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 Railroad Trespass Hearings by Greg Koelker

Thank you, Greg Koelker for detailed report on Mississippi River Railroad Trespass Hearings. This is a significant issue for all of us along the Upper Mississippi River. If folks are not allowed to cross the railroad tracks. the trains which rattle our countryside constantly will also become a FENCE to separate us from the recreational resources we ALL love most about the river. It is worth paying attention to the discussions. ~Pat

Railroad Trespass Hearings  by Greg Koelker

Some 200 hunters, fishermen, trappers, birders, snowmobilers, business owners, community leaders, government employees and other concerned Mississippi River recreation enthusiasts showed up to be heard by State Senator Jennifer Shilling, Tim Yager from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Railroad Commissioner of Wisconsin, Yash Wadhwa at the De Soto Community Center and Stoddard Legion on April 22.

After introductions, Tim Yager informed the group that there has been investigation into 17 to 18 additional rail crossings along the Mississippi with good line of sight.  He added that these could cost between $15,000 and $250,000 each. He said that the position of the USFW is that they want safe and adequate access to the over 240,000 acres of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.  The river is bordered by railroad tracks on both shores.

Dan Knapek of De Soto asked what percent of the railroad’s profit would it take to create the needed rail crossings.  Commissioner Wadwa said there were already 26 possible crossings being investigated.  They are looking to define all options and look into shared cost.

Long time member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Bill Howe of Prairie du Chien said, “The railroad’s desire to limit access entirely impacts the entire rail system in this country.”  Howe called the railroad’s position, “…a great threat.”  He added that 15 to 20% of railroads are not on their own lands.

Dan Trawicke of Waukesha, representing the Safari Club, said, “This is not just a Western Wisconsin problem.”  He said that safety is a number one concern, but he added that it takes common sense.  “Additional crossings are not the answer,” said Trawicke, “we have a constitutional right” to access those lands.

Greg Koelker of Stoddard said, “Safely crossing a railroad track is no different that safely crossing a highway.  Look both ways and listen.  Then cross if it is safe.  Every first grader knows that.”  He added, “. . .  no amount of legislation will change the minds of suicidal people, drunks, idiots trying to beat a train, protesters of whatever, and especially not terrorists.”  Koelker brought up the long tradition of using the tracks to access the river. “I grew up near Cassville and my dad and I would walk the tracks to access ice fishing sports on Bertram Lake. For years, our family members crossed the tracks to trap and hunt ducks and deer and even morel mushrooms.  I used to cross the tracks at Shady Maple to ice fish with my family.  I have friends who cross the tracks to hunt ducks out on peninsulas along the river. There is no other way to get to those waters for much of the year.”  Koelker said he hears from legitimate sources that at least 50% of our legislators already support the change.  He added that, “I understand that the Railroad Commissioner has the power to order placement of railroad crossings.  I urge you to consider directing more pedestrian railroad crossings and to support changing the trespass law to allow direct crossing of the tracks.”

Click this link to continue reading Greg’s report.

Rail Trespass Law Hearing, Stoddard, WI. Continued.

Marc Schulz of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance said of the trespass issue, “There is no bigger issue regarding the river.”  He added that greatests percentage of fatalities on the railroad happen at designated crossings.  Schulz said that, “Young professionals come to western Wisconsin because of its natural resources.”  He added that, “This is the people’s land and water.”

John Wetzel representing the Wildlife Federation said, “We need more state oversight.  Minnesota has done that.  He added that this isn’t just a Mississippi River corridor problem saying there are, “. . .hundreds of places in the state where this is a problem.”

Pat McCabe of De Soto said, “I have property on the other side of the tracks.  I will not stop crossing.”  He added, “I beg you make them (trains) slow down.  Who are you going to call? (if there is an accident.)”

