Northern Wisconsin National Canoe Base                               Boy Scouts of America

Canoe Base History

A Story in Ice

The history of today's Northern Wisconsin National Canoe Base really began about 20,000 years ago when, with a drastic change in the climate of the world, a great ice sheet that had covered Wisconsin for more than a hundred thousand years slowly began to melt away.  It took a long time for the ice was a good 10,000 feet thick!

The glacial ice was not the clean clear substance we see in a water glass.  Rather, it was filled with all kinds of geologic debris.  As the moving ice flowed slowly down across Canada from west of Hudson's Bay it leveled hills and mountains, plowed up river valleys into thousand foot deep troughs (like Lake Superior and Lake Michigan) and smoothed and gouged and polished huge areas of bedrock.  Today on the ancient rocks of Ontario's part of the Canadian Shield, the giant footprints of the glacier are filled with water - 25,000 lakes!

Further south over Wisconsin the melting glacier worked in another way.  Some of the enormous burden of silt and rocks carried by the ice probably melted down through the ice and became more or less the land surface that we see today but even more of it was worked over and ground down and "organized" by the streams and rivers created by the melting ice.  The rounded boulders we find all across Wisconsin are clear evidence of the work of water on stone.  Quite possibly the beautiful sand of our beach was born in a rushing glacier stream.

But White Sand Lake and most of the other lakes we canoe probably had a different origin.  Don't forget that the land over which the glacier spread was originally uneven.  Even today we can see at Rib Mountain near Wausau what once must have been a very high mountain.  Also the weight of almost two miles of ice could cut and dig and plough unbelievable easily.

So - imagine a mile-wide valley running east and west for maybe a couple of miles.  Imagine it completely filled with relatively clean ice and snow and then a mile or two of more ice piled up on that along with lots of sand and rocks and dirt.

Now, imagine the ice slowly melting and depositing that sand over the old ice of the filled valley.  For awhile the overburden of soil would protect the old ice in the hidden valley or depression but in time the warm sun would melt that too - and you'd have the lake that we now call White Sand Lake.  Many of Wisconsin's 7,000 lakes were born from isolated buried chunks of relatively clear ice.

Well, more than 7,000 years have passed since the last of the glacier melted away but there'll be times when you go swimming today that you'll swear that the glacier is still there!