OSHKOSH – Warm weather conditions caused problems today during an ice fishing tournament in Oshkosh.

The ice cracked causing dozens of parked vehicles to partially sink into the waters of Lake Winnebago.

The unoccupied vehicles were parked south of Merritt Avenue near Menominee Park for the Battle on Bago event.

FOX 11’s crew on the scene witnessed 20 to 30 vehicles submerged anywhere from several inches to a few feet.

The fishermen taking part in the tournament apparently didn’t see what was happening right away because they were out on the lake.

But Don Herman with Sunk? Dive and Ice Service said he saw it coming, and started towing some vehicles before the ice gave way.

He says around 9 a.m. vehicles started to go in, and then it took divers and chainsaws to get the sunken vehicles out of the water.

Herman said with 150 vehicles parked together on the ice, all it takes is a little hole or crack for something like this to happen.

“We have over 2,000 fishermen out on the lake so everybody thought the bays and the lake were safe here,” Herman said. “There’s about 12 inches here but what happened, everybody came out here and parked right next to each other and there wasn’t enough ice.”

Herman said it can run anywhere from 500 to 2,000 dollars to remove a vehicle.

The price depends on the manpower needed for removal.




City wants to remove these permanent shanties for the river walk project

City wants to remove these permanent shanties for the river walk project

Mark Whitty thinks of his family’s river shanty more like a good friend than anything.

When he was in his 20s, the 61-year-old Oshkosh resident would finish work at Leach Co., pick up a 12-pack of beer and make a beeline for the small shanty built on pilings on the south shore of the Fox River and connected to William Steiger Park by a small drawbridge. As the sun would set, he grilled catfish or white bass (when the river still teemed with it), enjoyed life with whomever happened to stop down, watched boat traffic inch by and basked in a serene setting that remains surprisingly unchanged more than three decades later.

“Up until they built the offices behind us, it didn’t even feel like you were in the city,” Whitty said. “It was my life down here. I just know I don’t want to leave.”

Beauty, though, has always been in the eye of the beholder.

And where Whitty and three generations of his family see a long-standing tradition and slice of long-forgotten river history, Oshkosh city officials see a impediment to future development in the area.

Former Oshkosh City Manager Bill Freuh never shied away from referring to the structures as “eyesores” and led the charge in the ’80s and ’90s to buy and tear down as many of the structures as possible. He was quite successful: Where there used to be dozens of the shacks up and down the river, only four now remain and they’ve begun to show their age.

And those that are left just happen to be near where the city plans to extend the river walk through Steiger Park and where plans are being worked on to redevelop the nearby Boat Works property. Oshkosh Community Development Director Allen Davis said ultimately, the city would like the structures removed.

“We’re interested in acquiring them to remove them,” Davis said. “When the city identified Steiger Park as the next phase of the river walk, that kind of began the dialogue about these structures once again. And when we look at redeveloping the Boat Works property, I think these structures would stifle any potential redevelopment plans.”

A complicated issue

But Davis’ straightforward goals — identify property owners, assess their long-term intent for the shacks and take steps toward their acquisition — have become mired in challenges and headaches.

First, City Attorney Lynn Lorenson said the city has not been able to identify who owns one of the shacks and all of them have limited, if any, documentation of ownership.

“We have no access leases or agreements or memoranda regarding these structures,” Lorenson said. “Some documents indicate some previous structures had leases from the railroad when the rail bridge went through there. We’ve asked the owners for documentation now.”

Second, because the structures are located in the river, the city has little ground on which it can force the owners to sell since the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has oversight of waterways and structures in them, said George Curtis, the Oshkosh attorney who is representing the Whittys and two other owners.

“We’re still trying to assess exactly what we have here,” Lorenson said. “We’re still gathering information. Some of them may be on pilings. Some may be floating. And those answers will change the analysis of our options. We’d like to work with them and come to a reasonable solution.”

Curtis said conversations with the city have been amicable thus far and everyone involved hopes to avoid litigation. But the city’s desire to demolish the structures and at least some of the owners’ desire to stay mean a court case could be inevitable.

“I don’t think any of the owners are hostile toward the city’s plans. I think the city is proceeding cautiously to see what can be solved without litigation,” Curtis said. “But if they decide to (try and acquire them) through litigation, they’re going to have some fight on their hands.”

Davis said any action the city would take toward acquisition of the properties would begin with a Redevelopment Authority resolution, but he said a lot of the basic issues need to be resolved before that can happen.

“I’d like to get it done this year, the sooner the better, but I don’t have a specific timeframe,” Davis said. “And regardless, we want to be sure to treat all four property owners fairly.”

