Lake Arbutus is a manmade vacation mecca in Hatfield that traces its origins to 1904, when the La Crosse Water Power Co. dammed the Black River to create a hydroelectric plant.
Located partly in Jackson County and partly in Clark County, the reservoir of more than 800 acres harbors three parks along its shores, as well as numerous cabins and homes — some seasonal; some year-round.
“Hatfield is well known for having a sign that lists the population as summer, 5,000, and winter, 50,” said Torger Mikkelson of Waunakee, who has had a cabin there for 60 years.
“Somebody sawed it off, so we’ve got to get a new one,” said Mikkelson, a member of the Lake Arbutus Association and editor of the group’s newsletter.
The 200-member association of residents around and near the lake has taken a major role in enhancing water quality and making improvements to Arbutus, said Jon Schweitzer, assistant administrator of the Jackson County Forestry and Parks Department.
“They have done a lot of good work,” Schweitzer said.
That work has included donating two “gumby suits,” which are insulated, buoyant suits for water rescues, to the fire department in case someone breaks through the ice during the winter. The association also created three “Kids Don’t Float” kiosks on the lake so boaters who have forgotten life jackets for their children can borrow them and return them at the end of the day, Mikkelson said.
With a maximum depth of 50 feet and a mean depth of 16 feet, the lake is a popular boating, skiing and fishing venue.
Jackson County has two campgrounds — East Arbutus and West Arbutus — and camping also is available at Clark County’s Russell Memorial Park.
The lake is almost as big of a draw during the winter as in the summer, Mikkelson said, with hundreds of snowmobilers and ATV riders taking to the state trails.
The hydroelectric dam, still churns out current for North American Hydro in Neshkoro, Wis., which has been a subsidiary of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy in Morristown, N.J., since 2012.