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Wisconsin State

7 man-made wonders of Wisconsin

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Peter Watson
Peter Watson

Everyone knows that Wisconsin is home to some of Mother Nature's finest work, but there is also a plethora of manmade sights waiting to awe visitors to the Badger State.
Wisconsin is home to some striking architectureNejdet Duzen/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever spent some time in Wisconsin, you probably noticed it is a state that does a bang-up job of making creative thinkers feel welcome.

And by creative thinkers, I mean the kind of people who believe no idea is too big or too small to give it a go and refuse to take no for an answer.

It’s that kind of aplomb that went into the creation of these 7 man-made wonders of Wisconsin, a list that could go on for pages but I culled down – rather unscientifically – based on the destinations and personalities behind those sites that are so beloved by residents and visitors alike.

1. Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward

Mark this on the list of museums that are anything but stuffy. After all, how could anyone feel elitist when walking through a replica of a leaping musky that is four-and-a-half stories tall, a half city block long, and with an observation platform in the fish’s mouth.

This “Shrine to Anglers” (Image: @supasugarush)

This “Shrine to Anglers” is the most visible landmark at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum complex located in Hayward, a haven for fishing enthusiasts and lovers of the Northwoods vacation.

The building, or should we say fish, is located on seven acres, complete with a stocked reflection pond good for catch-and-release fishing during the summer months.

The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Wisconsin (Video: FishingHallofFame)

According to the museum’s executive director, Emmett Brown, this is the only place in North America to display the history and heritage of freshwater sportfishing at such an extraordinarily high level.

“We have 100,000 fresh water fishing artifacts, 1,000 vintage outboard motors, and we’re also the selecting body which recognizes those men and women who have made lasting contributions to the sport,” said Brown.

Since 1980, they’ve honored some 350 individuals and organizations in their Hall of Fame.

New this year: An exact replication of Lauri Rapala's 1950s era workshop in Finland, the only one of its kind in North America, with all the artifacts supplied by the Rapala family. According to the Rapala website, their fishing lures have caught more world record fish than any other lure.

2. Lambeau Field, Green Bay

Calling it the “crown jewel of National Football League stadiums” is no hyperbole. It’s the truth. Lambeau Field in Green Bay is Mecca for NFL fans of all affiliations.

Unbeknownst to some, Lambeau Field is open year-round, not just on game days. Take the stadium tour. Many of the guides are retired educators with the knowledge and passion for the job.
Lambeau Field is home to the Green Bay

It may be the best $11 any football fan will spend. Stop in the Packer Hall of Fame to see the four Lombardi trophies.

By the way, Lambeau Field, now in its 54th season, is the longest continuously occupied stadium in the NFL and was ranked the No. 1 NFL stadium for the second year in a row by Sports Illustrated.

For a great photo opp, have your picture taken in front of the towering bronze statues of team founder Curly Lambeau and legendary coach Vince Lombardi in front of the stadium.
Curly Lambeau statueTony Savino/Shutterstock

Insider tip: According to Michelle Palubicki, marketing manager for the Packers, during the 2003 renovation of the stadium, then head coach Mike Sherman ensured the history and tradition of Lambeau Field would remain intact by having a concrete slab of the old players’ tunnel inlaid in the current players’ tunnel.

Each Packers player running out of the tunnel onto Lambeau Field on game day has run over that same piece of concrete.

3. Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Art Museum, with its steel wing-like structure known as the Burke Brise Soleil perched atop the 2001 Quadracci Pavilion addition, is a landmark example of architectural and engineering genius.
The Milwaukee Art Museum at nightMark Herreid/Shutterstock

Designed by Santiago Calatrava – and celebrating its 10th anniversary this year -- the wings of the Brise Soleil open and close daily, conjuring up images of a bird in flight or ship under sail.

The structure has become the icon for the City of Milwaukee. Truth be told, the museum is actually comprised of three separate – but connected buildings – with the first dating back to 1957, housing more than 25,000 works spanning antiquity to the present date.

Special accolades: In 2001, the Quadracci Pavilion was named “Best Design” by TIME Magazine. The museum has also hosted many television and movie shoots – “Transformers 3” and “American Idol.”

4. Noah’s Ark Waterpark, Wisconsin Dells

Noah’s Ark Waterpark, considered the center of the universe in Wisconsin Dells, is also known as “The Waterpark Capital of the World”.

The Waterpark opened more than 30 years ago; the largest outdoor waterpark in the country; a whopping 57 rides, slides, lazy rivers and tot playlands spread out over 75 acres.

Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin (Image: @noahsarkwaterpk)

The park features Black Anaconda, America’s longest water roller coaster; Time Warp, the world’s largest bowl ride; as well as Scorpion’s Tail, the country’s only and world’s largest looping waterslide that sends you plummeting at 40 mph once the trap door below you opens.

Don’t miss: On dry land, the original Ark building has a nifty timeline that shows the park from first shovel to present-day pandemonium.

