Archive | September, 2012

A Boomer’s Predicament

I’m going to take a chance with this post and write something in a different style. You’ll have to let me know if you like it. “Boomer” and “Confidant” are real people and this short story really happened.

thumbnail photo of the author

Scott Reed, author

Boomer was born in 1950; thus the name. Boomer had two brothers, one sister and perfectly normal middle-class nuclear family. His parent’s direction defined his life. Get an education and a good job, work hard, get married, have children, buy a home and you will have a fine life indeed. He retired at the age of 57 because he hated his job with a Fortune 100 company. He moved to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to get away from the stress and turmoil of living in cities.

“So what’s wrong with that?”, asked Confidant.

Boomer replied, “My life was a bore. I lived inside the box that my parents had defined for me. I trusted their advice; education, a good job, work hard, family, and somehow everything would be great and rewarding.”

“And so it should be. You have a fine family, Boomer”, replied Confidant. “You made good money at your career. Your children are perfectly normal with no issues with drugs, alcohol, divorce, or the law. What could possibly be wrong with that?”

“That’s the problem.”, replied Boomer. “I don’t feel like I succeeded at anything. I never stepped outside the box that my parents had defined for me. I was all a routine. I set limits for myself and was always fearful of stepping outside of those limitations.”

“Everyone does that.”, replied Confidant. “What’s so unusual about that? Most of them don’t even know that they’re doing it.”

“Again, you restated the problem.”, replied Boomer. “If you want to do anything significant or rewarding with your life, you have to get outside the box that your parent’s teaching ingrained in you. You have to realize that you have complete control over only one thing – your mind. You have to recognize that there are no limits. You can do and be whatever you want. You should never set limits. But I did because I didn’t know any better. If you want to succeed at something you need to get outside your comfort zone, use the 99% of your mind that you use for nothing else, and replace simple imagination with creative imagination.”

“Who told you that?”, injected Confidant.

Boomer looked off into the distance and seemed to be in deep thought. “After retiring, I was so unhappy once I realized that I had succeeded at nothing, I spent the next four years researching why. I read every book I could find on success. I learned a lot and started applying the principles that I was learning. I fixed me first. I was a mess. Negative attitude most of the time. I repelled people with my negative attitude. Didn’t know I was doing it. Anyway, I fixed everything and changed me. But that was only half the job that needed to be done.”

“So you still felt that something was missing?”, replied Confidant. “Isn’t a bit late to look back on your life? You can’t change anything in the past.”

“No.”, replied Boomer. But every day can be a new beginning. I can start over. I can shed the limitations that I placed on myself, begin thinking creatively, follow my gut and instincts instead of my parent’s advice, do something different, and take risks. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Kind of”, replied Confidant. “But I still don’t understand why this bugs you so much. Anyone would be happy with your life. So you’re bored. You are a little more demanding than most people. But now that you fixed certain aspects of your character and thinking, what is the other half that needs to be done that you referred to?”

“It bothers me that others are doing the same thing without knowing it.”, replied Boomer.

“Doing what?”, questioned Confidant.

“Setting limitations on themselves”, replied Boomer. “Living their lives inside a box. Doing exactly what their parents did and taught to them. Believing that is the way to a successful and rewarding life. I see it every day. Get up, go to work, put in their eight hours, go home, go to bed, and do it all over again. But if they would take control of the other 99% of their brains, put on their creative thinking hats, and get rid of the fear, doubt, and worry that holds them back while replacing it with faith in themselves. There is so much more in their environment that needs their attention. So many things, ideas, and concepts that they would find both interesting and rewarding on a grand scale.”

“But what if they don’t feel the same way about all this?”, argued Confidant.

“So be it.”, replied Boomer. “But they at least need to know what’s possible. Then they can decide.”

“Are you saying that you intend to let the whole world know that they need to throw off whatever limitations they have defined for themselves?”, inquired Confidant. “And that they should start or do whatever they want without fear or limits?”

“Yep.”, replied Boomer. “That’s exactly what I’m saying”.

