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Dane County in south central Wisconsin has plenty of water for recreation. There are 37 lakes and 475 miles of streams and rivers including 14 miles of the Wisconsin River. Four of Dane County's lakes near Madison are linked together in a chain by the Yahara River. Called the Yahara Lakes or Yahara Chain, the lakes include Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. At just over 2,000 acres, Lake Waubesa is the smallest of the four lakes.
All the Yahara Lakes were formed during the last Ice Age when the glacier that moved across Wisconsin left deposits of rocks, sand, and silt. The debris dammed parts of an old river valley that many believe was the ancient Wisconsin River. The Yahara Lakes are natural lakes, but there are dams and locks to help control water levels and for navigation. The Babcock Park Lock and Dam, completed in 1938 and owned by Dane County, controls the water levels for both Lake Waubesa and Lake Monona. Water levels on Lake Waubesa and the other Yahara Lakes are set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and maintained by the Dane County Public Works. Control is tight and there is only a six inch difference in winter and summer water levels on Lake Waubesa. The lake freezes in mid to late December and remains frozen until the end of March.
Waubesa is the Chippewa word for "swan." The lake got its name from the story of a settler who killed an exceptionally large swan in the area. In addition to the Chippewa and Winnebago Indians there is evidence of the "mound builders" around Lake Waubesa. On the eastern shore, the Village of McFarland is one of the first settlements around Lake Waubesa. It was a small resort community with Edwards Park near the lake in the early 1900's. Prior to 1900 fish harvesting and ice cutting were important industries. The Knickerbocker Company cut ice on Lake Waubesa, packed it in sawdust and stored it until June when it was shipped south by rail. Today McFarland is home to McDaniel Park. With two pebble beaches the Park is popular with swimmers and a good place to launch canoes and kayaks. It is also home base for the Waubesa Sailing Club.
Lake Waubesa is a productive warm water fishery with large populations of pan fish. There are bluegill, crappie, and large and small mouth bass. There are also walleye, northern pike and muskie present. Anglers can fish from a boat or from the shore. Babcock Park, on the eastern side of Lake Waubesa at the outflow of the Yahara River, has a public boat launch, fishing pier and fish cleaning station. Named for Wisconsin dairy scientist Stephen Babcock, the park also has a full service campground with bathrooms and showers. There are several other boat ramps and full service marinas. Much of the shoreline is public land with only a few piers to mar the view.
Lake Waubesa has almost a thousand acres of wetlands. Upper Mud Lake on the northern side of the lake is a fantastic place to bird watch. Between Lake Waubesa and Lake Monona, Upper Mud Lake is the home of lots of migratory waterfowl.
Accommodations on Lake Waubesa range from campgrounds to resorts. In addition to all the amenities of McFarland including restaurants, shopping and accommodations, the lake is very close to Madison. Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and its second largest city with all the amenities and cultural opportunities of a city that size.
The Yahara Chain lakes and Lake Waubesa in particular combine very accessible water, abundant fishing, and cultural opportunities, making it a great Wisconsin getaway with something to please everyone.
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