State throws Free Fun Weekend
Fees waived for parks, forests, trails, fishing as incentive to play outdoors


June 2, 2016


Cyclists ride along the Glacial Drumlin Trail in the Town of Genesee.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - Nothing to do? Or it costs too much? Or it’s too far?

Well, hold onto your bicycling helmet or kayak paddle for Free Fun Weekend in Wisconsin. And there’s a lot to do in Waukesha County.

There is no admission fee for parks and forests, trail passes are waived, and people can fish without a license on state waters Saturday and Sunday. The exceptions are state campsites aren’t free and fees aren’t waived at nonprofit Heritage Hill State Park.

On state land in Waukesha County - county parks notably aren’t included - it’s a good time to try something new or revisit an old pursuit, outdoor fun experts say.

“No matter what you want to do, we’ve got it,” said Anne Korman, superintendent of Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit. “It's fun to provide these outdoor activities.”

Activities include hiking, bicycling on a state trail or mountain bike trails, swimming, fishing and kayaking. About 45 miles of the Ice Age Trail run Waukesha County.

“I actually love the Ice Age Trail. It’s amazingly beautiful.

“The Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail never gets old for me. There’s always something cool to see. The springs are always bubbly and something's usually blooming,” Korman said.

Located in the metro Milwaukee area and near Chicagoland and the Madison area, the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit draws 1.2 million visitors annually. 

The state and local economies benefit from Wisconsin state parks, forests and trails, which attracted a record 16.5 million visitors in 2015 and estimated total spending by park properties visitors at more than $1 billion a year, Gov. Scott Walker said in a news release on Free Fun Weekend.

Not that the state is adverse to casting for more or those who slipped away to other pursuits. “Free” helps grease the wheel, whether it's the state Glacial Drumlin Trail for bicyclists and others or any open body of water for fishing folks.

“It’s a great weekend for novices and veteran anglers; maybe people who have shied away from it for a few years it’s a great weekend to get back into it,” said Theresa Stabo, fisheries outreach coordinator with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Otherwise, annual fishing licenses are $20 plus $10 for a trout stamp. The state has tried to lure first-timers and those who haven’t fished for a decade with a $5 annual fishing fee.

“Even if people are fishing, they should take a buddy who hasn’t fished for a while with them. This would be a great weekend to do it,” Stabo said.

Fishing clinics will be held across the state by local groups, which is good for new anglers and those who need to get caught up on regulations, Stabo said.

The Oconomowoc Parks and Recreation Department will host a clinic from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. Jennifer Froemming, recreation manager for the Oconomowoc Parks and Recreation Department, said people need to call 262-569-2199 to register to ensure enough equipment is available.

The clinic includes instruction on baiting a hook, knot tying and casting with time for free fishing. It’s rain or shine, barring heavy rain or lightning, Froemming said.

Some places will loan tackle for free.

Korman said the campground at Ottawa Lake will loan tackle this weekend. There will be one-hour guided kayak tours as well, teaching the basics, at 10 a.m. 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at the lake at Highway ZZ, just west of Highway 67, in the Town of Ottawa. Sign up is encouraged by calling 262-594-6220.