Originally, the river banks were damaged by ATV users attempting to drag their trailers through the river bed in order to be able to camp on just the other side, according to the Forest Department. Logs within the bank were removed one at a time, until the river swelled to twice it's normal width. This damage occurred even though at the time, ATV users were not allowed in this area of the Nicolet National Forest.

The Forest Department also admitted that other vehicles that were "set up and intended" for off road recreation, could easily negotiate the crossing with no problems. Therefore, they were not the problem. Even so, a change was now needed, regardless.

This make-shift snowmobile bridge shown here already badly damaged, is located over the North Fork of the Thunder River. Since there was no way around the river, other than going through it, the ill designed bridge fell victim to the wider spaced vehicles travelling over it. This photo was taken in 1989, just prior to the inception of the Thunder Rivers Restoration Project in 1993.

Even though the only bridge over the river was badly damaged, responsible four wheelers chose to risk these dangers, rather than tread across the river bed, and possibly negatively impacting the fish habitat. Yes, simply driving through the river would have been easier, however, trail users realized that refraining from this questionable action would further secure their place in using these public lands as well as visibly convey their responsibility towards the environment.

It took careful navigation from a serious guide to tip-toe a tense driver over the failing bridge. Even though the steel "I" beams under the decking were structurally sound and secure, the tires barely lined up underneath the broken planks. One slight tilt of the wheel would send a tire crashing though the deteriorated deck, thereby incurring serious vehicular damage. Even so, the water life far below were unaffected and secured in their undisturbed habitat.

Soon after this photo, the failing bridge was abandoned and removed for safety's sake. The river was the only means of passing this area, so either closing it off, or fixing the problem was the next step. Luckily, the Forest Service did not want any "closed" signs on their land!

Here is the same location at the North Fork of the Thunder River a year or two after the makeshift bridge was abandoned.. The turmoil of this area is evident, and the difficulty increased after every passing. Since the Pipeline trail itself is primarily constructed from logs lain down, with dirt over the top, the eventual natural erosion leaves the logs behind with virtually nothing to hold themselves together. After a while when rotted, the gaps between the logs open wider and wider, until the legendary mud holes are formed. This prevents a gradual bank on either side from being formed, therefore an impenetrable wall remains.

One of the major problems with this location being so close to the main road, is that it's the only access to this part of the forest, and traditionally a well used one at that. With so much traffic eagerly persuing forest access, the river crossing quickly deteriorated. Even though the larger type trucks had been using this crossing for a year with no problems, stock-type vehicles tried in vain to make the same trek, only to result in damage to the river bed and bank. As history recorded, it only got worse, before it got better… much worse. It wouldn't be long before only the large vehicles were the only ones to get through.

Even though some might proclaim "this was just a great off road challenge", this is not the case. This particular area was not meant to be a challenge of any sort, just a means of access for 'everyone' to be able to use. The Pipeline itself has many other formidable challenges to appease off road recreationalists, however, this was not one of them. In fact, this particular part of the Pipeline was feared by many as being impassable… which also was their only mean of getting out onto the road. Numerous ideas were attempted to revitalize the banks, and river bed, but to know avail. It was becoming a real problem for everyone, from fisherman to 4-Wheelers.

The above two photos shows  this unlucky forest user stuck in just this situation, with no way in, and no way out. The uncovered logs making up the trail bed can be seen in the foreground. A poor selection for road building materials, but then again, the original Pipeline trail was only thought to be a temporary means to get the pipeline built and maintained… over 30 years ago. As you can see to the left, the river banks were becoming steeper and steeper, to the point of  creating a real hazard and danger to the public wishing to visit their favorite camping spot or hunting stand.

To make matters worse, when one individual would become immobile in the river's clutches, another would try to pass either by choice or necessity. In doing so, literally widened the problem even further, to the point that this could no longer go on. Of course the easiest course of action would be to cowardly 'close off' this area completely, and allow only foot travel. Lucky for Wisconsin residents, the sharp witted and understanding Forest Officials of the Nicolet realized that some rogue motorist would always try to pass by any obstacle intended to keep them out. The solution they chose was not the easiest one, but by far the most intelligent, understanding and universally appeasing one… which now is embedded into the halls of history as...   

The Pipeline Thunder Rivers Restoration Project