About The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway

The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway is an overarching water trail that is located on the Wisconsin River and is 108-miles in length starting at the Hat Rapids Dam in Oneida County and ending in Portage County at the Lake DuBay Dam. Portions of the trail hold scenic wonders as it flows over rapids and rock outcroppings, through primeval pine and hardwood forest, and along the Ice Age Trail.

The trail beckons us back to a time when the Ojibwa, called the great river, Meskonsing. When European explorers and missionary Father Jacques Marquette entered it in his journal in June 1673 during the voyage, he made by canoe with fur trader Louis Joliet across Wisconsin and down the Mississippi River.

The great river is never far from our imagination, fast flowing, scenic in its northern segments to urban and industrial as it flows south through cities that once had names such as Jenny Falls, Big Bull, and Little Bull Falls. The river has always been a gateway to the north, to the “Great Pinery” the great white pine forest that blanketed the lands to the great lake, the Ojibwa called, Gitchi Gami.

In the 1870’s the river earned a new name as the “Hardest Working River in the World” when men with names like Stevens, McIndoe, Barker, and Stewart put the river to work sawing lumber for the cities and homes of the Midwest. In 1907 the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company was established as a group of private interests to manage and regulate the flow of the Wisconsin River so that hydroelectric energy and the papermaking industry could develop and flourish.

In 1986 the idea of a head-to-toe river trail was conceived connecting the Mississippi to the head waters of the Wisconsin at Lac Vieux Desert on the Michigan border. In 1987, this became a reality when the State of Wisconsin created a 92-mile water trail on the Lower Wisconsin River, aptly named the Lower Wisconsin Heritage Waterway.

In December 2021 Bill Duncanson, the retired Director of Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and Randy Falstad, a retired Warden for the Wisconsin DNR proposed the idea of a connecting trail along the Wisconsin River as a project to the Wausau and Marathon County Parks and Recreation Foundation. The project was overwhelmingly received and as they say, “the rest is history.” Enjoy our trail as much as we do, our belief is a river runs through us as it will you!

This water trail is made possible by generous donations from local organizations and community members. Learn More →


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