Guy Wolfe of Stoddard representing CARS-Citizens Acting for Rail Safety said, “There is a public trust doctrine law.  We have a right to these waters.”  He added that he has seen derailed cars on both sides of the tracks on “our property.”  He urged people to photograph and report issues with the tracks and rail bridges.  He said he feels that after reports about decaying rail bridges the railroad started enforcement of the trespass law.  He said after letting the permit to repair the Coon Creek bridge at Stoddard expire, the railroad suddenly worked “24-7” to repair it.  Wolf added that at least one bridge still in use along the river was built in 1867.  He said, “We can’t afford to let (rail) bridges fail.”

Commissioner Wadhwa replied that, “The new fast act law requires that we put bridge inspection results on websites.”

Kirk Holliday of De Soto said that, “BNSF is making threats to the village sewer.” De Soto’s wastewater treatment plant is across the tracks on the river side.  He added, “The government bails them (the railroads) out.  They get billions to fix their problems and then they basically hold us hostage.”

Gary Moltert of De Soto told about railroad rolling stock that hauls Bakkum crude and ethanol.  He said, “Double hulled tankers are safer.  Canada is being very proactive enforcing this.  Here investors have $80 to $90K in old tankers and the government allows them six years to replace them with safer cars.”

Commissioner Wadhwa replied, “We can’t do anything, but the feds and USDOT can.” He added that, “New tank cars constructed after 2015 and existing cars must be retrofitted and have an advanced brake system installed.”

Sherry Quamme, representing the Mississippi River Parkway Commission said that, “We’re concerned with Wisconsin issues for eight counties of the Great River Road . . . we want to see that there is legal pedestrian access . . . additional crossings are not the answer because it requires a large capital investment.”

Mike Collins of the La Crosse Snowmobile Alliance said, “We purchased a building across the tracks.  We asked the railroad for a recreational crossing.  We asked them for $6,000.”  The railroad denied the request.  Collins added, “They said it’s a safety issue.  It’s not.  It is straight and level for miles.”

Frank LeMay commented that, “Point of access changes won’t work because the river changes from day to day.”

Joan Wolfe of Stoddard asked about changing Act 179, “What’s the downside?  Why wouldn’t the governor want to sign it?”

Senator Schilling said that, Assembly leader Van Wanggaard didn’t bring up the trespass law change proposed by 96th Assembly District representative Lee Nerison in the Assembly because,  “Governor Walker would likely veto it and the Republicans in the legislature don’t want to be put in the position of overriding the governor’s veto.”

Phillip Hooker of Victory said that the railroad speed limit is too high.  “It should be 45 mph max,” he said.

Monique Hooker of Victory expressed her concern about being able to do river cleanups, “The Friends of Pool 9 need to clean along the Mississippi and on the Wisconsin side.  Students and volunteers need access to clean up the river banks.  We have to look at the environmental issue and put your money where your mouth is.”

Ralph Knutson of De Soto said, “We need more rail inspections.  There is no state accountability – no rail inspectors.”  He added that, “The railroad is also interested in having only one person on a train to operate it to save money.”

Commissioner Wadhwa said that, “The federal safety board is taking comments on fewer crew.”

Senator Shilling added, “There is a bill in progress to improve emergency preparedness along the railroad and to train first responders to deal with (railroad) emergencies.”

A larger group attended the 1 PM session at Stoddard.  More than half a dozen people said they had received trespassing warnings from BNSF officers.  The railroad calls it, “ a public safety education campaign.”

Vernon County Sheriff John Spears asked those who received warnings if the officers were polite and courteous.  They all replied, “No.”  Spears who supports a compromise, told the Stoddard crowd that his deputies were not enforcing the law.  “If anybody gets arrested, they’re not spending a night in my jail. That’s for sure,” he said.

Dick Jensen of Stoddard said, “It’s almost like that railroad track now is a fence.”

Richard Meyer of La Crescent, Minn. ““This whole situation has damaged the state’s reputation and the railroad’s,” he said. “People are furious.”

Mike Widner of Boscobel, “The only folks who will likely obey the laws are hunters, fishers and trappers.”

Stoddard Village President Kevin Gobel said, “The enforcement campaign started soon after rail safety groups and the village complained about the condition of BNSF’s bridges.”

