Travel, History, and Wood Tick Races in America's Dairyland

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Dick Kuhnert probably didnít realize it at the time, but it was a fateful spring day years ago when Kuhnert, seated at the Oxbo Resortís tavern in Sawyer County, picked one of those pesky wood ticks off his arm.

Kuhnert placed the tick on the bar and watched it scurry around. A real thoroughbred, he thought. Oughta race this little devil.

The International Wood Tick Races was born.

Ahhh, the arrival of spring in Wisconsin. There is nothing like it after a winter season that lasts about 9 months, give or take two or three.

Wisconsin folks are genetically programmed to celebrate the sweet season. Our immigrant ancestors loved the populism of a good festival, and when the weather broke, seasonal rites of spring were found in towns and villages across the state: bare-chested men held wrestling matches in pens filled with smelt; money was raised for charity by guessing when the old junker would drop through ice on the local lake; clergy blessed the newly brewed batch of seasonal beer.

Now, going stronger than ever at a time when many spring traditions have fallen by the wayside, you can add this to the cultural roll call: Wood tick races.

Come this May hundreds of contestants will gather at the Oxbo Resort along the beautiful Flambeau River. Some will bring Ziploc bags, others will have matchboxes, each will carry the hopes and dreams of owning the fastest tick in all of cootie sports.

Hereís how it works. Bring your fastest tick, or select one from the Oxbo Resort stables (not making this up), or take a walk in the woods before the race. Entry fee is a buck per tick.

Two ticks are paired up in each heat; they race from the center of a bulls eye to the outer edge.

Elimination rounds culminate in the championship race. Winner takes the pot and is inducted into the Wood Tick Hall of Fame (the bar).

One other thing. After each heat the losing tick is smashed by a gavel belonging to the mayor of Oxbo, ďpopulation 10 people and 6 dogs,Ē according to the Chamber of Commerce. Not that participants have any sentimental attachment to their, er, teams; most owners relish finishing off the pests. Itís like a contest and a public service.

Dick Kuhnert is no longer with us, but his son, Randy, officiates. ďRandy has attended Wood Tick Judging School and studied his fatherís notes from past races,Ē organizers assure us.

Some aspects of our culture faded away. Smelt wrestling is a good example, though Iím not sure if its demise is good or bad.

For years UW-Stevens Point students were drawn to an unsanctioned rite-of-spring event called Brat Fest. Held beneath Bukolt Park's tall pines along the Wisconsin River, Brat Fest contained three crucial elements: A rickety snow-fence for crowd-control, brats on a grill, and beer. Truckloads of beer. Much merry making ensued. So much fun was had that Brat Fest was shut down in the late 1980s. The continued prospect of college kids returning to campus through Point's placid residential neighborhoods, often relieving themselves and worse on tidy lawns, prompted a little tÍte-ŗ-tÍte between city fathers and the University administration. Brat Fest was resembling the parade scene from Animal House. 

Of course, college students need little reason to unwind after a long winter of, er, studying. But where else will did you find events named Brat Fest? Smelt Extravaganza? 

Wisconsinís annual rites-of-spring may have faded a bit, but thanks to the Oxbo wood tic races, you can still grab tradition by the tailÖthen smash the little bastards with a hammer.
   


Come this May hundreds of contestants will gather at the Oxbo Resort along the beautiful Flambeau River. Some will bring Ziploc bags, others will have matchboxes, each will carry the hopes and dreams of owning the fastest tick in all of cootie sports.

 
                 
                       
       

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