Whitty said he just hopes his children have a chance to enjoy the shack his father bought for $450 in 1960.

“I want to stay here and would like to see my kids take it,” he said. “My brother is 73 and starting to slow down. I know it’s going to happen to me, too. But we’re fortunate to have a place like this. Some people say this is an eyesore, I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

Lake News: City considers clearing shanties for trail work.



The U.W.-Oshkosh Foundation has bought into a hotel.

The on-again, off-again plan to buy a share in the City Center Hotel and Convention Center from Nashco Hospitality Group was on again, and the purchase was completed Tuesday, according to the U.W.-Oshkosh web site.

The foundation partnered with two local hoteliers — Richard Batley of RB Hospitality in Neenah and John Pfefferle of Pfefferle Companies Inc. in Appleton.

Last year the foundation was working with the WHC hotel group, but in November the potential buyers determined some issues with the renovation costs made that deal impossible.

The new ownership group plans to revitalize the 179-foot waterfront hotel into a full-service, state-of-the-art business hotel with a restaurant in 2013, the UWO web site said.

The partners estimate the renovation will provide more than 200 construction jobs, and the renovated hotel could create more hospitality jobs.

The partners also plan to use revenue from the hotel for UW-Oshkosh Foundation scholarships to Oshkosh high school students, and possibly use the hotel for a hospitality learning program for university students.

Batley also owns the Bridgewood Resort Hotel and Conference Center in Neenah, and Batley and Pfefferle are partners in the CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel and Spa in downtown Appleton.



Add a little summer to your winter

February 16-19, 2012 at Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena and Shopko Hall

It’s Northeast Wisconsin’s largest and longest-running boat show!  Two exhibit buildings packed with the areas finest selection of boats priced so hot that when they hit the water – it’s sure to set off steam!

The area’s finest boat dealers bring their selection of cruising, fishing, pontoon, and recreational boats to offer you the best deals of the year.  Personal watercrafts will be on hand for those looking for some on the water excitement!  Kayaks, and canoes will be on hand for those seeking a quieter recreational option.

The Waterfront Lifestyle Expo exhibitors will be on hand to help you enhance your waterfront home, build that cottage or cabin, save your shoreline, and enjoy your outdoor living experience.   From vacation destinations, kayaks, docking and docking systems, and more – visit the village at the Expo!

This year watch for new and fun interactive entertainment.

Get in FREE on Thursday, February 16, with a cash donation to Golden House or an item from Golden House’s wish list (click here).



Kiteboarders take to the Lake

Members of the Winnebago Association of Kiteboarders (WAK) will be making the best of this year’s winter weather at the 23rd annual Sturgeon Stampede Kiteboarding Classic to be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 11 and 12.

Many of the Midwest’s top kiteboarders will gather off the shores of Lake Winnebago to show off their favorite tricks while competing in a variety of heats, including: Speed Drags, Kitercross, Lake Crossing and Big Air.

Events will be held from noon to dark each day, wind permitting.

Kiteboarding combines the fundamentals of wakeboarding or snowboarding, along with flying a 3- to 16-meter kite for power.

The event will be held on Lake Winnebago, a half-mile off the shore of Fisherman’s Road landing (six miles north of Highway 23 off Highway 151).

Lake News: Kiteboarders to gather in Fond du Lac this weekend.




Click on the picture to get to the video

Just days before the start of sturgeon spearing season, an ice rescue team gives us a firsthand look at the danger looming on Lake Winnebago.

Ice rescue teams around the lake are worried they could be in for a busy weekend. Sturgeon spearing season starts Saturday, and thousands of people are expected on the ice.

But authorities say our extremely mild winter has left that ice extremely dangerous.

It’s a bumpy ride on top of Lake Winnebago’s rugged ice, and that alone poses a problem.

“With these ice conditions, it’s going to be challenging even for us to get out here quickly,” Mike Sipin of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue said.

Sipin and Ryan Krings are part of Neenah-Menasha’s Ice Rescue Team. Their Husky Airboat is putting on a lot of miles this week, scouring the lake for dangerous ice.

As we find out, it doesn’t take long.

One mile off Neenah’s Rec Park, just north of Davis Point, our boat breaks through the ice.

It’s an eerie sensation.

“If this were a vehicle, once you’re in, you’re in; there’s not much you can do to get yourself out.”

We continue north towards the Menasha channel, a quarter mile off shore. Just two days ago this was all open water, Sipin says.

“This is going to probably give a false sense of security when people see the ice and know what the temperatures are.”

Sipin steps out of the boat to demonstrate the danger.

In the blink of an eye, he goes down.