Tim Gantz, who runs the park with his brother Dan, also proudly points out that their park is one of the few in the country that made a conscious effort to keep plenty of green space intact around the park.

Climb to the top of the ultimate plunge slide, the 10-story-tall Point of No Return, for the scenic view of tall pines – just don’t chicken out at the top.

5. Taliesin, Spring Green

Taliesin in Spring Green isn’t just one building; it’s actually a 600-acre estate with five Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings. The oldest design goes back to the 1890s when Wright was just in his late 20s.

The Taliesin estate(Video: Taliesin Preservation)

But it’s the Taliesin residence, which turned 100 this year and is being feted with many events and an exhibit at the estate’s Hillside building, which is perhaps the most famous of the grouping.

It was at the drafting studio at Taliesin where Wright designed Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum.

According to Mary Keiran Murphy, historic researcher for Taliesin Preservation, Inc., “It’s really not uncommon for people to come close to crying at the beauty and at Wright’s genius.”
Taliesin is a 600-acre estateTony Savino/Shutterstock

The entire Taliesin estate is a National Historic Landmark and it’s also been nominated to the United Nations’ World Heritage List; quite incredible really for an enclave in a little town in southwest Wisconsin.

Little known fact: Following the second devastating fire at the Taliesin residence in 1925, Wright mortared into the walls pieces of statuary he had collected in Japan during his commission of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

6. The House on the Rock, Spring Green

The House on the Rock, also in Spring Green, is one of those dazzling places that nearly defies description.

It is the brainchild of Alex Jordan, a man with such a passion for collecting that he turned his home into a repository for the myriad fanciful, whimsical and artful collections that spoke to him. Jordan was not a man of means.

The House on the Rock in Wisonsin (Video: The House on the Rock)

In fact, any money he earned in odd jobs he put back into the home he designed (with no formal training) and built on a chimney of rock starting in the 1940s and his collections.

His main source of sustaining income was actually admission prices. The Infinity Room, completed in 1985, is an engineering marvel – it juts out more than 200 feet over the scenic valley below with 3,264 windows for walls affording guests spectacular views.

Also, not to be missed is the world’s largest indoor carousel, built right on site.

The world’s largest indoor carousel (Image: @brynbaughman)

And the collection of music machines. And the 200-foot-long sea creature. So what was it that compelled this man to collect all this stuff?

"He was an avid reader and it’s speculated the inspiration came from his reading. He collected things that intrigued him,” explained Matt Schneider, marketing manager.

Check this out: From early November to early January, the place is decorated with more than 6,000 Santa Clauses.

7. Wisconsin Concrete Park, Phillips

Wisconsin Concrete Park, an outdoor museum of 237 embellished concrete sculptures and other objects in Phillips, was created by outsider folk artist Fred Smith.

Wisconsin Concrete Park (Image: @jobrien_design)

Smith, a humble lumberjack born in 1886 to German immigrants who had settled in Price County in northern Wisconsin, could neither read nor write, but was driven to create these sculptures beginning in his 60s after he had stopped working in the logging camps.

He did not want his works displayed inside a museum, but rather along the roadside where people could find them.

He said his work was “for all the American people everywhere. They need something like this.”

Smith was self-taught and entirely unmotivated by financial gain or fame. “I never sell any ‘cause it might spoil it for others,” he said.

The park is a panorama of local, regional and national history combined with legends of Wisconsin’s Northwoods’ culture.

The sculptures use wooden armatures wrapped in wire, covered with layers of hand-mixed cement and embellished with found objects. Many of his statues are massive and required the help of neighbors and relatives to assemble.

Another sculpture in Wisconsin Concrete Park (Image: @rhianna_the_rad)

Smith passed away in 1976. In 1977, a devastating storm damaged many of the figures. Thorough restoration ensued, led by several arts organizations in the state.

Today Wisconsin Concrete Park is a public art park preserved by Price County. Look closely at the Iwo Jima statue – some say the image on the north-facing side is that of Fred Smith walking through the gates of heaven.

Eventful: A Fred Smith Studio/Classroom was built on the grounds, thanks to the contributions of many. Here, regular workshops are held on a wonderful array of topics from art and theatre to gardening and snowshoeing.

Honorable Mention: Kovac Planetarium, Monico

Would you be surprised to know that the largest rolling mechanical globe planetarium in the world is in the tiny community of Monico?

The Kovac Planetarium, opened in 2007 and named in memory of the father of creator and curator Frank Kovac, Jr., is also the only planetarium where the night sky is replicated with luminous paint; all other modern planetariums use projecting systems to display the night sky.

The Kovac Planetarium in Wisconsin (Image: @canameth)

But most fascinating of all, perhaps, is that Kovac built it himself in his backyard with no formal training in astronomy, even hand-painting all 5,000 stars. It took him 10 years to accomplish this feat.

“I was inspired to build the planetarium by my late father, Frank Kovac, Sr. He spent time with me looking through a telescope when I was 13 and that is where my interest in astronomy began,” explained Kovac.

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