Saturday, March 31, 2018

A guide to visiting Copper Culture State Park

Today I visited my 30th state park, a tiny park that's grand with Wisconsin history. 

Copper Culture is the second smallest property in our state park system is quite the surprise and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a hotspot of archaeological importance and a rich example of Wisconsin's Native American history. Located in Oconto County, Copper Culture State Park sits on 42 acres right along the shores of the gentle Oconto River. Co-managed and operated with the Oconto County Historical Society, Copper Culture is a day-use park perfect for those traveling to Michigan's Upper Peninsula or throughout Northern Wisconsin.

The backstory
The property here is not only the oldest known Indian burial site in Wisconsin, but also one of the oldest in North America, where remnants of a Middle Archaic group, the “Old Copper Culture”, were discovered on accident by a 13-year old in 1952. After excavating and research was conducted by the University of Chicago, Milwaukee Public Museum, and the Wisconsin Historical Society, carbon dating tests indicated that these people inhabited the lands at Copper Culture State Park between 5500 and 5600 BC.

During the initial digs, archaeologists discovered twenty-two burial pits and some believe there could have been as many as 200 burials that took place here. These early residents used copper mined from the northern Lake Superior area, to make jewelry, fishing hooks, ornaments, tools, and weaponry.

The low-down on camping at Copper Culture State Park

Camping is prohibited at Copper Culture as it’s a day-use only state park. If you’re looking to pitch a tent or park a camper, grab a site at nearby Holtwood Campground (private) only a few minutes drive east of the park towards the city of Oconto.

How to explore Copper Culture State Park

A vehicle sticker is not required to access Copper Culture State Park, and you can easily spend a solid hour or two here taking it all in. From the main parking lot, walk towards the park’s entrance and find the start of a mile-long trail, across from the museum sign. The trail makes its way down through the woods and across a boardwalk.

After a few minutes, you'll come across a few interpretive signs as you head west along the clear, calm Oconto River. Venture closer to the water and cast a fishing line or launch a kayak or canoe and paddle your way east towards the town of Oconto. The river eventually flows into Lake Michigan.

Continuing onward, more interpretive signs guide you along the trail which will then split off. Scale up and down a few gradual hills, through a quiet hardwood forest of until you reach a large stone marking where the historical burial ground is right below your feet. From here it's a straight shot back to the parking area, but there's also the Bluebird Trail that snakes through a restored golden prairie towards the northern border of the park. Note the Bluebird Trail trail is not a looped trail.

I visited Copper Culture at the start of snowy April and think it's an ideal park to try out a new pair of snowshoes, and for your ornithology fans it's definitely a birding hot spot. There's a bathroom building with flush toilets, and plenty of areas to picnic either under an enclosed shelter, tucked away in a secluded wooded corner, or in the open field near the museum.

Don't miss the Werrebroeck House (pictured above), a preserved traditional Belgian farmhouse made of brick serves as The Copper Culture Museum. Curated and operated by the local historical society, the museum is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, every day from 11:30am to 4:30pm. Inside view photographs and various artifacts recovered during Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. For the museum’s updated hours, more information or to schedule a tour, call or visit their website.


Updated 6/26/20

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