“But how, exactly, do you intend to do that, Boomer?”, asked Confidant.

“Confidant, we have the Internet now.”, replied Boomer. “You can use the Internet to talk to anyone.”

“Another Weblog?”, asked Confidant.

“No.”, replied Boomer. “A training/teaching website. A monster of a site with daily interaction between instructor and student. Self-paced learning, audio tapes, video lessons, checklists, recognition for accomplishment, seminars. It’s not hard to teach someone success principles like desire, faith, perseverance, organized planning, use of master-mind groups, thinking creatively. But teaching these principles is not the challenge. You have to show students HOW to persevere, HOW to plan, HOW to think creatively. And then you stick with them until they have mastered the principle and made it part of lives. That’s the challenge.”

“Wow!”, exclaimed Confidant. “Are you serious?”

“I’m afraid so.”, replied Boomer. “I know. It’s scary. It’s a huge undertaking. And I don’t even know if this type of content will be accepted. But I have to let people know. I have to do something besides shove a book in their face. When I was still working, I tried that with my office staff and no one read the book.”

“That sounds like a gigantic undertaking, and risky.”, replied Confidant. “Are you really going to do this?”

“I’m not certain.”, replied Boomer. “I think that I have to in order to find if I can be successful at something. Or the whole thing might be a failure. But remember that there is much to be learned from failure too. Failing is just as instructive as succeeding, although most people don’t see it that way. The important part is that you don’t quit when you fail. When it’s time to attempt something like this, I’ll know. But I think it will get done some day, so stay tuned.”


How Do You Stake Your Claim in the Northwoods? The First Baby Step

There’s just something different about a log cabin. I’ve always dreamed of living in one, and as of 1999, I have a log home that I and many others built. It was a dream of ours that we thought we would never realize. The story about how we got here is pretty interesting. Did we take the traditional route of ordering a turn-key log home package for 100′s of thousands of dollars? Not at all.

We built a 4,000 sq. ft. log home on a 1.5 acre lake lot on a $160,000 mortgage. I’m serious. How did I do that while both of us were working full-time 200 miles south of here? You can get that whole story in the Offers Vault. Because on that page is an offer that promises to send you the 42-page story/blog in an ebook for FREE if you simply request it. If you follow my advice on tips and pitfalls, you can have a log cabin on a scenic Northwoods lake for a pittance.

I’ve had so many people ask me the title question above. There’s  a lot to be taken into consideration. How do you find and evaluate a waterfront lot. What should we plan on spending on a lot? How do we know that the lot is buildable? How big should the lot be in order to maintain privacy? And more…

I was a real estate broker and managed a Coldwell Banker franchise in a previous life. So I feel that I can offer intelligent advice on this topic. Additionally, my experience with building in the Northwoods has taught me much.

People’s biggest concern when thinking about building in the Northwoods is that it cost a fortune. That’s simply not true. Especially now that the lengthy recession has brought Northwoods property levels to their lowest level in decades. This post is primarily focused on getting a lot. I have other tricks up my leave for building a house or cabin. But I’ll share those in future posts.

Do what I did. Approach the building process with baby steps. Find a lot you like, buy it, and then forget about it for five years or until you are ready for the next step. We bought our lot in the Northwoods in 1994 and didn’t build anything on it until 1999. This gave us plenty of time to plan and save.

It’s OK to move slowly with an important decision like this. Once you have purchased a lot, you have staked your claim in the Northwoods on your favorite lake and that’s all you need for now. If you change your mind later, sell it. But remember this, water frontage is a scarce resource. God isn’t making anymore. And that’s what makes it a valuable investment.

A couple of words on lots to help you find a good one – are they expensive? No, not now. The Great Recession took care of that problem. Thousands of Northwoods lot owners abandoned their plans and downsized their assets in order to prepare for the economic and financial turmoil. The market is glutted with lake lots. As a Realtor at the time, I couldn’t sell a lake lot to save my life. No one was building during the recession. Construction as we knew it didn’t exist anymore. Companies tanked. So no one wanted a lake lot. Prices plummeted as owners were desperate to unload unnecessary assets and consolidate their financial situation. This is the best opportunity in decades to acquire a lake lot at clearance prices.

