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Bayfield County, Wisconsin.

Lake Superior, that clear, cold, 1,300-foot-deep inland sea that stretches for I nearly 400 miles along the U.S.-Canadian border, is the dominant force in Bayfield County Wisconsin. Its scenic beauty and recreational uses attract tourists and enhance ! the quality of life of year-round residents. In addition, the water's moderating influence on climate gives the coastal areas in the north a 140-day growing season--equal to some parts of the state 300 miles to the south.

About a third of the county is a peninsula jutting into Lake Superior in a northeasterly direction, terminating in the Apostle Islands. About a third is in the Chequamegon National Forest, and a good portion of the rest is in county forest lands. All of the privately owned land is a potential homestead haven.

Its geography is diverse

Bayfield is one of the most geographically diverse counties in Wisconsin, a geographically diverse state. The Bayfield Ridge, a prominent range of hills 10 to 15 miles wide, extends southwest from the tip of the peninsula. This ends abruptly and becomes the Pine Barrens. Another ridge, the western end of the Penokee (Gogebic) Range, extends into the southeastern part of the county. South of these ridges is a series of hills and lakes. Glacial deposits cover bedrock throughout the county, with topsoil ranging from clay to sand. Most of the land now being cropped is classed as clayey soil or sandy soil over clay.

Trees gone--population peaks

Most of the land was logged off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and farming--mostly dairying--took over. Population peaked in 1920 at 17,201.

Then population fell as farms were abandoned. Between 1950 and 1980 farm population declined 87 percent. By 1970 there were fewer than 12,000 residents, and the abandoned farms reverted to forest. Today, 85 percent of the county is wooded. While about 77 percent of the people live in rural areas and the others would also be considered rural by most people accustomed to large cities--less than eight percent are actively engaged in farming.

Small family farms are encouraged

Dairying is still the mainstay, although beef production is increasing. The main cash crop is birdsfoot trefoil seed. Around Bayfield, the primary crops are apples, strawberries and raspberries.

And yes, the county encourages small, family farms.

But population has been growing. Today it stands at more than 14,000. However, this hardly constitutes overcrowding: that's still less than 1 0 people per square mile.

While that number doubles during the tourist season, most visitors are concentrated around the lakes. If you want to be around people you can find them, but if you'd prefer to avoid crowds, there is plenty of room for that too.

In other words, there is something for almost everyone.

One good example of this can be seen in real estate prices.

In areas on water or with scenic views, there are many homes on lots or small acreages with price tags of $150,000 and up, with bare land at $20,000 an acre and up. Lakeshore property runs $150 a foot and up.

But if you prefer something less expensive, abandoned farmland and woodland is available for as little as $150-$200 an acre.

You get what you pay for, but...

But remember that this is bare land, in a diverse area. Water is generally no problem, either in quantity or quality, but wells that are deep and through bedrock can be expensive. Soils vary greatly. This affects not only gardening and farming, but percolation tests: septic systems aren't allowed in many locations, requiring expensive holding tanks. The species, size, and general condition of trees affects some land prices. Some of the cheapest land is barely accessible on sand or dirt roads, and far from utility lines... which of course is just what some homesteaders are looking for.

The biggest problem is finding employment. There are scarcely 3,000 jobs in the entire county... and about a third of those are in government.

Almost half of the income is from "transfer payments"--such as pensions and social security--and other common sources of retirement income such as dividends, interest and rent. As might be expected from this, there is a high proportion of older people. About 50 percent are over 50, and about 20 percent are over 65.

At the same time, the amount of "proprietary income,"indicatingpeople who own their own businesses, is about double that of the rest of the state. For those engaged in cottage industry, especially perhaps electronic cottages where location is secondary or irrelevant, the area has much to offer: scenery, recreation, a relatively benign climate considering the location, and both crowds and privacy within a few miles of each other.

Continued, but controlled, growth

We look for continued growth in this county with the waning of the Industrial Age and increased decentralization of business, but so far at least, it appears to be well-managed growth. Its out-of-the-way location--and lack of employment opportunities-should also contribute to that end. (And it's still 3,000 below its 1920 peak.)

If you like winter, summers that aren't uncomfortably hot, "seashore' and water activities, a choice of privacy or hordes of tourists (but seldom in overwhelming numbers at one time in any location--and have some means of supporting yourself, either from retirement income or self-employment--Bayfield County might well be your "Best Place to Homestead."

Fast Facts About Bayfield:

Location: Far northwestern Wisconsin,

on Lake Superior and

Chequamegon Bay; 300 miles

north of Madison; 50 miles east of

Superior. Main access is by state

highways 27 and 13 from the

south, U.S. 2 from east and west;

no railroads or commercial air

service. The terrain is gently rolling,

with mixed hardwood upland

forest. Population: 13,822 (1980); 14,008

(1990); increase, 1.32% Per capita income (1988):$8,841; (state

average, $11,846) Households: 5,500 Median household income (1988):

$17,141; (state, $24,549) Retail sales: $36,400,000 Passenger car registrations 1988:6,548 Manufacturing establishments: 27 Total manufacturing employees: 200 County seat: Washburn; pop. 2,080;

elevation 654 ft. Other chief towns: Bayfield; pop. 778;

Iron River, pop. 650; Cable, 225,

Port Wing, pop. 200. Also check

out Cornucopia, pop. 200, northernmost

town in Wisconsin, on

Lake Superior. Beautiful sand

beach. Land area: 1,462 sq. miles Population density: 9.58 per sq. mi.

(state average, 90.1) Ages: 0-17, 29%; 18-59, 48%; 60+,

23% Population projection: 17,713 by2000

(up 28.2% from 1980) Plant hardiness: Zone 4 (average annual

minimum temperature -20[degrees]

to -30[degrees]) Average growing season: 140 days near

Lake Superior; less inland Average rainfall: 30" Snow: Moderate in the peninsula;

heavier in the highlands to the

south Soils: Most agricultural soils are clayey

or sandy over clay; great

countywide variation Primary agriculture: dairying,

birdsfoot trefoil seed, apples,

strawberries and other small

fruits. Most of the cropland is in

hay, including alfalfa.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Finding Your Homestead: Some "Best Places" in the United States; includes statistical information
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:Dime Box, Texas.
Next Article:A tour of Bayfield County via its local newspaper.

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