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Wyoming dinosaur trail leads back to Wisconsin
Research yields first signs of dinosaurs here, perhaps even locally

When Michael Heim, natural science professor at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College, does field trips he often points out that the tall, interrupted ferns growing abundantly in our forests have been around for 200 million years. And when he comes up to a clump of basswood trees, he recounts how the species developed a strategy of growing multiple trunks as a way to survive grazing mastodon elephants from the end of the ice age, more than 10,000 years ago.

Now, because of a recent scientific finding in Wyoming, when Heim finds a bed of red quartzite in the Blue Hills, or similar outcroppings around Pipestone Creek in Sawyer County, he'll probably hold a rock in in his hand and discuss how long-neck sauropod dinosaurs, some bigger than a school bus, once roamed the area 150 million years ago and had a particular fondest for the stone.

In February, a research paper submitted by senior Joshua Malone and others at Augustana College in Illinois (he is now doctoral student at the University of Texas-Austin) was published in the journal Terra Nova. The paper postulated that shiny, hard, red quartzite found in the ancient mud sediment of the Morrison Formation in Wyoming's eastern Bighorn Basin were carried there by dinosaurs that consumed the stones in Wisconsin for grinding food in their gizzards, just as birds do today.

Paleontologists and geologists working in the Morrison Formation, where several dinosaur skeletons have been unearthed, have long known the polished quartzite found there, called gastroliths, were used by dinosaurs for digestion. But it wasn't until 2017 when Malone visited his father, David Malone, an Illinois State geologist mapping the sediment, that someone asked where the quartzite originated.

In the paper, "Jurassic dinosaurs on the move: Gastrolith provenance and long-distance migration," the age of the gastroliths was compared to that of quartzite deposits around other parts of North America using a process called zircon geochronology. It turns out the best candidate, "statistically indistinguishable," is the Baraboo or Barron quartzite found in Wisconsin.

Researchers suspect dinosaurs ate the stones and then traveled westward following large, slow-moving streams on migration routes. When the dinosaurs died, or the gizzard stones were expelled, they were left in the sediment 1,000 miles away.

'Bowled over'

Back here in Wisconsin, Heim took notice.

"I was bowled over when I heard about it," he said. "I was just fascinated. I knew dinosaurs like the sauropods had gizzard stones that they carried. I knew about that for a long time. They've even found skeletons where the gastroliths are fossilized in place, piles of stones in the middle of the ribcage right where their gizzard would have been."

During the Jurassic Period, from 200 million to 150 million years ago, slow, westward-running streams deposited loose sediment in an area, much like the Mississippi Delta. The study concluded the ancient stream could not have carried the hard, red quartzite so far away from Wyoming, leaving dinosaurs as the most likely suspect.

Heim said during the Jurassic Period, the climate in North America would have been similar to that of Africa or India today, with half of the year wet and the other half dry. Animals would have migrated with the rains, consuming local vegetation along the way.

In the study and news reports of the discovery, the red quartzite is referred to as the "Baraboo Formation quartzite" or "Baraboo Interval," a reference to the red quartzite found outside of Madison. But Heim says that same quartzite is found in the Blue Hills in Sawyer County.

In an email exchange between Heim and David Malone, Malone said samples of "detrital zircon age spectra" of quartzite from around Wisconsin, including Barron and Flambeau quartzite, reveal they are "more or less the same."

"The outcroppings of this quartzite are not that common," Heim said. "The Barron quartzite pops up here in Sawyer, Rusk and Barron counties, and the same stuff pops up near Madison as the Baraboo quartzite. It's the same rock. It's all connected underground."

The red quartzite is actually visible on Pipestone Creek in Sawyer County off Highway H in the Town of Radisson. Interestingly, the St. Francis Catholic Missionary Church off Highway E in the Town of Bass Lake was built from locally-quarried red quartzite.

Heim believes it is more likely that the gastroliths found in Wyoming can be associated with the Blue Hills or Barron quartzite because during the Jurassic Period the local rocks were more exposed from erosion than those near Baraboo. Plus, there are large rifts, especially in Barron and Rusk counties, where the rocks would have been even more exposed in valleys, making it easier for those large dinosaurs to gobble them up.

Until now there has been no evidence of dinosaurs existing in Wisconsin because the glacial ice sheets, starting 20,000 years ago, carried off surface sediment where any remains would have been left. Thus, the Wyoming gastroliths are one the only connections to large dinosaurs having been in the area 150 million years ago.

Heim is excited thinking about the connection of the local geology to an ancient world.

"Wild turkeys and ruffed grouse consume rocks for gizzard stones," Heim said. "Just think, during the Jurassic Period a large sauropod, like a barosaurus, eating a red quartzite by Pipestone Creek, and I think they would have chosen it because they knew it was very hard and would last a long time grinding their food."

Yup, it's a pretty safe bet that Heim will be mentioning dinosaurs on future his field trips.

WITC to become Northwood Technical College

Effective in August, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) will be renamed Northwood Technical College, it was announced Wednesday, April 28, at an executive meeting of Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NWRPC) in Hayward.

