After a dozen or more trips to the Wisconsin Dells, we finally hopped on a duck. An Original Wisconsin Duck, that is.
During World War II, the ducks – amphibious vehicles that are viable on both land and water – were developed to ferry troops and supplies from ship to shore.
Today, the ducks cart tourists through portions of the most scenic areas of the Dells.
After the war, there was a tourism boom across the Midwest, particularly in the Wisconsin Dells area. Hence, Mel Flath and Bob Unger started the very first recreational duck tours in 1946.
By the second season, the operation expanded to 37 ducks and currently there are more than 90 vehicles. There are other duck tours available in the Dells, as well.
Today, duck tours are also available in a plethora of cities, including Austin, Boston, Miami, Portland, San Francisco, London, Dublin, Singapore and more.
Ducks depart about every 15 minutes or so, depending on the number of riders. Ticket prices for adults range from $26.60 to $40.70 and from $13.30 to $21.30 for kids.
The tours last about an hour and take place half of the time on land and half on the water. The Dells’ ducks cruise down the Wisconsin River, a large sand bar, up Dell Creek, into Lake Delton and through wilderness trails.
For the most part, it’s a very relaxing tour, but it has its moments of thrill. Some of the winding paths are a tight fit and there are a few roller coaster-esque hills. Plus, it gets a little splashy at times.
We saw a variety of wildlife, including deer and blue heron. Our tour guide also pointed out the rare mini stop sign living among the pine trees.
Duck tour guides have a history of being lighthearted and quirky, and this was definitely the case with our guide, Aaron Stroede. Stroede was full of interesting information about the natural elements and he also cracked a lot of jokes and told stories.
One of his stories explained a large rock formation that looks like a baby grand piano. Apparently, a disgruntled preacher sent it plunging into the water after being unable to impress the Native Americans with his terrible piano playing. Ahem.
Later in the tour Stroede made everyone turn around just so we’d have the "very rare opportunity of looking out the rear of a duck."
Stroede grew up in Wisconsin Dells and is currently a math major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the end of the tour, riders are offered the chance to buy vintage postcards and an information booklet. Proceeds of the sales went to Madison’s math department, joked Stroede.
This is Stroede’s fourth summer as a duck tour guide.
"What do I like about this job? What don’t I like about this job," he said. "It beats thousands of other jobs I could be doing right now. I get to work outside. I get to drive a 70-year-old vehicle every day."
Stroede said his duck driving training lasted about six weeks.
"I came in not knowing how to even drive a stick shift," he said. "It was quite a trip for me."
Does he ever take the duck out for a joy ride after hours?
"Oh yeah," he said, smiling. "Occasionally."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.