How YOU Benefit From Marathon County’s Managed Forests

Written by Karyn Powers

No matter your income or your status, if you reside in Marathon County, you have access to more than 30,000 acres of county forest lands.

These are your woods; your nature retreats; your hunting and fishing lands; and your places to go, as the Japanese say, “shinrin-yoku” forest bathing (bathing yourself in the health benefits that forests offer).

Studies abound detailing the advantages of time spent in nature. Everything from lower blood pressure to increased memory comes from spending time outdoors in green spaces.

Marathon County Wisconsin River Forest Unit.

This time of year, Marathon County forests serve as year-round resources for such activities as hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, birdwatching, (limited) horseback riding, ATV riding (in the Burma Forest), and just plain communing with nature.

And when the snow flies — and accumulates in the right amounts — our forest trails allow for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, and more.

Burma Road County Forest Unit and ATV trail.

But how does managing forest lands in Marathon County benefit those who prefer that Mother Nature stay on her own side of the fence?

If spending time in our local woodlands isn’t for you, County Forest Administrator Tom Lovlien wants you know that you’re still benefiting from our county forests. He estimates:

Marathon County received $548,000 gross ($384,000 net) in timber sales revenue between January 1 and April 30 of 2018. 

Considering that we’re not even halfway through the year, Lovlien projects two to five more active sales will bring in additional revenue before 2018 comes to a close.

What’s more, Marathon County’s forest lands are renewable resources. Lovlien shared:

“Our sustainable harvest averages about 650 acres per year. That’s the number of acres we establish in timber sales yearly.”

And the bounty is not just pocketed at the county level…

  • Townships receive a 10% share to make up for lost tax base.
  • 20% goes to pay back interest-free loans from the state (loans for making capital purchases, such as land to add to existing forest parcels).
  • County forests contribute to local timber and paper industries and provide local jobs.

So, how did the County get into the forest management business?

Around the turn of the 20th century, forest lands in northern Wisconsin were cleared for agriculture, but the land was poorly suited for farming. Farms failed at an alarming rate. By 1927, 4.5 million acres had been tax delinquent at least once. No one was buying the properties, and counties were faced with providing support services and infrastructure without any tax revenue to support these expenses. It was determined that such lands should be returned to growing timber [1].

The framework for Wisconsin’s county forest system was put in place by the state Legislature beginning in 1927 with the passage of Wisconsin’s Forest Crop Law (FCL) and County Forest Reserve Law. Enrollment in these programs ensured that reforestation and sustainable resource management would occur. These lands also provided public access rights for hunting and fishing and were enrolled under FCL for a 50-year contract period [2].

The State of Wisconsin Forest Crop Advisory Committee worked from 1960 to 1962 to establish statutory definitions for county forests that were formally adopted in 1963. In 2014, statewide, revenue from timber sales totaled $35.7 million. Despite that volume of sales, annually, county forests continue to grow more timber than they harvest. [3]

Discover Wisconsin featured this great video clip of the role that county forests play in Wisconsin:

For those of you wondering where Marathon County’s 9 county forests are, most are scattered throughout the central and eastern portions of the county, with the exception of the Bern Wetland Forest Unit, which is tucked into the notch in the northeast corner, west of Athens.


I invite you to check out our Marathon County Forest Units overview map below (and available online) to plot out your next “forest bathing” experience!

You can also visit our County Forests webpage for descriptions and directions to:


And if you haven’t heard about our summer Treetop Explorer program for ages 7 through adult, I invite you to check it out here. Certified arborists lead tree climbs in Marathon County to get a bird’s-eye view of our community from treetops.


We’d love to learn about your FOREST-BATHING FUN this summer . . .

Visit our Facebook page to share your story with us!

[1] Severt, J., & Schwantes, J. (2015, June). Evolution of county forests. Wisconsin Counties, pp. 22–23.

[2] Severt, J., & Schwantes, J. (2015, June). Evolution of county forests. Wisconsin Counties, pp. 22–23.

[3] Barkley, J., & Schwantes, J. (2015, June). Wisconsin county forest funding. Wisconsin Counties, p. 27.

karyn_powersKaryn Powers

Recreation Superintendent  |  Wausau / Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department 

Karyn Powers joined the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department in 1991. Prior to settling in Marathon County, she spent 5 years working for the Department of Defense in Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Services for the U.S. Navy in Iceland and the U.S. Army in South Korea. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Park and Recreation Administration and a master’s degree in Education. In addition to being the city/county Recreation Superintendent, she is a published poet and author. Karyn fell in love with Marathon County as a college senior when she interned here in 1979, then traveled halfway around the world to get back here as soon as was possible.  Email Karyn Powers.

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