WITC has campuses in Ashland, Superior, Rice Lake and New Richmond and outreach centers in Hayward, Ladysmith, Balsam Lake and Shell Lake.

John Will, college president, also presented images of a new logo and mascot for Northwood Technical College but asked the press not to release those as they were still being tweaked.

In October 2020, WITC began a search for a new name after market research revealed that the word "Indianhead" was not recognized as a geographic region, especially for younger prospective students, and there was also confusion about the college's identification.

"We wanted it to be easy to be recognized and understood," Will said, "and we wanted it to appeal not just within the service area, but also outside the service area. We want to draw people into northwest Wisconsin.

Evers discusses fishing opener, tourism and broadband funding

While Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers was up north celebrating the fishing opener on Saturday, May 1, at Treelands Resort on the Chippewa Flowage, he also took some time to take question from the press.

In a brief interview, Gov. Evers talked about the significance of the fishing opener to Wisconsin and explored how he proposes to allocate $50 million for tourism and $200 million for infrastructure, with a focus on expanding broadband, out of $3.25 billion of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for the state.

The Sawyer County Record and KBJR 6 TV Duluth conducted the joint interview.

First, the governor was asked about the significance of the day.

"Certainly this is kind of the beginning of the tourism season in Wisconsin," he said. "And it's just great to be in the outdoors with a lot of good people. And obviously fishing is part of our heritage here in Wisconsin. This is just a great occasion. Love it. It's great. We're having fun.

"I actually caught a fish this year and it was just good. That always helps. As long as you're here you might as well catch one and I had a lot of help. But it is the beginning of the season. But it's also really important to celebrate what we what we have going on for us in Wisconsin."

The governor also was asked to give his perspective of the last year.

"Well, it's been a difficult year all across our country but across our state, and we're really proud of the way people worked really hard to stay safe," he said. "I know that's always been a difficult thing to do. We've been getting shots in arms and so now we're moving into the season where we can feel comfortable with certainly being comfortable outside."

Evers was asked about his plan to use $50 million for tourism from $3.25 billion ARP funds allocated to the state.

"Timing-wise, as soon as possible," he said of distributing the funds. "Believe me, I know the tourism industry all across the state and the Northwoods, too, has struggled mightily. And it's our hope that we'll find out from the federal government, and very soon, when that'll happen. And we are hopeful that will be in a couple of weeks, and we're hopeful to get the applications out even before the money comes."

He was pressed on how that $50 million could be spent.

"I think it's going to be pretty wide open," Evers said. "Some tourism spots, you know, have struggled. They have to pay off bills that accumulated over the last year. So I'm hopeful that it's going to have as few strings as possible. People all across the state can kind of figure out where that's going to be. But whether it's around marketing or whether it's around, you know, hiring people, getting them back to work, frankly, I think it's important for us to be as flexible as possible."

The governor was asked any thought had been given to compensating areas impacted last year by canceling major events, such as the Musky Fest and Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward.

"That's what I think some of that money can be used for," he said. "It's not just going forward, but actually making people as whole as possible. I don't think $50 million is going to keep everybody whole, but at least we're going to be in the position that they can move forward this year."

He was also asked how the state will distribute the $200 million he proposes to use for broadband expansion from the $3.25 billion coming to Wisconsin. Fore instance, would the state use a competitive grant process as it has in the past via the Public Service Commission (PSC).

"It has to be some sort of grant process because $200 million is not enough to make everybody have broadband across the state of Wisconsin," he said. "There is going to be some process through the Public Service Commission. But because there's more money, there will be more and we will have more people, obviously, being grantees. But in addition, we're going to focus on places that don't have it."

Evers was asked if there would be a focus on broadband expansion in locations where school districts have discovered holes in coverage while offering virtual education.

"Well, certainly, but it even goes beyond where the schools or the holes are," Evers said. "I mean, we have other ways of doing it besides relying on the school districts, and there are places where school districts are, you know, several hundred square miles, and we have to make sure that we don't just rely on that."

Besides the $200 million from ARP funds, Evers said there also could be other funding for broadband expansion, including dollars from the state and more federal funding from President Joe Biden's infrastructure proposal, which proposes to invest $200 billion in broadband expansion.

As demolition continues, Telemark Lodge memories remain

As the demolition of the former Telemark Lodge continues for a second week, the Record dug into the long history of the lodge, a recreation destination for thousands of people for 40-plus years and an epicenter of cross-country skiing in the upper Midwest starting with the first American Birkebeiner in 1973.

The book "Telemark Memories" was published by Deb Nelson in 2002 — the 55th anniversary of the resort's first development by entrepreneur Tony Wise. The lodge, with its massive stone fireplace, lobby, large convention rooms, 200 hotel rooms, ski shop, bars, restaurants, nightclub and theater, was built at a cost of $4 million in 1972.

Tony Wise hired Herb Fritz, a student of legendary Wisconsin architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to render the concept of the starshaped resort centered around a soaring 55-foot-tall fieldstone fireplace. The lodge opened in December 1972, together with cross-country ski trails designed by U.S. Olympic Coach Sven Wiik.



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