Lot Criteria

But what to look for? Take a fall road trip through the Northwoods when it’s in breath-taking full color. Look at many lots and then look at some more. Here’s the criteria that I feel is important.

  •  You must like the lake where your prospective lot resides. I recommend you acquire a lot on a lake that is at least 300 acres in size. Why? Because you want to feel like you are living on a lake, not a pond. You want to have sufficient area to ski, tube, take pontoon trips, and fish.
  •  A flowage would be perfect (see my post on “What is a Flowage) but lots on flowages are difficult to find. This is because in the 1990’s, the State of Wisconsin purchased all the available land surrounding the big flowages in order to preserve them as wilderness areas. There is still private land on flowages, but not much. This decision included the Rainbow, Willow, Chippewa, Turtle Flambeau, and Gile Flowages.
  •  Look for high ground with a gradual slope to the lake. Too steep means you’ll need steps. Avoid that. Too flat means standing water when it rains avoid that. If there is any standing water on the lot, avoid it. It’s probably not buildable.
  • Lake content on the frontage. Avoid weed or muddy frontage at all cost. The lake content on your frontage should be sand, gravel, rubble, but not mud, clay, or silt. Sand grass is OK for weeds. A few reeds are OK. These weeds grow on sand. Avoid other weeds completely. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can manage the weeds and clear them. You can’t. That would require DNR permits and chemicals, as well as physical effort raking them out of the water for disposal.
  • Your lot should have a minimum of 200 feet of water frontage. Any less and you are sacrificing privacy and inviting your neighbors to build too close to you.
  • The site you choose for your future structure should be at least 75 feet from the high-water mark (law) and 30 feet from any of your property lines. How do you find the high-water mark? Note the frontage bank and material such as drift wood. The high-water mark will be obvious. If you have hesitation, contact the nearest WDNR station (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) and ask them to show you where you can build. They’ll help you for free. Your lot should be approximately 1.5 acres in size; 200 feet wide and 400+ feet deep.
  • Check to see who plows and maintains the access road to your lot. Your Realtor can get this information for you. You don’t want to plow and maintain it yourself. You can always find someone to plow your driveway. But a road is a different matter. I pay $150/season for someone to plow my driveway. Plowing the access road is a shared expense between twelve neighboring lot owners. That comes to about $50/season for my share.
  • Have your Realtor get a copy of the property taxes for you. The taxes will show an amount just for the lot. Also have your Realtor get statements for neighbors nearby. Tax statements are public records. You can check on anyone who pays property taxes in your area. This will give you an idea what your taxes will be once a house or cabin is built on your lot. Taxes can vary widely. Some townships are notorious for high taxes. Try to avoid these. You would like your taxes to be somewhere around the $3,000 mark or less once your structure in complete. It’s dependent on square footage. So if you want to build a 4,000 sq. ft. house, expect to pay much more. My house is 4,000 sq. ft. and I pay $7,000 annually.
  • You cannot build in the electrical power right of way, if there is one. If there are power lines running through your lot, you’ll usually see a cleared area under the lines like an alley through the brush and trees. Stay out of this alley with any structures, trees, or shrubs.
  • When planning the location of things on your lot, realize that a well needs to be on the lake side of the house and a septic system/drain field needs to be located somewhere between the house and the road. Septics are never placed on the lake side of a home for obvious reasons. To the side of the home is often acceptable. Your septic installer knows best.
  •  You want a nicely treed lot so take that that into consideration when you plan the footprint for your house or cabin. But try and remove as few trees as possible. They’re an asset to your property.
  • The Department of Natural Resources does not want to see your house or cabin from the lake. So if you plan on clear-cutting a “view” of the lake, don’t do it. The DNR permits a “viewing corridor” but check with them to see how wide it can be. I think it’s 30 feet. We didn’t cut anything between our house and the lake. You can’t see our house from the water and that’s the way we like it. We have a small natural opening that allows us to see the lake and that’s fine with us.  We have a nice natural path (made by wildlife traffic over decades) through the woods and down to our dock and beach. That works for us.
  •  Lastly, once you have decided where to put the cabin or house, now you need to know where to put the septic tank and drain field. Why? Because that area will need to be cleared and the soil there must percolate. If you are convinced that you have found the perfect lot, get a local plumber to come out and do a “perc  test” before you buy the lot. He will help you decide the best location for your drain field. And he will test the soil to insure that a conventional septic system is allowed. A perc test will run about $200-$500. He may say a mound system is necessary if the soil does not percolate well. That’s not a show-stopper but realize that a mound system cost about three times as much as a conventional septic system. However, it’s a one-time cost. Once installed, a mound system requires no more attention than a conventional septic. If your plumber suggests a holding tank, look for another lot.

