Sometimes surrounded by wilderness in the remote interior of the Bog it can be startling, almost spooky, to encounter some evidence of a long past human presence. Some of my most surprising meetings with the past came in 1991 when I was conducting the first thorough and systematic survey of the vegetation in the wetland. This work required crossing the Bog on transects from west to east located every quarter mile from the north end to the south.

It was shocking, and somewhat dangerous, when slogging through dense vegetation somewhere in the center of the Bog to be tripped up by hidden barbed-wire fencing. This happened too frequently and would have occurred even more if my transects had been exactly on the quarter-section lines rather than purposefully located a set distance north of the sections. Why would anyone long ago do the grueling work to fence their property boundary in the middle of the wetland? It would seem impossible to graze cattle in the middle of the swamp, and the abundant water hemlock is deadly poisonous to livestock as well as to humans.

But none of these encounters with history was as shocking as coming upon an upside-down, half-submerged, 12’ aluminum Jon boat deep in the cattail marsh off the southeastern shore of Mud Lake in 1991. I was way back in the cattails and shrubs when my transect lead me almost right over the boat. When I repeated the survey on the same transects in 2006, the boat was still there [not surprising since the boat looked abandoned and hard to move], and I never forgot the location of that boat.

I thought occasionally about retrieving the boat. It was all aluminum and upside-down after all; would it still be a useable vessel? A little white line of the visible edge of the boat showed clearly on the high-quality 2020 and 2015 aerial photos, and since I knew exactly where to look, I could make out the boat on a 1980 aerial. It had been stuck deep in the marsh for over 40 years!

Well, a retired guy has more time for projects like this and in 2022 I talked my friend Al Keltner into helping me try to get the boat out of the marsh. We took my canoe from the Mud Lake pier to the shore closest to the boat. We found the boat easily enough; by then I had GPS coordinates from the aerials. Cutting the boat out of the cattails which had grown through parts of the seats took some work. When we flipped the boat over, we found a DNR registration sticker that expired in 1978. The real labor was getting the Jon boat through the marsh to the shore of Mud Lake.

Wet and exhausted, Al and I stashed the boat at the shore. I later took my canoe back with some oars along and used the Jon boat to tow my canoe back to the pier. A check with the DNR Warden found that there were no ownership claims on the boat which could not be tracked. The boat was mine and still in perfectly sound condition with just the replacement of the rotted wooden transom board! Al and I took the boat fishing for the first time last year, and all four of my young grandsons have been fishing with me since then.

It is amazing what you can find in the Bog in addition to its fantastic natural communities. I often muse about how wonderful it would be to somehow magically locate all of the ancient Native American artifacts that must be scattered throughout the wetland. Human use of the Bog goes back a lot further than barbed wire and aluminum boats.