Marengo Riffles Newsletter: Issue 3 - 2023

As spring finally takes hold here, we are pleased to issue our third edition of Marengo Riffles. Our big news is the official re-certification of the Marengo Watershed Action Plan by the EPA, a project that turned into a year and a half long process! It’s been quite a learning process, but we feel confident tackling projects like for other watersheds in our region this going forward. Spring thaw has brought the usual high river flows and flooding problems across the watershed, but near-record late winter snowfall has made a difference, as explained below. Also, we are thrilled to bring you a contributed article with a fascinating discussion of Marengo history by Ellie Williams!

Marengo River Watershed Management Plan Re-Certified by US-EPA

It’s official: the US-Environmental Protection Agency has recertified the ten-year revision of the Marengo River Watershed Action Plan! Restoration projects in the watershed will continue to receive elevated funding priority, stakeholders will have an accessible document to turn to for updated information on hydrological and ecological issues and progress, completed and ongoing projects, and much more. This will be a dynamic document, subject to periodic updates as events move forward.

As the original document made history as one of the first in Wisconsin, this revision makes history as the first plan of its type to be recertified for another decade of relevance and service to Wisconsin water resources and ecosystems.

USGS Gauge Station on the Marengo River – Measurements from 2023

We again wish to thank our partner organizations: WDNR, Ashland and Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Departments, Mashkiiziibii Natural Resources Department, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Northland College-Burke Center, US-Forest Service, and many others for their input working on our editorial team or by sharing exciting new watershed science. And a very special thank-you to the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the Duluth Superior Community Fund for the financial support that made this possible.

High Spring Flows on the Marengo

The USGS stream gauge on Government Rd, upstream of the Silver Creek confluence, recorded flows exceeding 2016 flood levels in mid-April. High flows were expected after the heavy late-season snowfalls experienced here, but it was noted by USGS staff that the Marengo flows were also proportionally higher than surrounding streams. There are a number of possible reasons for this, with more open land and higher presence of roads probably likely playing a significant role.

The Maringuoin Fork

by Ellie Williams

The death knell having been rung on 200 years of the fur trade business, a new exploitation of the vast natural resources of the Chequamegon region was coming into full swing beginning in the 1840s. In 1849, David Dale Owen, U.S. Geologist, under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury, picked fellow Ohio resident, Charles Whittlesey, to explore the mineral resources of Wisconsin, including into and around the Chequamegon region. Charles Whittlesey was an extraordinary individual. He was a graduate of West Point, a soldier who served in Wisconsin at the time of Black Hawk War in 1832, a trained attorney, a Civil War veteran, and an historian. He was also a scholar of Native American effigy mounds and of the geological landscapes in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Charles Whittlesey in Geologist Garb.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society.
Geological Map of the Penokie Range by Chas Whittlesey, December 1860.

And so, you ask what does this have to do with the Marengo River? It was on Whittlesey’s 1849 expedition, while traveling by boat up the Bad River, noted by the Ojibwe as “Mashkeg-zibe” (“River of the Marshes”), also known as the “Mauvaise,” that he came upon a fork of the river flowing west. In his reports he often relates the names bestowed upon lakes and rivers by his “half-breed voyageurs.” He was told that this fork was called the “Maringouin.” He was told that this word, in the language and dialect of his guides, means “mosquito.” 

“The second branch [of the Bad River] from the west having, as I could learn, no name, I have called it the ‘Maringouin Fork in my map in commemoration of the myriads of mosquitoes that inhabit its banks, that being the name the half-breed French give to those pests of the Bad River region.”

~ Geological Report on That Portion of Wisconsin Bordering on the South Shore of Lake Superior. Surveyed in the Year 1849, Under the Direction of David Dale Owen, United States Geologist, by Charles Whittlesey, Head of Sub-Corps, p. 432.

Whittlesey includes the name, “Maringouin Fork” in his reports and for the next twenty years this fork of the Bad River is now recognized by a word that is most descriptive of this northern Wisconsin environment, mosquito!

Now begins the evolution of place names upon our maps, reports and common lingo of the day. The story is told that Whittlesey, upon detecting iron ore in the range of mountains which extend into Michigan, gave them the Ojibwe name, “Pewabic.” However, a typesetter misinterpreted the spelling, and the range became “Penokie.” We now know it as “Penokee.” Interestingly, in Whittlesey’s 1860 report we find the use of two terms for this range of mountains…Pewabic and Penokie.

In the same way that the name of this range underwent a name change, so too did the name of the “Maringouin Fork.” Maps and reports find it shortened to “Maringouin” then to “Marangoin” and finally the name you and I have always called it, “Marengo.” All of this happened quickly as the original survey maps of this region were drawn up around 1860 and included the name “Marengo” for the river. Eventually a town and township in Ashland County had the same name bestowed upon them. The name has stuck.  

The name “Marengo,” was also assigned to settlements in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, to name a few. In all these instances early settlers were harkening back to a war that was fought by the army of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte against an Austrian army. On that day in June 14, 1800, a battle was waged near the village of Marengo in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Napoleon was able to pull out a precarious victory and thereby solidify his political power base. Did attributions to this epic battle also play a part in the evolution of the naming of our river? You can decide.

If you could, which name would you pick for this river? Myself, a bit of a romantic, will now call it the Maringuoin…..

Other News and Announcements

  • Saturday, May 20th – Marengo River Tree Planting and BBQ – Join Trout Unlimited for family fun on the river as they plant trees, discover stream insects, and enjoy a streamside BBQ! RSVP requested here
  • SRWA Water Quality Macroinvertebrate Monitoring May 15th – 29th. Our volunteers will be monitoring macroinvertebrates to identify water quality throughout our service area. Sign up to volunteer here.

Do you want to contribute to our bi-annual Marengo Riffles Newsletter? Do you have a story, event, or information to share about the Marengo River Watershed? Email us at info @ to submit a piece for our Autumn or Spring edition!

Do you want to support this work? We rely on donors to support our Marengo River Plan.

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