Half Moon Lake: A History

Half Moon Lake is an idyllic landmark in Polk County, Wisconsin. Situated just outside of Milltown, this 550-acre lake has been a home away from home for many Midwest vacationers since the early 1900s. Known for the lake’s clear waters and good fishing, residents made strategic efforts in the past years to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species through its Weed Rangers.

Aerial View of Half Moon Lake, Polk County, Wisconsin

Aerial View of Half Moon Lake, Polk County, Wisconsin


Half Moon Lake’s first European settlers arrived in the 1850s. By the early 1900s, the Midwest knew this northern Wisconsin lake as the “go to” place for swimming, fishing, and boating. In the 1920s, a small beach was opened on the northeast shoreline by Herman Gutzmer. Beachgoers could rent boats, swim, and play on the waterslide, a fairly new concept in the 1920s. Sandy Beach was opened to the public in 1944 as Milltown Beach.

When not swimming, vacationers put on their dancing shoes and visited the popular Half Moon Lake Dance Hall, considered by Martha McHanon in her book “Memories of Half Moon Lake” to be “the best dance pavilion in the country.” The dance hall burned down in the 1940s, but its large stone fireplace still stands as a monument to the happy times of yesteryear.

The lake is home to cranberry bogs and a sugar bush, which was visited by local Native Americans into the late 1900s. Residents remember watching as many as 500 Native Americans camp out on the shoreline as they collected sap to make maple syrup in the spring and cranberries in the fall.

In 2010, Half Moon Lake received a three year aquatic invasive species grant from the DNR. The grant gave the Weed Rangers program, established a year earlier by six volunteer lake residents, the help they needed to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species to their lake.  The youngest weed ranger, Sarah Miller, created a book of 25 dried aquatic plant samples still used today to identify different species.  She included Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed to help volunteers spot the “bad weeds.” By catching these “bad weeds” early, the Weed Rangers work to contain and treat the problem areas and stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Aerial View of Half Moon Lake, Polk County

Aerial View of Half Moon Lake, Polk County. From http://www.halfmoonlakeweeds.net/

Also in 2010, a DNR lake protection grant helped protect 31.5 acres of the lake’s watershed through direct purchase and another eight acres with a conservation easement. Protecting the watershed reduces run-off into the lake and maintains water quality.

The Half Moon Lake District installed a video camera at the main boat launch to measure launch activity and watch for proper “clean boats, clean waters” behaviors like removing weeds before launching a boat.  Half Moon Lake also introduced a new “slow-no wake” ordinance within 100 feet of the shoreline to reduce erosion problems and increase water clarity. When propellers disturb the bottom of the lake, phosphorous in lake sediment is stirred up and can cause algae blooms to form.  Later, decay of the algae reduces oxygen levels at the lake’s bottom.

Half Moon Lake is loved by its residents, as proven through their dedication to its well-being. With its clear waters and diverse wild life, Half Moon Lake is the center of its own world in Northwest Wisconsin.

For more information on Half Moon Lake, visit the Half Moon Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District’s website at http://halfmoonlake.net/ or contact Rick Miller at rpm2002@juno.com. For more information about the Weed Rangers and to see the dried aquatic plant samples, visit their website at http://www.halfmoonlakeweeds.net/.

Entry written by Alyson Douglas, DNR program assistant.
This entry was posted in Clean Boats, Clean Waters, Contain and Control Invasive Species, Grants, Invasive Species, Water Quality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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