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Rest Lake Dam

Rest Lake Dam c1902

In 1878, surveyors declared Rest Lake as the best dam site on the Upper Chippewa River basin. Since 1887, Rest

Lake Dam has defined the region of Manitowish Waters. Initially, dams raised the MW chain’s water levels for logging and mill operations, but shortly afterwards recreation and tourism began to guided dam operations. Beginning in 1914 legal battles led by local residents contested dam operations. In 2015, state statutes were modified to include specific operation protocols for Rest Lake Dam, seemingly ending this century long debate.

The first two dams at Rest Lake were operated under the Weyerhaeuser logging syndicate, to facilitate river drive logging for white pine.  Some railroad logging companies benefited from the dam, as they floated red pine to several railroad hoists on the shores of the Manitowish Chain.

In 1911, the last lumber camp on Fawn Lake ceased operations and logging shifted fully to railroads and later trucks. In 1912, hydroelectric power and water for downstream mill operations motivated the Chippewa Flambeau Improvement Co. to purchase the Rest Lake Dam. Locals objected to lakeshore damage caused by spring water levels rising to 10 to 13 feet above the original shoreline, and by July the water levels dropping to zero or the original shoreline.

In 1914, residents of the Manitowish Chain received a favorable new operating order from Wisconsin Railroad Commission to protect riparian rights. A new concrete dam was erected in 1926 as popularity of the Manitowish Chain grew.

During the Depression, Rest Lake Dam also facilitated the creation of the Barr Fishway in 1932 and the Manitowish Waters Municipal Fish Hatchery in 1932. These unique operations were the first of their kind in Wisconsin and helped spur tourism in tough economic times.

In 1937, residents of the Manitowish Chain gained a new operating order to raise the winter water levels from 2.5 feet to 5 feet to better protect fisheries. In 1939, Wisconsin Public Service denied a second request to raise winter water levels to 6 feet on the chain of lakes.

In the late 1990’s the federal government transferred control of Rest Lake Dam to Wisconsin DNR. Quickly, the DNR advanced new studies and operating orders that would have significantly shifted water levels. Backlash from Manitowish Chain residents included civil disobedience with a bucket brigade, reaching out to government representatives and creating the Manitowish Waters Defense Fund. In 2015, Wisconsin State law was updated to set Rest Lake Dam operating orders that were more favorable to riparian owners.

To visit this site ample parking is available at Koller Park, to see the up-river dam view and at the Pea Patch Saloon’s lower parking lot, to see the down-river view.

Below are several links that will lead to detailed articles on the Rest Lake Dam’s History.  Please take time to explore these articles, YouTube links, and Clio Tour entries.  All of which will broaden your understanding of how the Rest Lake Dam has always been integral to our community’s identity.

Video Library

Rest Lake Dam

Learn More about Missionaries in Manitowish Waters

Please check out the link below that will give you access to a wealth of detailed information including, images, newspaper articles, and documents regarding Rest Lake Dam in our neck of the Northwoods.