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"Special Roads"

Wisconsin recognizes several types of "special roads" across the state.  The Great River Road, which runs alongside the Mississippi River, has been promoted since the 1930s.  The road was recognized by legislation passed in 1938 that established the Mississippi River Parkway Planning Commission.  The road was planned for both sides of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Louisiana gulf.  With few exceptions, the Wisconsin route was laid out on existing STHs.  The road winds along 250 miles of the Mississippi on the western border extending from Prescott in the north to Kieler in the south.


The Great River Road in Wisconsin,
located between the Mississippi
River and towering bluffs.
Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical
Society Archives (PH Series 918.17)

Rustic roads are a relatively recent addition to the Wisconsin Highway System.  Created in 1973, the program was designed to preserve selected scenic, low-volume, local roads in their "rustic" condition.  They are open to automobile, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic.  In order to qualify, a road must have "outstanding natural features along their borders such as rugged terrain, native vegetation, native wildlife, or open areas with agricultural vistas."  In addition, they must carry low traffic volumes and not have any scheduled improvements that would alter the qualifying characteristics.  The roads are marked with a brown-and-yellow sign and numbered with an "R" prefix.

Wisconsin has dedicated several highways to veterans.  They include the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway located on USH 51 between the Illinois and Michigan state lines; the POW/MIA Memorial Highway located on STH 13 between Wisconsin Dells and Superior; the


Patrolmen removing unsightly
directional arrows from USH 45
and Rummles Road, March 1966.
Courtesy of the Wisconsin
Department of Transportation,
Bureau of Environment, District 7 file.
Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Highway, located on USH 10 between Manitowoc and the Minnesota state line; the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Highway located on I-90/94 between the Illinois and Minnesota state line; the World War I Veterans Memorial Highway located on STH 29 between the Minnesota state line and Kewaunee; and the World War II Veterans Memorial Highway located on USH 41 between Milwaukee and Marinette.  STH 32 commemorates the 32nd or Red Arrow division.

In addition to veterans, Wisconsin's highways commemorate other significant figures.  The Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Highway is located on USH 14 between Richland Center and Madison, and the Laura Ingalls-Wilder Historic Highway is located on STH 23/35 between Pepin and Nelson.


Jean Nicolet statue at
Redbanks Wayside, STH 57,
in Brown County.
Mead & Hunt photograph, 2001.

In addition to creating "special roads," the State Highway Commission has worked to improve the appearance of the state's roads.  Waysides were created to provide travelers with a place to stop for relief and refreshment.  Each wayside had a different design, some included scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and restrooms.  In an effort to make automobile travel more interesting, historical markers were added to the roadside.  Many of the markers maintained by the Department of Transportation commemorate important transportation events, such as the Old Military Road at Dodgeville.

The State Highway Commission also worked to create scenic overlooks along highways.  In 1961 legislation provided funds for the purchase of scenic easements in the forest and lake areas of the state, as well as along major waterways.  In 1969 the legislation was expanded to include scenic easements anywhere in the state.

Roadside Highlight: The Merimac Ferry Site


The Merrimac Ferry as it appeared
in 2002. The Colsac II
was replaced in 2003.
Courtesy of the Division of
Historic Preservation.
The Merrimac Ferry site is a unique component of the Wisconsin State Highway System.  The ferry site was listed in the National Register in 1974.  The site is home to a free ferry that crosses the Wisconsin River at STH 113.  If the ferry is out of service, one must travel several miles out of the way to the nearest bridge; Portage to the north or Prairie du Sac to the south.  The ferry was originally charted by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature on March 8, 1848.  A resolution ordering a state road between Madison and Baraboo via Merrimac was passed by the legislature on March 13 of the same year.  The ferry has had several different forms and locations over the years.  It was established at its present site in the 1920s when STH 113 was relocated.  Beginning in the 1960s, the ferry was a steel boat that operated on an underwater cable with a capacity of 12 vehicles.  The Colsac III, a larger boat with a 15-vehicle capacity, began service in 2003.

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