If you want to say you've gone swimming in the deepest lake in Wisconsin, take a dive into Wazee Lake in Jackson County.
Wazee Lake, east of Black River Falls, is 355 feet in its deepest hole. That's more than 100 feet deeper than Green Lake. Of course, the folks near Green Lake will argue that their lake is a natural waterway while Wazee is a restored quarry.
Scuba divers and others don't really care about that distinction. Most will tell you that Wazee is the deepest and clearest lake in the state, and they love it.
The name Wazee means "tall pine" in the Ho-Chunk language. You can see where the name fits the lake and recreation area around it, since pine trees are plentiful. The Black River State Forest, in fact, is near Wazee and offers a variety of hiking and other trails.
Wazee was formed artificially, after being used as a quarry for taconite mining between the mid-1960s through April 1983. The quarry produced about 850,000 tons of taconite pellets each year.
The mine closed in 1983 as a result of a crash of the domestic steel markets in the United States. When the mine was in operation, pumps removed about 800 gallons of water per minute from the quarry. Once these pumps were shut down, the quarry began filling with water.
The lake, now part of a county park, is a prime scuba diving destination because of its deep, clear water. Visibility averages between 30 and 40 feet during the summer months.
There are also visible remains of mining operations underwater, such as roadways used for hauling equipment. Some features have been added to the lake, such as underwater platforms for training divers and fish cribs to improve habitat for the fish. Fish species within the lake include rainbow, brook and brown trout, bluegills, suckers, catfish, walleye, warmouth and smallmouth bass.
Because of the depth, Wazee's water is cold. It runs from approximately 70 degrees surface temperature to 40 degrees below the thermocline. The thermocline depth varies during summer, but averages about 30 feet.
Divers who venture to greater depths will encounter a second thermocline at approximately 60 feet where the temperature drops to a chilly 34 degrees. Use of a quality dry suit (with proper training) is recommended for deep diving in the lake.
If that isn't cool enough for you, ice diving has become very popular at Wazee.
Other activities exist in the rec area for additional enjoyment. Many miles of hiking and gravel surfaced bicycle trails wind through a mosaic of prairie and forests. Several scenic overlooks are currently under construction as well as improved picnic and sanitary facilities. Construction of a large beach and boat launch complex was completed in 1996.
Wazee is not the only popular quarry lake in the state. Red Granite Quarry Lake in Waushara County is listed as the third deepest lake in Wisconsin with a maximum depth of 163 feet.
Discovery of red granite at the central Wisconsin hamlet of Sand Prairie in the 1880s sparked a mining boom that brought skilled stonecutters from Europe to settle the area. Granite paving blocks from the quarry were used in streets as far away as Chicago.
When concrete and asphalt became the popular choice for paving, the site closed in the 1920s. Now filled with a 7-acre lake, the quarry was designated a Red Granite village park in 1995, and is used by scuba instructors for deep-water diving certification and by tourists and residents for other recreational activities.
Lohrville Quarry Park, also in Waushara County, is listed as the fifth deepest lake in the state at 120 feet. It took offers great diving, swimming and other recreation. Brillion in Calumet County also is home to a quarry lake.
Closer to Milwaukee, you can find Quarry Lake Park in Racine. Again, scuba divers use this lake and swimmers and sun bathers also love the expansive multi-level terraced beach.
Once a limestone quarry, this park has been transformed into one of the finest outdoor swimming and beach facility in the area. Quarry Lake park features an 18-acre lake, picnic areas with grills, a large air-conditioned beach house with changing rooms, lockers, concessions, lavatories and showers.
Scuba divers must be certified and pay a registration fee to enter and explore the depths of the Quarry Lake. A daily entrance fee is charged during the swimming season.
Sheboygan Quarry Lake, an 18-acre lake with depth of about 45 feet also is popular with divers. Harrington Beach State Park, which has been featured in OnMilwaukee.com before, has a quarry lake as well as a wonderful Lake Michigan beach.
There are other quarry lakes around the state. You can find out more about them at www.dnr.state.wi.us.