“I didn’t start to hear any cracking under the ice until maybe a foot or two before it happened, and it was just like that going down.”

In just a short time these rescuers prove why their concerned about this year’s sturgeon spearing season.

They’re urging everyone to leave their cars and trucks on shore and to talk with local fishing clubs before stepping foot on the ice.

“The last thing we want to do, or any rescue agency wants to do, is to have to come out here and pull somebody out. It’s always a bad situation.”





Below is a link to a video where Reporter Jeff Bollier, a.k.a. Streetwise, takes a look at the latest in Oshkosh on the water restaurants. The Dockside Tavern Food and Spirits is the latest in the Supple Restaurant Group lineup.

Dockside Bar and Grill Video from the Oshkosh Northwestern.






Time is running short for making changes in design plans for the soon-to-be-rebuilt Eureka bridge. But without those changes, larger boats with Berlin as their destination will never make it under the new bridge on the Fox River at Eureka.

The city of Berlin with Mayor Richard Schramer, and members of the Berlin Boat Club, have been negotiating with the Winnebago County Highway Department in an effort to obtain about two and a half more feet of clearance under the bridge.

Those extra feet would go a long way in helping Berlin avoid harm to its economy, according to Schramer and boat club officials. The extra clearance would validate the expense of a $300,000 reconstruction of the locks near Eureka. The club is nearing completion of that project.

Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. Even though Winnebago County has indicated a willingness to listen to Berlin’s concerns, there have been no promises.

“We’re still trying to find common ground on the Eureka bridge,” said Winnebago County Highway Commissioner Ernie Winters. “We can build the bridge as (designed) but we want to be good neighbors.”

A series of phone calls, letters, meetings and a conference call involving city and county officials, members of the boat club, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, the bridge engineers from Ayres Associates of Eau Claire and a representative of East Central Planning Commission have thus far not moved the bridge span one inch higher.

But Schramer is hopeful. Another conference call will connect the parties next week.

“If we don’t do this right the first time, (the bridge) will be that way forever,” Schramer said.

Plans developed previously for replacing the bridge provide 10 feet of clearance, which the boaters say is not enough. It would be possible to redesign the new bridge, but not without adding significant cost and delaying the project.

The bridge replacement is scheduled to take place from June to October. Eighty percent of the $1.6 million cost is being covered by federal money and 20 percent by local dollars.

To stay on schedule construction bids must be obtained in early March. Neither Winters nor Schramer could say whether a month would be enough time to redesign the bridge. But they both understand the need for quick action.

“We keep talking, but we have a time frame. We’ll run out of time.” Winters said.

In addition, a long detour during the five-month construction period will affect area farmers. Winters said it would be difficult to delay the project because it would mean hindering those farmers later into fall.

via Berlin wading through red tape to find extra feet for Eureka bridge | The Oshkosh Northwestern | thenorthwestern.com.



Boating on Lake Winnebago - Ice Roads

Boating on Lake Winnebago - Ice Roads

Those who plan to sturgeon spear this season might have to do so on foot.

All seven of the fishing clubs on Lake Winnebago have decided against maintaining roads for cars and trucks.

They’re hoping to discourage people from taking chances.

Scrapping plans to put out the bridges, fishing clubs across Lake Winnebago are calling off plans to plow and maintain roads even as sturgeon spearing season approaches.

Many are warning drivers- not to venture out.

“The fishing clubs don’t have any liability at all on the bridges. We put them out every year, and people fall in. They’re there for the convenience of the fishermen, and to let them go out and fish, but we’re not liable at all. We tell everybody if you have to go out on the lake, it’s at your own risk,” Don Herman of the Otter Street Fishing Club said.

Right now, the Otter Street Fishing Club plans to put out a smaller bridge by next week near Ceape Street in Oshkosh that’s being constructed for ATVs. But even that’s in jeopardy without a colder spell.

Near Van Dyne, Christmas trees stockpiled on the shore of Lake Winnebago are normally used to mark roads on the ice. Last year they went out on January 4th.

Shawn Wendt of the West Shore Fishing Club said, “We have a road three miles straight out, and a road to the northeast we run three miles straight out. This year those trees will be staying on shore. As far as we can tell, there’s no cold weather in the forecast.”

If the ATV bridges are put out, it’s not necessarily a safety endorsement. While the lake itself is frozen over, some spots are only four to six inches thick.

That’s why fishing clubs say it’s up to each person to evaluate their surroundings.

“You venture out, you’re at your own risk. It’s kind of like sturgeon spearing. They will not close it, you have to go out on your own risk,” Herman said.

Lake News: Lake Winnebago Fishing Clubs Won’t Mark Roads: Drive “at Your Own Risk”.