The Solid Waste Department: The Perfect Place to Play & Learn!

Written by Meleesa Johnson

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a casual acquaintance about the Marathon County Solid Waste Department (MCSWD) and all that we do to protect human health and the environment.  After I expounded upon the merits of my department for the better part of 10 minutes (at one point, I think I caught her rolling her eyes, but maybe she just had allergies), I invited her and her children to come out to learn about waste management and enjoy our beautiful 580-acre site.

She shrieked:

“Yuck — dumps are gross! What’s there to see at a dump, anyway?”

While I wanted to give her a bit of a whack upside the head for using the “d-word,” I minded my manners and instead challenged her with a bet, saying:

“If, after you come out for a visit, you are not absolutely blown away by magnitude of the impact of your waste and the amount of work it takes to manage that waste, I’ll buy you a drink!” 

Incidentally, I let her know that we in the waste management industry never, ever use the word dump. Landfills are highly engineered structures, costing upwards of a quarter million dollars an acre to build, with a myriad of environmental protection systems! (I’m certain I saw a non-allergy-inducing eye roll that time, but it came with a bit of a smile.).

She has yet to take me up on the bet. However, I know she will at some point because every time I see her, she starts out by explaining how busy she is or that the kids have been sick or they were on vacation. But truly, they will schedule a tour soon.

Learning Tours

While we await the arrival of my friends, we at MCSWD continue to welcome people from around the region for “learning tours.”

In fact, we’ve welcomed so many people to the site for learning tours that we bought a Little Red School Bus! The bus is handicap accessible, has air conditioning, and seats 15 people.

MCSWD Little Red School Bus
Marathon County Solid Waste Department’s Little Red School Bus for learning tours. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

Department staff are knowledgeable and — from time to time — even entertaining. Come on out and learn!

Visitors on Little Red Bus at MCSWD
Visitors aboard the Little Red Bus learning about the Marathon County Solid Waste Department. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

Now, I do understand if you’re not interested in sitting in a bus and listening to one of my staff extol the virtues of the work of solid waste professionals. I’ll admit, it may not be for everyone.

Instead, consider skipping the bus ride and visiting our site to PLAY and LEARN!

Scouts playing on hillside at MCSWD
Children from a local Cub Scout troop enjoying a run up the grassy surface of the closed landfill. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)
Kids by compactors at MCSWD
A snowy Saturday morning sent a couple of families out for a tour. Kids love the compactors! (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)
Tour Group from Russia at MCSWD
This tour group traveled the farthest of all of our visitors — all the way from Rostov, Valiky, Russia, the sister city of Stevens Point. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)
Family pic after tour at MCSWD
A local family sports their Solid Waste Department shirts following a learning tour. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

Bluebird Ridge Landfill

Skirting the south side of the Solid Waste Department property is the Mountain Bay Trail, a state recreational area running from Rib Mountain to Green Bay. As you ride, hike, or — in the winter —snowmobile along this section of the trail, you’ll see our current landfill, Bluebird Ridge. (See this massive site being built in the 100-sec. video clip below.)

You can reflect on the massiveness of waste disposal. And while reflecting, think about the fact that for every 1 ton of waste managed, 20–50 tons of upstream waste had to be managed somewhere in the world!

Our new welcome area has features like:

  • Parking
  • Seating
  • A bike repair station
  • An outlet to charge phones and interpretive media
  • …and more!

It’s a trailhead for the Mountain Bay Trail and a great area to stop and rest and learn about the world of waste management. (Was that an eye roll I sensed in YOU, too?)

Pergola at MCSWD
Waste haulers enjoying their lunch under the shade of the pergola. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

Central WI Off-Road Cycling Coalition (CWOCC) Ringle Trail

Still not convinced that the Solid Waste Department property is a great place to play?

How about taking a ride on the Central Wisconsin Off-Road Cycling Coalition Ringle Trail?

This single-track bike trail is slated to be one of the best in the Upper Midwest! When completed, there will be 10 miles of trail snaking through the property. And — YES — you will also see our 3 landfills along the way and learn about the world of waste management. (We are sneaky!)

Winter riding on Ringle Trail
Winter riding on the Ringle Trail. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)
Newest section of Ringle Trail
Newest section of the Ringle Trail. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Ice Age TrailIf you prefer something more pastoral, the Ice Age Trail runs along the east side of the property.

This hiking-only trail meanders along the property near a heron rookery, alongside monstrous boulders as guides. And — YES — you will see our landfills and learn about waste management there, too!

Heron rookery
Heron rookery. (Photo courtesy of Melessa Johnson.)

Ringle Bluebird Nest Box Trail

Maybe hiking the glacial moraine isn’t your cup of tea. If you prefer birdwatching . . . well, we have just the “play” option for you!

red-breasted grosbeak
A red-breasted grosbeak at one of the site’s many feeders.

The Ringle Bluebird Nest Box Trail is a proprietary trail started by former employee Eileen Guthrie. Walk the trail and peek inside the nest boxes to see bluebirds and tree swallows raising their broods.  Along the trail, you’ll see a variety of woodpeckers, grosbeaks, finches, hawks, eagles, and turkey vultures. And — YOU GUESSED IT — you’ll also see our landfills and learn about waste management!

Tree Swallow
A tree swallow protecting its home. (Photo courtesy of Meleesa Johnson.)

 Whether you want to play or learn, we really are the place for BOTH.

Send me an email or give me a call (715-446-3101, ext. 104) to arrange a learning tour for your family, group, or school.

Or, just pop out to the Marathon County Solid Waste Department (172900 State Highway 29, Ringle) to enjoy the trails at your leisure!

Meleesa_JohnsonMeleesa Johnson

Director  |  Marathon County Solid Waste Department

Meleesa Johnson has been the Director of solid waste management for Marathon County since 2009. She oversees solid waste programming and facilities serving Central and North Central Wisconsin. Under her leadership, the Solid Waste Department transitioned from primarily a landfill business to a regional resource for residents, businesses, and local governments working on waste reduction and recycling programming as means of creating greater sustainability. Meleesa has been focused on environmental protection issues since starting college in 1996, eventually earning a B.S. in Environmental Policy and Planning. She is a Morris K. Udall Congressional Scholar for Excellence in National Environmental Policy and was recently named as UW–Green Bay’s Earth Caretaker. Meleesa’s passions are her children and grandchildren, as well as public service, serving as president of the Stevens Point Common Council and on the Portage County Board of Supervisors.  Email Meleesa Johnson.

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