Volunteers breathe new life into Green Lake Park

Project labor of love for many as area cleaned up
Greg Seubert

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about the reopening of the Green Lake Picnic Area as a park.)

Big changes are in store for a former national forest recreation site that has been closed to the public for almost a decade.

The Mountain Historical Society will operate and maintain the former Green Lake Picnic Area in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The park, which will now be known as Green Lake Park, is located near the community of Mountain in Oconto County.

The historical society has held several volunteer work days in preparation for the park’s official opening on May 25, including one that drew 15 workers April 13.

Those volunteers included Cindy Baur and her grandson, Mason Baur, of Marinette.

“I have roots here,” Cindy said. “My great-grandparents were Joe and Bertha Foral. He was the sheriff in Oconto County for a long time. My grandparents used to own about a third of the property on the lake and my great-grandparents owned another third of it. My dad and great-grandpa built a cottage that we lived in. It was two bedrooms and we had five kids.”

Baur’s family doesn’t have any property on the lake anymore, but the lake and park are still a special place for her.

“Two weeks ago, I took my kids and grandkids to show them where we lived,” she said. “We lived across the lake and we used to walk around the lake. We’d come to the pavilion and the beautiful, sandy beach. There were always a lot of kids around to play with. It was really a nice place to grow up.”

Forest officials closed the park and several other recreation sites to cut costs. The park, which included a beach, boat landing and a pavilion now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed to the public since 2015.

“It was very sad,” Baur said about the park’s closing. “We’ve come back here a couple of times to look around and see it in such disrepair. The beach did not look nice. I’m thrilled that the park is opening and that’s why we came from Marinette to help. This is our second time coming up here to help and we’re happy to do it.”

The Baurs spent much of the work day raking leaves and cleaning up brush.

“It’s a huge improvement getting the trees out of the way,” Cindy said. “The beach is looking nice again. I give a lot of credit to the Mountain Historical Society to do all of the work to get this open. It’s so appreciated and it will be for years to come. That’s the beauty of it.”

While the Baurs worked near the park’s boat landing, which has remained open to the public, Lyle Schaut watched as a pile of brush grew bigger in front of his eyes.

“Because it’s my roots,” he said when asked why he showed up to help. “I have the time to do it.”

Schaut, who has spent his life in the Mountain area, attended all cleanup days so far. After the park was closed to the public, the Mountain Town Board decided to not have the town operate the park.

“We didn’t exactly know what was going on or what would happen,” Schaut said.

The new park is being talked about in the community, he said.

“Not just in town, but all over: Lena, Coleman, Oconto Falls,” he said. “People from there used to come here. It’s not just this one little community of Mountain.”

Teresa Van Ess also showed up to help for the first time and her memories of the park go back to the early 1960s.

“My family’s from Green Bay, but my family bought the cabin right over there south of the park in ‘62,” she said. “I’ve been coming to this park my entire life. I couldn’t even tell you how many times. We have five generations in that cabin, so I’m pretty excited.”

Van Ess recalled spending a lot of time on the park’s beach. She met people from Mountain and campers from Bagley Rapids Campground, a national forest campground two miles away that doesn’t have a swimming area.

“We ran around and played in the park all the time,” she said. “Probably 90% of our time was in the water on the beach.”

Hearing of the park’s closing had a profound effect on Van Ess.

“Absolutely devastated,” she said. “When they put that fence up there (to keep vehicles out of the parking lot), we knew it was permanent. In the last few years it was open, I would come over and help clean up the shoreline just so people could swim. It wasn’t being maintained very well at all.”

Van Ess eventually moved to the Mountain area and now lives three minutes from the park.

“I want to see the park used again and I want to see it looking good,” she said. “There’s a ton of work going into this place and a lot of volunteers that have come out and helped. They’re doing an amazing job, way more than I thought they would do.”