Negotiating a Price

So now you have approved your lot and so has your plumber and the DNR. It has everything you expected. Nice trees, good sand frontage, no weeds on the shoreline, a nice level spot to put the house or cabin and an area for your septic and drain field. The property taxes look acceptable. It’s time to negotiate a price.

My lot is as I described it above. 1.5 acres, 200 feet of frontage, nicely treed, and conventional septic system. I paid $60,000 for it in 1994. You won’t find prices that low. You should shoot for no more than $1,000/foot of frontage on a quality lake of 300 acres or more. I’ve also seen some nice lake lots for $150,000 but these are rare and require a thorough search. If these prices sound high, consider this. My lot’s tax assessed value today is $204,000. I’ve more than tripled what I paid for it. And your lot will do the same the day after you build something on it.

Offer the seller 10% less than what you know the lot is worth. Negotiate from there. Once the deal is done, go home. Your investment is safe. You now have your foothold in the Northwoods and you don’t have to do anything more for the next 5-10 years except watch your investment increase in value. Remember, water frontage is a scarce resource and no more is being created. Good luck!


A Tidbit of Wisdom for Bloggers

For all you frustrated bloggers, here are some pointers. I get asked whether I’m a professional Blogger all the time. The answer is no. I’m just a guy who lives in and loves the Northwoods of Wisconsin. And I like to write. That’s it.

I don’t write anything unless I feel moved or inspired by something. Blogging means writing about what is on your mind, what interest you, or what is happening in your life. You can’t force a blog. If you don’t feel inspired to share in a blog – then don’t.  Put it off until you feel inspired. Also, one cardinal rule that you should never violate is that regardless of your blog subject matter, share something that folks can take away after reading your blog. Something that will help them down the bumpy path of life and make them feel better for having read your post.

Lastly, stay positive and upbeat. Blogs are supposed to be interesting and fun. Since it is your weblog, you are entitled to write about whatever you want. But I don’t mix controversial subjects in with my primary blog. I put controversial subjects in a separate place called “Scott’s Rant”. So if someone wants to read on my opinions of world events, people, or places, they know where to find those posts.


Northwoods Lakes, Lakes……and more Lakes

It’s a rainy day here in the Northwoods. So I’m housebound and feel inspired to share something about the 1,000’s of lakes that dot the Northwoods landscape. And I’m going to give you something to download – a complete guide to ALL of the Wisconsin lakes. More on that later.

When the glaciers rolled through here during the ice age, they scraped out thousands of giant potholes which filled with water which ran off when the glaciers melted. These giant potholes became lakes and swamps. The water from the giant glaciers had to go somewhere so 100’s of rivers and creeks were also formed to drain the area of excess water.  The mighty Wisconsin River, which eventually empties into the Mississippi River, is one of those. The Wisconsin River has its origin at Lac Vieux Desert in Vilas County. Other scenic and famous rivers are the Flambeau in Price County, the Namekagon in Bayfield and Sawyer Counties, The Chippewa in Ashland County the Manitowish in Vilas and Iron Counties and so forth. The names of these Rivers come from the Indian tribes who inhabited this area and still do.  Canoeing and camping on any one of these notable rivers will get you back in touch with your life and nature. You won’t want to leave.

