July 18, 2023

Muscoda: Building upon a sturdy foundation

Member Utilities

This article was first published by MEUW Live Lines, Volume 72, Issue 7.

With a stable beginning as its base, village officials see no reason to stop the consistent growth of Muscoda as visitors covet the chance to capitalize on abundant natural resources and local industry continues to expand.

The village relies on Muscoda Utilities for its electricity and water services. The public works department oversees wastewater operations. First founded in 1907, the utility maintains pride in the work it does for the community in which its employees both live and work.

“When you’re a small utility, everybody is involved,” ac­cording to Village Administrator Clerk Cinda Johnson.

Both Johnson and Muscoda Utilities Superintendent Troy Wardell know Muscoda well. Wardell was born and raised in the village. He started as a lineworker in 2000 after spending years in the private sector; he became superinten­dent in 2006. Johnson began working for the municipality as a junior in high school. She started for credits, filing doc­uments and working in the office, before being deputized in 1985. In 1994, she became clerk and treasurer. In 2006, she took on even more responsibility as village administrator, clerk and treasurer. Last December, she marked 40 years as a full-time village employee; she is just the third village clerk in Muscoda in the past century.

“We’re all cross-trained,” Johnson explained. “In our community, that’s a necessity.”

Not only does Johnson manage the duties of multiple titles, Wardell and utility workers also handle water duties. Even Village President Dorothy Hackl gets called out during emer­gencies as part of the Muscoda EMS crew.

“We take a lot of pride in being a smaller community with a significant industrial load,” Wardell said. “Our utility work­ers exceed at ensuring the industrial companies we serve can continue to operate seamlessly.”

Most of Muscoda resides in Grant County. A small portion lives in Iowa County. The village population was about 1,300 at the last census, but that does not stop those provid­ing public power from working hard to ensure the commu­nity is a better place.

Part of that work includes upgrading the infrastructure already in place for the future. An industrial substation ex­pansion recently built in conjunction with the American Transmission Company, which invested $9 to $10 million in addition to the village contribution of $3 million, is an example of that. Power runs to the switch station from both the east and the west. With the update, officials are confi­dent that even in the event of a major outage, the power will likely not be off for more than 30 minutes.

Another investment is an update to aging distribution lines. Muscoda Utilities serves residents in the village as well as the towns of Muscoda, Eagle, and Pulaski. The west side of the town of Muscoda is commonly referred to as the “Pine­land,” an area the utility plans to upgrade with underground lines and new transformers. The utility is also in the initial stages of moving to automated metering.

“We’ve been cleaning up a lot of hazards due to line loss in the last decade,” Wardell said. “We have rebuilt our distribution system starting at the substation. It’s been great to see the changes happening.”

Improvements have been prevalent throughout the village in recent years, from the current construction of a new 300,000-gallon water tower to the acquisition of Communi­ty Development Block Grants to build a new library on the original site of an elementary school seven years ago.

While Muscoda Utilities supports its community, the lineworkers are also experienced helping elsewhere. When Hurri­cane Ian hit Florida in September 2022, Wardell and Apprentice Justice Dilley traveled with other municipal workers from Wisconsin to help out. Wading through floodwater in a state known for alligators and the occasional crocodile, the Wis­consinites worked to restore power to those who went days without electricity because of the Category 5 storm.

Lineworkers from Richland Center, Fennimore, and Boscobel covered for one another while the traveling lin­eworkers were out of the state.

“We hopped in the truck and went down with the goal to help how we could,” Wardell said. “Some of the people we met didn’t have electricity for a week. It was nice to be able to help restore power.”

The industrial park on the eastern side of the village sits south of the Wisconsin River. The body of water brings in a variety of visitors for various outdoor recreation.

The Hoverclub of America hosts a Hover-In twice annually. Enthusiasts flock to the Wisconsin River for its many sand­ bars that allow for nearly limitless stops as they enjoy the views of the driftless region from their amphibious craft that traverses not only water, but mud, ice, land and other sur­faces. The village has even hosted the international hover­ craft festival in the past.

That’s not the only event held in the village that brings in large groups of people. Muscoda has been Wisconsin’s “Morel Capital” since 1982, after the Muscoda Morel Mush­ room Festival began. The 42nd annual celebration of every­thing about the special fungi May 19 was the largest it had been in years.

“I think it was the busiest I have ever seen it,” Johnson said. “There were so many people having such a nice time buying morels and looking through all the local offerings at booths. It was perfect weather.”

Adults perused local products for sale while children lined up for rides, games, pedal tractor pulls and a bounce house. A strolling magician performed for passersby and there were animals, from bovines to tortoises on hand, too.

Arts and craft vendors lined up alongside a man creating chainsaw carvings at Railroad Park and those more inter­ested in haggling for items could partake in the village-wide garage and rummage sales throughout the weekend.

Those looking to learn more about the area took tours of the nearby effigy mounds. There was a Muscoda Mudcats baseball game in the evening. Plenty of food was on offer, from a pancake breakfast to the chili cookoff competition and the famous Firemen’s Steak Feed at the local fire sta­tion, all before fireworks lit up the river at dusk.

That recreational culture has driven investment from the utility. There are 28 permanent camp sites along the Wisconsin River. In total, the utility placed 37 electrical hookups along the area. Muscoda Utilities upgraded the park to from 20 to 50 amps in 2022 to accommodate for the newer recreational vehicles that require more power. The need for investment came in part with a boom in tourism as the pandemic began.

“It’s not like it used to be – now there are large vehicles that need energy for things like air conditioning or charg­ing devices,” Johnson said.

First incorporated as a community in 1894, Muscoda boasts of thousands of acres of public land for fishing, hunting or hiking. The village, which was previously named English Prairie, is likely named after a mispronunciation of the Ojibwe word for prairie, which is “mashkode.” Others think the name originated in The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which tells the story of a fictional Objibwe warrior.

Once established as a major port to support lead mining in its southern hills, Muscoda shifted as the railroad was introduced to the village. Its main street ran parallel to the riverbanks but turned to a north and south direction once it started to change. The village continues to be a strong agricultural and industrial community.

“Muscoda is a nature lover’s dream,” Johnson said. “We are proud of everything our small village accomplishes, and as friends and neighbors, we understand the needs of our community.”