La Crosse County Surveyor Department – Staying busy while staying safe during COVID-19

WLIA Board Member and County Surveyor Bryan Meyer shares his spring time project that had connections to the past.

The La Crosse County Surveyor Department continued to stay busy during COVID-19. Assistant County Surveyor Corey Hughes and I were allowed to continue our work. We did so by splitting time between office work (done from home) and field work.

Our field work had us working on a project in the Coulee Experimental Forest, a Department of Natural Resources managed forest containing more than 2900 acres of land.  Located in the southeasterly portion of La Crosse County, this recreational area is a favorite place for residents to hike, horseback ride and ski. We chose this area to perform Public Land Survey System (PLSS) work because little to no landowner contact was needed to access PLSS corner locations.

The PLSS corners in this part of Wisconsin were originally set in 1845 by Federal Government surveyors. Those original corners were marked with wood posts. Each corner was also referenced by two witness trees.  

By the mid-1860s, the town board for the Town of Bangor began to recognize that many of the wood posts were rotting away and many of the witness trees were going away – either by logging or by natural causes. Wanting a more permanent solution for those corner positions, the Town reached out to County Surveyor Henry Bliss to address this issue. In 1867, Bliss was hired to perpetuate all of the PLSS corner locations in the Town of Bangor and monument them with 6”x6”x40” limestone monuments. These monuments had the Section corner numbers engraved in the sides of the stone.

Many of these stones have been recovered through the years. They have been found in various states of condition. Some are found in great condition, upright and holding firmly, while others we have found are leaning. Many of the stone monuments have been impacted by frost and heaving. These environmental forces on the stones have actually caused many to sheer off in ½” slabs. Once Corey and I pinpointed the true location of a stone, we were able to gather GPS coordinates on its location for more accurate GIS mapping.

One corner in particular that piqued our interest as part of this project was the Southeast corner of Section 13. Since this corner is located near the center of the Experimental Forest, its location was not really necessary to our mapping efforts nor has it been necessary for survey work in this area. It has gone basically unnoticed and unrecovered since Bliss set the corner in 1867. Corey lit up at the notion of finding this corner and perpetuating its location – if it was still there.

After locating PLSS corners ½ mile to the north, south and west and acquiring GPS coordinates on them, Corey determined a search area using GPS. We ended up near the edge of a gully in the bottom of a ravine. We started with Corey’s initial GPS spot and began looking. It wasn’t long before Corey let out a holler. He had found the stone! It had one side sheered off, but the remainder of the stone was together and only slightly out of position. Corey examined the location and determined the position of the base of the stone. We were able to re-establish the position and gather GPS coordinates. We also established ties for the corner. A tie sheet will be drawn up and filed in the County Surveyor files.

Days like this are what make surveying fun. Its almost like you shake hands with the surveyors of the past and carry their work forward for future generations.  

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