Have you ever thought of a place that just draws you there; nags you for years and years? I graduated from an Illinois high school in 1968. I was born in Illinois. But Wisconsin beckoned. So I left Illinois when I was eighteen and never went back.  I’m an outdoor enthusiast and the Northwoods of Wisconsin was always on my mind. I went to college in Wisconsin and married a Wisconsin girl. Since then it seems like we just keep moving north into more wilderness and more fascinating places.

But back to lakes. What county has the most lakes than any other county in the State? I’ve already mentioned it. It’s Vilas County. Take a look at it on a Wisconsin map. You can hardly drive a quarter of a mile without seeing yet another lake. If you want to sample the Northwoods, head to Vilas County. Interstate highway 39 will take you there. When you drive through Manitowish Waters, you’re there. Turn due East to see the core of the county and some pretty amazing scenery.

The lakes in Wisconsin come in two varieties; gin clear and stained. The lakes in Vilas County are all gin clear natural lake basins. Stained waters are typical of flowages. If you don’t know what a flowage is, read my post titled “What is a Flowage”. Some folks first encounter with stained water leaves them thinking it’s dirty; not fit for swimming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stained water is the color of tea. The color comes from decaying timber left in the water when the flowage was created and the low land was flooded. Tannic acid released by decaying timber produces the tea color. It’s clean.

The Northwoods lakes and wilderness comprise the northernmost counties in the State. Beginning on the east side of the State, Florence, Forest, Vilas, Oneida, Iron, Sawyer, Ashland, Price, Lincoln, and Langlade Counties are where the majority of the State’s lakes reside. Officially, the Wisconsin Northwoods starts at Tomahawk, Wisconsin and consists of all points north.

Back to some tips for visitors and then I’ll tell you what and why I’m giving you the following. If boating, skiing, tubing, and just hanging out on the water is your forte, visit one of the gin clear lakes in Vilas County. Remember, a lake over 300 acres is best. Lac Vieux Desert and Trout Lake in Vilas County are huge. If fishing, wilderness views, solitude with no other boat traffic is your choice for recreation, visit one of the flowages. Fishing is better in stained water since there is more structure to fish and the fish come up shallower because the stained water protects them from the sun.

The majority of the lakes in the Northwoods are considered walleye lakes but also hold pan fish, musky and northern pike. The flowage that I live on, the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in Iron County, is a “walleye factory” but the smallmouth bass are becoming even more abundant and are much more fun to catch. Additionally, there are perch, rock bass, black crappie, northern pike, pan fish, and a good musky population. Needless to say, this is my favorite body of water for any type of recreation on water.

The Turtle-Flambeau is considered to be the most hazardous body of water in the State. That’s because when they built the dam and flowage in 1926, the water backed up behind the dam and flooded thousands or acres more quickly than they had anticipated. Loggers, who were clearing timber in the flood zone, had to get out of there quickly, due to rapidly rising water, and many stands of trees were left uncut. So standing timber below the water line became a hazard. Stump fields, and rocks as big as a Volkswagen, yet under a couple of inches of water, are also a hazard to navigation. We went out with a fishing guide for ten years and learned how to safely navigate the flowage and now we traverse any portion of it without worry of water hazards.

I could ramble on this subject for pages and pages. But I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

Now here is what I have for you. The following Acrobat .pdf files can be downloaded quickly by clicking on one of them to open it. Then within Acrobat Reader, select the icon that looks like a diskette to save the file to your HDD. Repeat for all seven files. These manuals contain ALL of the lakes in Wisconsin grouped within county and sorted alphabetically by county. The important information that is provided for each lake includes:


(NOTE – use the index file for an explanation of codes used for some of the following)

  1. Area – the size of the lake in acreage
  2. The maximum depth of the lake
  3. The Mean depth – average depth
  4. Whether there is public access to the lake and what type of access that is
  5. Whether there is lake map available
  6. Lake Type
  7. What kind of fish are predominant in the lake


So for whatever recreation that you may have in mind, you should be able to find the perfect lake with this information. Have a great trip!

