The Lower Wisconsin River has been a conduit for lead miners, loggers, goods and passengers since Boscobel first became a city in the mid-1800s.
Today the river is still a major attraction. Thousands of acres of public land surround the waterway, including Boscobel’s scenic bluffs. Camping, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, bird watching and bicycling draw people during the summer, while cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and other activities bring visitors in the colder months.
“Right now the Chamber of Commerce is going through a branding and marketing initiative to emphasize that Boscobel is a recreation destination,” explained Director of Public Works Mike Reynolds.
The city is also known for its hunting and fishing. Boscobel has long been known as the Wild Turkey Hunting Capital of Wisconsin, and the three-county area has nearly 90 Class 1 trout streams.
Many historical landmarks still stand, such as the Boscobel Hotel, birthplace of the Gideon Bible, and the Boscobel Depot, a marshalling point for enlisted men during the Civil War and again during World Wars I and II. Another historic building, the G.A.R. Hall – believed to be the only one remaining in the state and possibly the Midwest – remains a testament to the era of the Grand Army of the Republic. The Rock School preserves turn-of-the century architecture as a modern-day school for kindergarten and first grade students.
Each August, history comes to life when hundreds of people arrive for the Muskets and Memories Civil War Reenactment and G.A.R. Heritage Encampment. Popular battles of the North and South are recreated, along with social events, band concerts and other activities.
Downtown Boscobel also pays homage to its history. Recent updates to Main Street include LED replicas of antique streetlights. Soon all of the lights will have new energy-efficient LED fixtures with help from a Focus on Energy incentive and a WPPI Energy member loan for financing.
The staff of Boscobel Utilities includes (from left) Cory Murphy, Jason Hurda, Misty Molzof, Mike Reynolds, Rick Ritter, Hershel Marks and Gary Farrell.
Boscobel Utilities serves about 1,750 customers in an area of about three square miles.
Reynolds has been in his job since 1990. Born and raised in Boscobel, he attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and earned his professional engineering credentials before returning to his hometown. He took over the role from Dave Mikonowicz, who left to serve as general manager of the Reedsburg Utility Commission until his retirement in 2012.
Utility billing clerk Misty Molzof is also originally from Boscobel and previously worked for the Village of Prairie du Sac, another WPPI Energy member. The seven-person team, plus energy services representative James Schwingle, provide hometown service on a daily basis – including all utility maintenance and reading meters door-to-door.
The relatively recent flash floods in June 2013 are still fresh in residents’ minds in the community of 3,300.
When water breached a levy, Sanders Creek overflowed and water poured into the basements of local homes – including Molzof’s, whose home sustained some of the worst damage. Lightning hit a substation, knocking out power to most of the city for four hours. During that time, a lift station failed, overwhelming the system and causing sewers to back up in homes where sump pumps were inoperable. Flooded and washed-out roadways made it more difficult for help to arrive. Many area fire departments sent crews, and many volunteers made clean-up efforts easier.
“It really brought everyone together,” Reynolds said.
The historic Rock School, with its Romanesque revival architecture, is a school building for kindergarten and first grade.
The utility’s revenue is nearly evenly divided among residential and business customers. The largest customers are two packaging companies, Nu Pak and Bemis North America, which have a combined load of more than 2 megawatts; as well as the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility; Gundersen Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinics; the local grocery store and schools.
Programs and incentives from Boscobel Utilities and the statewide program Focus on Energy help business customers save energy and trim operating costs. Utility staff recently helped Bemis complete a process energy use evaluation project to improve energy efficiency, and many other businesses have upgraded their lighting.
In 2013, the utility used surplus Commitment to Community funds to help the high school install a 12.5-kilowatt solar PV system, which fulfills some of the school’s electricity needs. Previously, the utility helped the local pool install solar panels. Purchasing renewable energy is another option for customers.
During Public Power Week, Boscobel Utilities invites customers to stop by the office fortreats, gifts and prize drawings. Throughout the year, residential customers have access to Focus on Energy incentives as well as ENERGY STAR, Tree Power and central air conditioning tune-up rebates.
Reynolds has served on the WPPI Energy Board of Directors since 1990 and first served on the Executive Committee in 2002.
“Another utility manager asked me to consider participating – he said there’s a benefit to having small utilities represented,” Reynolds said. “I’ve enjoyed being involved on the EC and I’ve learned the most about the industry from it.” He’s also a member of the Personnel Committee and the Energy Services Advisory Group.
In 2013, Reynolds put his knowledge to use in a more personal way by commuting more than an hour each way to Maquoketa, Iowa, two days a week to fill in as the interim utility manager for a fellow WPPI Energy community. Through an arrangement with Maquoketa Municipal Electric Utility, the City of Boscobel and WPPI Energy, Reynolds helped out until the MMEU Board hired Tom Gaffigan. The city was familiar to Reynolds, who had visited Maquoketa to look at its commercial spec buildings as a member of Boscobel’s economic development group.
Boscobel Utilities is governed by a seven-member Board of Public Works, and it’s one of the biggest contributors to the city budget, with a payment in lieu of taxes of $147,423 for 2014.
“More than 115 years ago, our city leaders thought to create a locally owned utility to serve Boscobel. It’s a decision that has worked out well to this day,” said City Administrator Arlie Harris.