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Answers to your questions about Lake Delton and the Dells

Steve Johnson

Tribune reporter

June 22, 2008

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LAKE DELTON, Wis.—Some questions and answers about the Wisconsin Dells region after Lake Delton went dry, from a guy who actually was up there this past week. For more information, visit www.travel

wisconsin.com and

www.wisdells.com.

Q. Does the lake smell?

A. Not much. I'd compare it to a damp basement, and only if you're right in it or downwind. The lake-bottom detritus—beer cans, anchors, fish, one old revolver—has been very well cleaned up by townspeople.

Q. Is the lake really dry?

A. It's mostly sandy, with patches of mud and then some actual water. There's a lot of water coming in from springs and Mirror Lake at the southern tip, though it dissipates quickly. You can safely leave your water skis and life jacket at home, though.

Q. What's it look like?

A. Sort of lunar, sort of beachy, but really, really fascinating. It's become a tourist attraction in itself, and with good reason. You can get a good look—and have an ice-cold, Wisconsin-brewed New Glarus beer—from the deck at the Ravina Bay Restaurant. Or visit the public boat landings or public beach.

Q. Should I keep my hotel reservations at one of the lakefront places?

A. It's a tough call. If you love lake swimming and lake beaches, maybe not. But there is, obviously, lots of other stuff to do in the region, and the lakefront hotels and resorts are now offering 50 percent off coupons to many area attractions, which can really trim the cost of a Dells vacation. Most say they are negotiating on their rates. Make an offer.

Q. How about the roads?

A. Some smaller area roads, flooded or damaged by flood, were still closed late in the week, especially down by Baraboo. But it's smooth sailing on Interstate 90/94 from Madison, while the closed stretch of I-94 between Milwaukee and Madison was expected to partially reopen this weekend.

Q. How's the Tommy Bartlett Show without the water?

A. They've scrambled to fill the half of the show occupied by the water skiers, and it's a work in progress. But the show I saw, part vaudeville and part aerial stunts, seemed to satisfy most of the paying customers. Some of the big water parks are now giving guests Bartlett tickets.

Q. How about the duck boats?

A. The Wisconsin River boat rides are all operating on a river that was moving back down to normal water levels. The Original Wisconsin Ducks tour I took replaced going into Lake Delton with a too-cursory look from the Wisconsin at the 300-foot-wide breach that emptied the lake's water into the river June 9. Maybe it was just my driver, but I wanted a closer examination of the site, more talk about it and fewer canned, cornball jokes.

Q. So the lake is empty. Do the water parks still have water? Do the fudge shops still have fudge?

A. Oh, yes, they do.

sajohnson@tribune.com