Wis Lake Guide Index Wis Lake Guide counties A-C Wis Lake Guide counties D-J Wis Lake Guide counties K-M Wis Lake Guide counties O-P Wis Lake Guide counties R-V Wis Lake Guide counties W

Minocqua, Wisconsin

When I first heard of this place in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to pronouce yet, yet alone where this place might be found. I was 14 and living in Aurora, Illinois. My girlfriend’s parents were doing well and were in the habit of sending their daughters to a girl’s camp in Wisconsin for the summer. I remember the annoucement from my 8th grade girlfriend, Julie – “I’m going to Minocqua for the rest of the summer. I’ll see you when school starts”. Minocqua? What’s that?

I took out a map when I got home and looked this place up. Wow! Minocqua is really up there. Is that place even in the lower 48? That was my introduction to this place called Minocqua.

I really love Minocqua. Fast-forward about 46 years and you’ll find me living about 50 miles north of this wonderful town. Minocqua is an Indian name meaning……… Minocqua is actually built on an island. Highway 51 runs right through the middle of it. When you cross the bridge to get off the island on the north, you are in Woodruff, Wisconsin. Woodruff and Minocqua are indistinguishable. So we just refer to the town as Minocqua.

It was a small tourist town build on an island and surrounded by lakes back in the 1960’s. Picture original log cottages, boat houses, mahogany boats, woman with bathing caps on and swimming suits that provide full body coverage, men wearing ties, white shirts and a blazer in the middle of the afternoon. That was Minocqua. A playground for the rich and famous hidden in the Wisconsin wilderness.

The ties, blazers, and full body coverage swimming suits are gone. But Minocqua is still a little town in the Northwoods for the rich and famous. A good portion of the population are well-to-do seniors and retireds. But in the summer when their children come to vacation is when the town really comes alive.

To me, Minocqua represents a return to civilization. Much of the Northwoods consists of woods and lakes and an occasional home. The population is scarce. Amenities are few. If a person wants to shop, they need to make a drive to one of the larger towns like Minocqua, Rhinelander, or Eagle River. We drive 45 minutes to Minocqua about twice a month to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions at Walgreens, or go to the hardware store and do other shopping.

Now before you say, “No. That’s not for me. I like to be able to run down the street for a gallon of milk or make a short trip to Home Depot when I’m working on a home project for the wife”. Let me ask you this. If you could live free of stress and noise in your comforatable house at water’s edge on a lake that overlooks miles of wilderness, and have no neighbors other than an occational bear, fox, or deer, BUT you need to plan a bi-weekly 45 minute drive to Minocqua for the things that you need – would you trade your stressful suburban life, stoplights, miles of concrete, and noise for that? Are you really that attached to the malls and shopping centers? In your wilderness home you can still have DSL Internet and have most of what you need delivered to your front door by FedEx or UPS.

What I love about Minocqua is that it’s an old logging town become tourist town, rich in history and beauty. It’s changed but you can still find those 1940’s resorts and cottages from an era long gone. I can spend a day shopping in Minocqua and be back on my wilderness lake in 45 minutes. The best clinic in the state is there – Marshfield Clinic along with Howard Young clinic and hospital where Elizabeth Taylor’s personal physician practices. Actually, Liz is a niece of Howard Young, who owned the land that the clinic and hospital are built on.

Minocqua is probabaly the only place in the Northwoods where BMW’s, Audi’s, and Mercedes Benz are commonly seen on the streets. Locals call it “the playground of the rich and famous”. The town has always had character. It became a favorite summer get-away beginning in the 1940’s for folks living in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Even Al Capone and his gang have been there.

You won’t need a map to find it. Just take Interstate 39 due north through Illinois or Wisconsin. Highway 39 narrows from a 4-lane highway to a two-lane road and goes right down main street through  the heart of Minocqua.