Support grows for Oconto Falls fatbike trail

A fatbike trail might be in place within a few weeks utilizing the Falls Fitness Trail and the perimeter of the River Island Golf Course.

Fatbikes are bicycles with oversized tires designed to allow off-road riding on snow and other unstable terrain.

A group of fatbike enthusiasts has mapped out a 3.6-mile course that incorporates the fitness trail, designed and built by an Eagle Scout a couple of years ago, and the golf course, Alderman Devin Wirtz said during the City Council’s Jan. 9 meeting.

“This’ll just be a wintertime trail for fatbikes only,” Wirtz said, adding that like the city’s tubing hill, it will only be open to the public when the ground is covered with snow. “Once we see grass, we’ll move to reroute the track or close the trail till we get more snow.”

Fatbikes are growing in popularity as a winter sport alternative, he said.


Band added before Memorial Day weekend fireworks

A live band will be added before the fireworks display Saturday night as part of this year’s Memorial Day weekend festival in Oconto Falls, an organizer told the City Council last week.

Renegade is booked for Saturday night, Chad Markiewicz said, and the fireworks will be staged during a break in the music. The Panther Pride Association is working on booking bands for Sunday, as well.

The Oconto Falls Memorial Day Celebration is Oconto County’s traditional opening of the summer season. Running Friday through Monday, the event includes a carnival at Memorial Field, live music, a car show, softball tournament and the centerpiece Memorial Day parade through downtown.

New last year was a bicycle giveaway after the parade. Tim Holman, of the Oconto Falls Lions Club, said more than 700 kids signed up to wait for a chance to win one of the 106 available bikes.


Oconto County Circuit Court Proceedings

Proceedings of Jan. 12

An amended cash bond of $2,500 was set for Matthew A. Franjose, 22, Abrams, who was returned to custody Jan. 11 after he failed to appear for his Dec. 14 arraignment on a charge of possession of methamphetamine in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred Nov. 1, 2016. Arraignment was rescheduled for Jan. 19.

Proceedings of Jan. 11

A Jan. 23 preliminary hearing was scheduled for Roger J. Weber, 54, Oshkosh, after he was charged with felony and misdemeanor bail jumping. He allegedly failed to appear for a pre-trial conference regarding charges of strangulation-suffocation and misdemeanor disorderly conduct in connection with an alleged June 25 incident. Judge Jay N. Conley set a cash bond of $5,000.


Robot Masters rule at VEX Robotics Challenge

The Oconto County-based 202 Slim Margins team (in black shirts, center) of Jacob Delzer, left, Jordan Sellhausen and Kelton Lepak were again part of the champion alliance at the Northeast Wisconsin VEX Robotics Challenge, held Saturday at Oconto Falls High School. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Dozens of robots battled Saturday in the Oconto Falls High School gymnasium.

Unlike the TV shows and movies where the goal is smashing and destruction, these robots were all about building and cooperation.

The fifth annual Northeast Wisconsin VEX Robotics Challenge attracted 36 teams of middle and high school students from as far north as Ashland and as far south as Milwaukee, said Kent Lyng, event organizer.

“One team traveled five hours to get here,” Lyng said. “Sign-up starts at 8 a.m., so they were up early.”

The purpose of the challenge is to involve students in a competition that engages all aspects of STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math. Teams build robots to achieve a specific task using the robotics system developed by VEX, a subsidiary of Innovation First Inc. of Greenville, Texas.

Guinness World Records officially recognizes the VEX Robotics World Championships as the world’s largest robotics competition.


Training for life and death

Oconto County sheriff’s deputies train for a school active shooter confrontation as Oconto Falls Police Chief Brad Olsen operates the Milo Range Training console. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

A school is under siege by at least one person with a gun. As police officers approach a hallway intersection, the barrel of a rifle appears from around the corner, shooting at someone down the crossing corridor.

A moment later, the gunman steps forward and is revealed to be another police officer, apparently engaged with someone farther down the hallway. If the approaching officers had fired at the sight of the gun, they would have shot a fellow cop.

Those are the kinds of split-second decisions presented in Milo Range Training, a video/computer system that simulates real-life situations officers might encounter — from the active-shooter scenario above to rousting a homeless squatter who may or may not be armed.

Oconto County sheriff’s deputies participated the training last week. County department heads, judges and other office personnel were scheduled to get a demonstration Wednesday.


