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Tucked away in Sawyer County in northwest Wisconsin, Lake Chippewa is a rare undeveloped paradise. Called the "Big Chip," Lake Chippewa is Wisconsin's third largest lake and tops the list for pristine water and wilderness.
Lake Chippewa was formed by the construction of the Winter Dam on the Chippewa River. Before that the area was the home of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, and the area under and around Lake Chippewa was their primary rice gathering area. Construction of Winter Dam flooded eleven natural lakes, nine rivers, and countless streams and destroyed the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band's subsistent way of life. The lake flooded the Indian village of Post including a church and burial ground. Some of the burial sites were moved prior to the flooding, but others continue to be uncovered by erosion on what is now called Church Island. The LCO Band rebuilt at New Post which is the nearest town to Lake Chippewa. Winter Dam is still used to generate power for the area and it and the lake's water levels are controlled by the Northern States Power Co. and the LCO Band.
The flooding of Lake Chippewa created a lake with interesting and unusual characteristics. The lake has over 140 islands ranging in size from half an acre to 272 acres. The many islands and floating bogs make speed boating unwise and Lake Chippewa much better suited to quiet boating and fishing. The lake's many coves and inlets are best explored slowly or by canoe or kayak. There is, however plenty to explore. Lake Chippewa's 233 shoreline miles are deliberately undeveloped, and unlike other recreation lakes the never will be. In fact in 1988 the state of Wisconsin spent $7 million to purchase 6,900 acres from the Northern States Power Co. saving it from commercial development. Because most of the rest of the shoreline is owned by the LCO Band and the Federal government in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the wooded shores of the "Big Chip" will never be more than 15% developed.
Lake Chippewa does not lack amenities, however, and the parts of the shore that are developed have resorts, restaurants, lodging, and marinas. There are good public boat ramps and some primitive boat in camping on the islands. Sawyer County has over 300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and there is cross country skiing nearby.
The fishing on Lake Chippewa is exceptional. In fact the Wisconsin DNR says over half the walleye caught on the lake exceed 40 inches, and the lake is exempt from the state's 15 inch walleye limit. There are also healthy populations of crappie, northern pike, perch, and bluegill. The lake is rimmed with aspen, birch, pine and oak and the woodland is home to deer, bear, elk and otters. Beavers, herons, osprey and eagles also call Lake Chippewa home and lucky visitors might see or hear loons on the lake.
With its beautiful, pristine waters and undeveloped shores, Lake Chippewa is a nature lover's paradise.
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