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A new way to navigate Portage waterways

There are only a few opportunities left to enjoy the fall weather before the calendar turns to winter. A new Portage business can help with connecting people with nature on Wisconsin waterways in the Portage area.

Wild Wisco Waters will be open for guided tours and canoe and kayak rentals until Oct. 31. The couple who own the business will be back giving tours next spring after a successful first year of the new business, helping people connect with the Wisconsin River.

The company offers a variety of guided paddle tours of four or eight hours, a Sunset Park Day paddle tour and a Pine Island overnight package. The guided tours include everything needed to do fish on the trip.

“Both canoe and kayak trips are beginner-friendly as well as pet-friendly,” Elizabeth Hengel said. “We understand that people’s comfort level in nature varies so we created our guide series with an option to create your own unique paddle to fit everyone’s needs.”

Elizabeth Hengel and her husband Rick started Wild Wisco Waters in 2019 with a single goal in mind, to reconnect people with nature. That same year they took over a family friend’s canoe rental business. Hengel said after two years they opened their own business.

“We want to help make it possible for everyone to live their best life in the outdoors, no matter who they are, where they live and play, or what inspired them to get outside in the first place,” Hengel said.

She said connecting people with nature is a big reason the couple started Wild Wisco Waters.

“We welcome and celebrate all the colors, genders, body types, abilities, and communities that enjoy the outdoors,” Hengel said.

Rick is the guide for the tours, he has over 15 years of experience teaching outdoor skills and an experienced angler.

The Sunset Park is a self-guided trip that begins in Dekorra and travels the Wisconsin River to Sunset Park in Portage. The Pine Island overnight trip is a 13-mile paddle from Dekorra to the Pine Island Wildlife Area.

“Rick is our guide for the paddle trips and with over 15 years of experience teaching outdoor skills to diverse audiences you can expect to have a great time,” Hengel said. “Each trip is curated to our client’s interests and desires.”

Online reservations can be made but require 24-hour advance booking. However, short notice bookings are possible by calling to check availability.

“We offer guided fishing, birding, and eco-tours that connect you with the wild side of the Wisconsin River,” Hengel said. “A guided tour is a great way to explore the natural world around us and to learn about the wildlife that calls it home while staying safe.”

Wild Wisco Waters also offers daily canoe and kayak rentals with optional delivery based on mileage from Dekorra and for overnight trips the company will sell bundles of firewood for camping.

The Hengels met at UW-Steven Point in a forest during an outdoor ethics course. They have both worked in the outdoors to stay active. In the summers the couple worked as land stewards where they restored and managed lands in Wisconsin to help sustain a healthy environment.

“Then in the winter, we would chase the snow to Lake Tahoe where we worked in the ski industry. Rick is a professional instructor of 15 years and I managed a mountain top champagne bar,” Elizabeth Hengel said.

Hengel explained the rental policy is simple. In most instances the paddlers meets with Rick at the Dekorra boat launch.

“We require that all of our paddlers follow the guidelines to Leave No Trace,” Hengel said. “The seven principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors to recreate responsibly. We also enforce all WI DNR River recreation regulations.”

The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Leave what you find
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Hengel added an eighth principle at Wild Wisco Waters which is to have fun.

“It’s not a principle, but something we strongly encourage,” she said.

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Portage school district adopts new five-year strategic plan

A new strategic plan, adopted Monday, will guide the Portage school district over the next five years and aims to make it “a premier learning community.”

The 13-page plan lays out a new mission, vision and commitments, which were developed over the summer by a team of roughly 30 stakeholders from across the district and wider community.

Presenting the plan to the school board Monday, District Administrator Josh Sween said the planning committee discussed what the district already does well and where it could improve, such as its ongoing declining enrollment and struggle to attract more families to the area.

He said the rebranding is to revitalize pride in Portage schools and the community.

SUSAN ENDRES/Daily Register 

The Portage Community School District's 2022-27 strategic plan, approved Monday, says it is "committed to the growth of ALL" students, families and the community, and that the district "will be a premier learning community that builds authentic relationships with students, families and the community."

“We have to understand that we have different cultures, interests and abilities across the district, and we need to foster all of those things,” Sween said.

The previous strategic plan covered 2014-19 but was continued in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

School board members approved the new plan unanimously via a roll-call vote.

Goals and action steps

The document also identifies action steps the district will take to achieve specific goals in six areas: student achievement; community relations and team development; positive employee relations and professional development; technology; facility stewardship; and fiscal responsibility.

Under student achievement, the district will be “raising the academic and social emotional learning bar and closing gaps to achievement” to ensure all students are prepared for life after high school, according to the plan. Sween said the hiring of more interventionists, paid using federal coronavirus aid, is intended to help achieve those higher standards.

Goals include bringing 80% of elementary students to or above proficiency in English/language arts and math by spring of 2026. The middle and high schools will focus on closing gaps between its lowest-scoring students and the rest of the student body by 15% each year, in addition to other measures.

Under community relations, the plan calls for the creation of new community partnerships, proactive communication about future issues, initiatives and opportunities and collaboration between the district and a community group that is currently working on a mascot rebranding initiative.

The facility stewardship and fiscal responsibility goals include maintaining or improving the district’s current facilities and financial position and working toward a potential future referendum.

For employees, the district will create new wellness opportunities, “proactively address daycare options,” which Sween said may be needed to retain staff, and continue to work with the teachers union.


Sween noted the importance of training students and staff to adapt to the ever-changing digital environment, given the internet outage that affected the district Monday and Tuesday.

The district will implement “a robust and flexible cybersecurity protocol,” according to the strategic plan.

Amy Eppinger, instructional technology coordinator, said she will be working on training staff and putting in place additional cybersecurity measures like multi-factor authentication over the next five years. She said the average data breach costs more than $4 million and takes around 10 months to contain.

“It’s always been something important, but we can start talking about that team lift, because it’s not a tech department thing; it’s an everybody thing,” she said.

A new Wisconsin law, enacted in July, requires the school district to meet certain standards in order to keep its cybersecurity insurance, which is “actually a good thing,” Eppinger said, adding that district officials will develop a risk management plan, disaster recovery plan and continuation-of-business plan to provide to its insurer.

“We need to have this in place in order for us to operate, especially because we are working with student data,” she said of cybersecurity insurance. “Student data is one of the most precious things that our parents trust us with.”

Making adjustments

Sween said an oversight committee will review the strategic plan twice a year in the fall and spring, making recommendations to him and the school board for any necessary adjustments.

“Nothing in this strategic plan is written in stone,” he said.

In other action Monday, the Portage School Board:

  • Approved the 2020-21 summer school membership report, which showed the district increased from eight students in the summer of 2020 to 42 in 2021, and the 2021-22 fall student count report, which was slightly lower than projections, according to Business Director Peter Hibner. He said more students this year are choosing to enroll outside of the district than last year, with the net loss of students going from nine to 26.
  • Scheduled a special board meeting for 6 p.m. Oct. 25 to set the school tax levy.
  • Accepted donations: a $300 Walmart gift card from Marquette Adams Telephone Cooperative Inc.; $1,000 from The Salvation Army & Rhyme Supply; and 21 assembly hall tables and rack from the State Bar of Wisconsin.
  • Approved field trip requests by the Portage High School Future Business Leaders of America chapter to attend several conferences during the 2021-22 school year.
  • Accepted the resignation of a guidance counselor.