For most of the history of humans living along the Wisconsin River, waterways were the main method of travel. Before highways were built, railroads laid down, or even dirt paths cut through the woods, the Native Americans were navigating the lakes and rivers of the Pinery in birchbark canoes. When European explorers and fur traders traveled deeper into North America, they quickly adopted the means and techniques learned from Native Americans. Portaging was one such technique that was important to use when navigating the Wisconsin River by canoe. When approaching a stretch of river impassable by water, travelers would carry their canoe overland to a point where they could continue forward. The word “portage” can be used to refer to both the act of transferring overland, as well as the place where you would do the transferring. It was adopted by English-speaking lumberjacks and fur traders, from the French word “porter” or “to carry.” Of course, travelers in birchbark canoes would refer to a portage by other words, too. A portage might be described by a Chippewa traveler as an “onigam” or by someone from the Ho-Chunk as “wawa-ája.” Whatever words are used to describe it, the act of portaging was necessary for anyone traveling along the Wisconsin River. As it turned out, the places where rapids and falls made travel dangerous enough to force travelers to portage were quite often also very good locations to harness the power of the stream for a mill. During the second half of the 1800s, many such locations became home to lumbering communities that would grow into the places we know today. By the end of the 1800s, people generally abandoned birchbark canoes in favor of other forms of transportation along the Wisconsin River. By that point, most of the treacherous rapids and dangerous falls on the Wisconsin had been removed when the river was “improved” (usually with dynamite) to more easily float pine logs to downriver markets. But for travelers paddling the Wisconsin River today, the portage is still a necessary way around modern obstacles like dams.