Brice Prairie Conservation Association

Preserving Lake Onalaska and the Black River Bottoms

Lake Onalaska Light Beacon


blinking light

In 1991, two young men from Brice Prairie, the Petras brothers, lost their lives while attempting to return home through the marsh under extreme fall storm conditions. The Brice Prairie Conservation Association now maintains this solar-powered light beacon near the upper Brice Prairie boat landing, casting its beacon out into the marsh to guide boaters back to shore in poor visibility.

Boaters rely on subtle cues from small markers, vegetation, logs and stumps to make their way safely to and from shore in the narrow boat channel. In high winds and driving precipitation, it is all too easy to lose track of these subtle navigation aids, as the wind drives the standing vegetation down into the water and visibility becomes obscured. The once-familiar channelled marsh can quickly become a chaotic frothy open-water area, in which it is all too easy to get disoriented. The open water surrounding the boat channel is filled with stumps, logs and other hazards to navigation that can upset boats and damage motors. We hope that this beacon will help to guide boaters back to safety under challenging conditions in the future.

oblique aerial view of light path

Approximate center of light path   (Image source: USGS/UMESC )

aerial view in summer

Brice Prairie boat channel, with summer vegetation and low water, provides many cues to ease navigation.   (Image source: USGS/UMESC)

aerial view at high water

At high water or in storm conditions, vegetation disappears or can provide disorienting visual cues. This body of water is exposed to large waves in south winds when there is no vegetation. The Petras brothers appeared to have been swept out into the lake by extremely strong north winds, likely disoriented by blowing snow. Center and approximate lateral range of visibility of beacon is shown.   (Image source: USGS/UMESC)

New Beacon

In November 2007, the batteries were failing on the solar powered emergency light. Al Daus holds the newer, more powerful light.

Joe on Pole

"Lumberjack" Joe Kawatski scales the light pole to install the new light.