Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day (er, Night) hike trail through Midwest’s most haunted swampland in Wisconsin

Bird's-eye view of Chippewa River bottoms
along Chippewa River State Trail northeast
of Meridean; photo courtesy of WI DNR.

Drowned girl seeks to lure you into
watery grave on Chippewa River

The spirits of children, a dead high school prom queen, and hellhounds await night hikers on a segment of the Chippewa River State Trail in west-central Wisconsin.

Tucked in the southwest corner of Dunn County may be among the Midwest’s most haunted regions. A 5-mile round trip hike through the Chippewa River swamps offers just a small sample of those specters.

To reach the trail, from Wis. Hwy. 85 between Eau Claire and Durand, turn north onto County Road O. Upon entering the crossroads town of Meridean, continue past 160th Avenue onto the dirt Ferry Road. Park at its terminus, the site of the former Meridean boat landing.

Mary Dean
The spirit of a young girl named Mary Dean, who the village is named after, allegedly haunts the landing. She died on a ship traversing the river and was buried nearby. These days, the girl’s ghost allegedly tries to encourage passersby to save her. Like the Greek Sirens of old, though, her goal is to lead you to a watery grave.

Topo map, Chippewa River State Trail, Meridean section.
Walk Ferry Road back to the Chippewa River State Trail, turning left/northeast into farmland. Should the local farmer have planted corn, listen closely for the sound of laughing children. Several stories have been told of ghosts of children playing in corn fields across the area.

And when entering wooded areas, keep a watch for hellhounds – ethereal, black dogs with glowing red dogs – whose snarls and howls allegedly have been heard here.

At the 1.7-mile mark, the trail veers east, paralleling a back channel of the river. Keep a lookout for headlights gazing up at you from the water. An intoxicated high school prom queen allegedly drowned in the river after driving her car into it.

Ghosts of running children
Atop the hill across the river is Sand Hill Cemetery. About 20 graves there is the last resting place of people who died on nearby Meridean Island. Ghosts of running children have been seen in the fields around the cemetery. Others have reported balls of light hovering over the cemetery or hearing their names called from it. And those hellhounds are there, too.

Among the other supernatural legends in the area are a schoolhouse haunted by a boy who allegedly froze to death there and of a haunted church in nearby Caryville where a priest hung himself. Both of those stories appear to be apocryphal, however.

At 2.5 mile mark, the trail comes to shoreline of backchannel for the Chippewa River. This marks a good spot to return back.

Be careful when driving back to civilization, though. Remember that drowned prom queen? Sometimes she plays chicken with drivers, her phantom headlights heading right for you then disappearing just before smashing into your vehicle.

Learn more about Chippewa Valley day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley guidebook.