 

ONE MAN’S Treasure…

by Pat Middleton © All rights reserved

Stoddard, Wis. author Pat Middleton poses in front of the riverboat the Julia Belle Swain on the river front in La Crosse, Wis. Erik Daily

 

Click BLUE LINKS with your cursor to explore or purchase historic maps from Mississippi River border states. (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and all southern states!)  Moving your cursor over the map image with allow you to STUDY the image in extreme detail.

Other stories we recommend from www.greatriver.com feature archives:
River Clams Produce Valuable Pearl


Mention treasure hunting at the River Road Cafe in Stoddard, Wis., and eyes light up all around the room.

 Kathy knows of a sheltered cave with many initials dating from the 1800s. Dean’s friend found a scrimshaw whale’s tooth inscribed with the word “Dakota.” Randy knows of a ring valued at $1,500 found with a metal detector.

Perhaps it is a case where “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but for the last 2500-3000 years the Mississippi River Valley has supported intense human activity. This makes it a particularly historic area, rich in Indian relics. Additionally, relics from the French, English, Spanish and American adventurers who have explored the area since the 1600s are still being found today. Antiques from the first settlers, dating back to the 1760s, are sought by dealers from throughout the country. All of this adds up to great prospecting for the treasure-hunting hobbyists using metal detectors who are active in the area.

Roger Toner (not his real name) owns a snowmobile/cycle shop in the La Crosse area, but his real love for the last 15 years has been treasure hunting. Roger suggests that most hobbyists go “shooting” with metal detectors much as another individual goes fishing – for relaxation.

A good find is an old coin, a bit of jewelry, an iron relic or an Indian artifact. The success of a hunter will likely depend less on luck than on the amount of time spent researching his sites and how well he can use the metal detector.

The big questions for the would-be searcher might be: where to start looking? what equipment will I need? what sort of treasures can I realistically expect to find?

For Roger, the hunt usually starts while snow is covering the ground.

“I find it much easier to visualize how soldiers or hunters might have used the land when all I have to study is the smooth snow-covered earth,” he says. “I think to myself that a particular hump looks out of place or especially convenient. Or that this high flat bench might have made a good camp ground. Then I come back to search in the spring when the frost has forced new artifacts to the surface.”

Some of Roger’s best finds have come while “puddling” in the mud of a river bend. “Again, I work in the spring. The water and mud are very cold, but I’ve found perfectly preserved tomahawks, still wrapped in mayan idol fix
leather. A green stone figure I found has been certified as a Mayan carving in jade.”

The United States Treasure Atlas by Tom Terry provides an introduction to the places treasures are most likely to be found and makes available the data from his years of treasure-hunting research. Reputed treasure sites and ghost towns are listed on a county-by-county basis for each state. A quick glance at any river valley county listings is likely to be enough to whet the appetite of the most cynical.

Old state and county maps are also available in our Shopping Cart Wisconsin 1880 which will indicate old roadways, railroad beds and ghost towns. Terry suggests these historic roadways as preferable to modern roads as it is far more likely that valuable coins and relics may be found. Modern parks and roadsides often contain more trash than treasures.

CLICK HERE to explore or purchase our 1847 WISCONSIN State Map

 

unframed ribbonThe library and reference librarians are also helpful in tracking down local histories and out-of-print books that might provide the serious seeker with leads. Old newspaper stories provide leads on some of the earliest caches. An article from 1909, for example, details a search of bluffs and s
horelines for a money cache dating from the 1700s thought to be buried near present-day Osceola, Wisconsin, after English adventurer William Snow was attacked by French soldiers. The cache was not
recovered.

CLICK HERE to learn more about historic Mississippi River Ribbon Maps.

Native artifacts are abundant along the Mississippi River shores of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.Government forts were established in the early 1800s along the entire length of the Upper Mississippi River. Riverboat captains, soldiers, pioneers, adventurers and traders traveling between the forts often carried large sums of gold or silver coins for payroll or trading purposes, as well as supplies.

