It’s always a little trippy to return to a childhood spot that you haven’t seen since you were, well, a child. As part of my efforts to reacquaint myself with this state, I visited Paradise Springs Nature Area in Eagle, WI (see map). It’s part of the Kettle Moraine Forest (Southern Unit), and only about 15 minutes from where I grew up. Still, it’s been over 20 years and I was interested to how my memories matched reality.
A short (only 1/2 mile!) paved trail winds through the forest, past a wading pool and a trout pond to a once-elaborate stone springhouse that still sees about 30,000 gallons of water flow each hour and maintains a temperature of 47 degrees year round.
My parents used to tell me the story about how the wading pool was built by a grandfather
for his grandchildren to play in many years ago, and in my mind, I mixed up my memory of this spot with the fairy tale The Frog Prince, where the princess is playing with a golden ball and drops it in a well. Interestingly enough, visiting this nature area at the age of 28, my memory wasn’t far off. The trout pond, the wading pool, the springhouse – they could all be the setting for a fairy tale. The DNR brochure even says, “Keep Paradise Springs clean. Please do not throw anything into the spring; Paradise Springs is not a wishing well.” The springhouse is so serene, and the water is impossibly clear. Still, I couldn’t help thinking at the same time that it would also be a great setting for a Blair Witch Project 4 or some other similar horror movie set in the woods…
According to the DNR brochure that you can pick up at the start of the trail, the property surrounding the natural spring has known many different owners over the years. The most notable was Louis J. Petit, the “Morton Salt King.” He built an elaborate springhouse, horse track. trout pond and wading pool (for his grandchildren) in the 1930’s. A guesthouse and a water bottling plant used to occupy the property as well. Interestingly enough (and I’d like to do some more research as to why this happened), you wouldn’t even know that this property used to be such a commercial area. The guesthouse is gone. The water bottling plant is gone. The stone wading pool/ trout holding tank that Mr. Petit built for his grandchildren is crumbling. Still, it has a different kind of charm. The road that once ran through the property is now paved and winds through the Kettle Moraine, past the trout pond (where people still come for catch and release trout fishing) to the springhouse.
Other than a man fishing at the trout pond and his girlfriend reading on a bench nearby, no one was there – and on a Saturday afternoon! From what I hear, it’s rare to see many people there. It’s the perfect place to take a picnic, and as it’s paved, it’s also handicap accessible. My childhood memory, mixing reality and fairy tale, didn’t let me down. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. I’m also willing to bet it’s gorgeous in the fall, and I’ll return to see. – CMK