meltwater would have flowed into Glacial Lake Wisconsin, a prehistoric proglacial lake that existed in the central part of the state. As temperatures warmed around 15,000 years ago, the ice dam holding the lake in place burst, unleashing a catastrophic flood that carved the Dells of the Wisconsin River and joined the upper stretches of the river with the pre-existing lower river valley that today flows from Portage to Prairie du Chien.

Ouisconsin R., in Guillaume de L'Isle's map, 1718


The first documented exploration of the Wisconsin River by Europeans took place in 1673, when Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet of France canoed from Lake Michigan up the Fox River until reaching the present-day site of Portage in early June. At this location the Wisconsin and Fox rivers are only 2 miles (3.2 km) distant, so the explorers could portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin River. They then continued downstream 200 miles (320 km) to the Wisconsin's mouth, entering the Mississippi on June 17. Other explorers and traders would follow the same route, and for the next 150 years the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, collectively known as the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway, formed a major transportation route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

Industry began to form on the Wisconsin in the early 19th century, as loggers started using the river to raft logs downstream from northern forests to sawmills in new cities like Wausau. By the 1880s, logging companies were damming the river to ensure the river had enough capacity for the logs being floated downstream. Later, at the start of the 20th century, more dams were constructed to provide for flood control and hydroelectricity. The dams also spurred tourism, creating reservoirs such as Lake Wisconsin that are popular areas for recreational boating and fishing. Today the Wisconsin is impounded in 26 places.

Despite this, a 93-mile (150 km) stretch of the Wisconsin between its mouth and the hydroelectric dam at Prairie du Sac is free of any dams or barriers and is relatively free-flowing. In the late 1980s, this portion of the river was designated as a state riverway, and development alongside the river has been limited to preserve its scenic integrity.

Lower Wisconsin River State Riverway

The Lower Wisconsin River State Riverway is a state-funded project designed to protect the southern portion of the Wisconsin River. It extends 93 miles from Sauk City to the point where the Wisconsin River empties into the Mississippi, about 10 miles south of the city of Prairie du Chien. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages protected lands of over 75,000 acres, including the river itself, islands, and some lands adjacent to the river.

There are no dams or man-made obstructions to the natural flow of water between the hydroelectric dam just north of Sauk City and the confluence of the Wisconsin and the Mississippi. This long stretch of free-flowing river provides important natural habitats for a variety of wildlife, including white-tail deer, otter, beaver, turtles, sandhill cranes, eagles, hawks, and a variety of fish species.

Recreational opportunities on the lower Wisconsin River range from fishing and canoeing to tubing and camping.

Cities and villages along the river

See also


  1. ^ 33USC59aa Nonnavigability of Wisconsin River Accessed July 5, 2006.
  2. ^ Steven Dutch, "Possible Early Pleistocene Drainage in Wisconsin", Retrieved July 17, 2007

External links


Simple English

The Wisconsin River is a river in the United States. It is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is located in the state of Wisconsin. It is approximately 692 km long.

The source of the Wisconsin is in the forests of northern Wisconsin. The source is a small lake on the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. The river flows south across Wisconsin. It flows through a plain made by a glacier during the last ice age. It passes the cities of Wausau and Stevens Point.

In southern Wisconsin, the river meets a moraine. The moraine was made during the last ice age. The river enters a beautiful gorge, called the Wisconsin Dells. North of the city of Madison, the river turns to the west. It flows west through the hills of southwest Wisconsin. It joins the Mississippi 15 km south of the city of Prairie du Chien.

The river is an important source of hydroelectric power.


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