The Upper Mississippi River valley is rumored to be heavy with the unrecovered treasure caches of river pirates, gypsies and horse thieves. Indian hostility was rampant until the Battle of Bad Axe north of Prairie du Chien ended the Black Hawk War in 1832. Upon attack (whether from Indian, outlaw or river pirate) valuables were hidden to avoid theft. Often, the transporter was killed and there remained no one who knew just where the treasure had been buried. Victims might be left too short-handed to retrieve the valuables, or natural disasters occurred, such as flood, earth slide or memory lapse.

According to the United States Treasure Atlas, rumors persist that $80,000 was buried in 1832 “on the highest bluff across from Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in four piles of $20,000 each” during an Indian attack. The soldiers who buried the treasure were ambushed before returning. The treasure was never recovered.

Treasure hunting along the MN, IA, WI shores.

Buried money, jewelry and other treasures are likely to be found wherever people lived; banks were often far away and distrusted. An old home foundation might conceal a “private” bank in the floorboards, or savings might be stashed in a nearby fence posthole or a tin can beside the silo. Dollar bills have been sewn into and under carpets, into linen, drapery, stuffed behind wall-boards and under floorboards and in false air ducts.

Steamboat Map of Illinois 1841The steamboat era has left many relics along the Wisconsin and Illinois shores of the Mississippi River. The great wooden boats that changed the course of commercial history along the Mississippi had a life expectancy of only five years and usually met with an untimely end in sudden fires or sinkings.

CLICK HERE to study the 1849 STEAMBOAT MAP of ILLINOIS with Steamboat stops, proposed Canals, and Roads.

Steamboat wrecks have provided authorized divers with a steady stream of antiques, relics and personal belongings. The prized safes from many wrecks remain unrecoverable, including the War Eagle safe off the riverfront in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Coins found with metal detector.According to Roger Toner a typical treasure
hunt (say in a small cave) would involve the following steps: 1) Take photos of the site before doing any searching. Often things can be seen in the photo which are not apparent to the eye. 2) Use a metal detector to pinpoint any possible coins, jewelry, iron relics. A fork or other very small tool might be used to find the item. A whiskbroom and sifter might be used to search for other relics. If anything of interest is located, make detailed notes of where it was found, as one good find usually means more to come.

Tools other than metal detectors are inexpensive: a fork for making small holes, a sifter, a whisk broom and a probe that looks similar to a giant hatpin. Note that a shovel is not standard equipment. Too often a shovel will simply damage the fragile relic.

The cardinal rule among treasure hunters is get permission before searching on any private or public land. State parks and monuments, national parks and sites and some local parks and monuments are off limits to seekers with metal detectors, as are state-and federally-owned property under the protection of the conservation departments, the Army Corps of Engineers, wildlife refuges, etc. Written permission must be obtained from authorities before removing any relics.

Today’s treasure hunter is made from the same mold as the prospector of old. He or she is a dreamer, an optimist, full of curiosity and appreciation for things past. The thrill is in the search, the chance that the next find will be the big one. Like the gambler, he develops an “itch” to try out the next hot spot.

Roger would rather talk about his hobby than anything else. Terry has been sharing his knowledge with others for the past 10 years. Our farm was settled in 1858 – and I can’t wait for the ground to thaw!

Our brand new Upper Mississippi River travel guidebook, Discover! America’s Great River Road, Volumes 1-4 by Mississippi River author and lecturer, Pat Middleton.

 The brand new Upper Mississippi River travel guidebook, Discover! America's Great River Road is the indispensible guidebook to the Upper Mississippi River ... heritage, natural history and recreation. Since 1987!

 

“Orma Remembers Nelson, Wisconsin”
(excerpted from Volume 1 of DISCOVER! America’s Great River Road
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“The bluffs were full of caves and I remember wiggling through some of them on my stomach, they were that small. I know people spoke of rattlesnakes, but I never saw one. There was a rumor of treasure buried by soldiers in the bluffs. Often, people just went up and dug around in their spare time hoping to find it. I never heard that any treasure was ever found.”
Click here to see ALL our books and antique maps featuring the historic Mississippi River.