Cause of Jan. 6 fire undetermined

A Jan. 6 fire at 431 Union Ave. in Oconto Falls started in the southeast corner of the old home. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Fire investigators were back Friday at the scene of a blaze that gutted a house near downtown Oconto Falls on Jan. 6.

Firefighters from the city and town of Oconto Falls, Gillett and Lena responded to the fire at 431 Union Ave. at 8:17 p.m. that night, after a passerby noticed a “flickering” in a front window, Fire Chief Tim Magnin said.

Magnin and two other investigators went through what was left of the structure and determined the fire started in the southeast corner of the house, but an exact cause likely will never be known.

“There’s so much extensive damage,” he said Monday. “The area with the most information is totally gone.”

The cause of the fire probably will be listed as “undetermined, but electrical cannot be ruled out,” Magnin said. He did say there’s nothing suspicious about the fire, which kept crews busy well into an icy night.


Session aims to demystify funeral process

Brent and Kim Gruetzmacher, from left, and apprentice assistant Mandalyn Schmidt say helping people in time of need is an integral part of Gruetzmacher Funeral Home’s mission. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Brent Gruetzmacher hopes an informal session later this month will get people more comfortable with talking about the inevitable.

The second-generation owner of Gruetzmacher Funeral Home in Suring plans to host a complimentary information session for people to learn about funeral arrangements in a relaxed setting.

The gathering is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 27 at Suring Village Hall, 604 E. Main St., Suring.

People can be reluctant to visit a funeral home until it’s absolutely necessary, Gruetzmacher said.

“It’s easier to sit in the back row and listen than to come in and talk to me in the office,” he said.

Among the topics that may be covered are the pros and cons of burial vs. cremation; memorial options, such as types of services and where to hold them; and the importance to friends of going through the grieving process.

Gruetzmacher said the attendees will help steer the conversation and encourages people to come with questions.


Oconto County Sheriff's Department: Jan. 3-11

Jan. 11

Deputies responded to 32 incidents, including the following:

Fire — reported in the 12000 block of Spring Lane, How, 12:12 p.m.

Animal bite — reported in the 8000 block of Franks Lane, Chase, 1:34 p.m.

Disturbance — reported in the 5000 block of Wedgewood Drive, Little Suamico, 6:23 p.m.

Traffic crash — State Highway 32-64 and Silver Hill Road, Mountain, 6:48 p.m.

Jan. 10

Deputies responded to 34 incidents, including the following:

Traffic crash — Horn Lake Road and Birch Circle, Townsend, 5:58 a.m.

Disturbance — reported in the 100 block of West Main Street, 6:10 a.m.

Traffic crash — 9000 block of White Lake Road, Bagley, 7:01 a.m.

Fire — reported in the 9000 block of Belgian Road, Lena, 9:04 a.m.

Threatening — reported in the 5000 block of Wedgewood Drive, Little Suamico, 10:48 a.m.

Disturbance — reported in the 13000 block of Lake Shore Lane, Mountain, 5:50 p.m.


Gillett skating rink opens for season

About 16 skaters took advantage of Monday’s less-cold temperatures to enjoy the skating at the Gillett Public Library. (Photo by Kay Runkel)

After “lots of hard work and TLC,” the skating rink in the Ebenreiter Community Square adjacent to the Gillett Public Library opened Thursday for the season.

“The temps have to be below 10 degrees to make ice, and there has been some great ice-making weather lately,” librarian Kay Rankel said.

The Gillett city crew plowed off the snow, the fire department came several times to put down water during the recent cold weather and Rankel worked to smooth the surface.

Skating on the rink is free.

“We have about 60 pair of skates that people have donated,” acting Mayor Nanette Mohr said. “You can basically check them out on your library card and utilize them.”

The library provided opening night music for the skaters Thursday, Mohr said. The skates are available for checkout during library hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.


New Gillett fire chief gets down to business

Kurt Hicks was elected chief of the City of Gillett Fire Department by his peers Dec. 19. The City Council approved the election of Hicks, as well as Assistant Chief Jake Kulba, on Thursday. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Training and recruitment are high on the priority list for new Gillett Fire Chief Kurt Hicks.

The 21-year veteran of the department spent a few minutes Thursday talking with the Gillett City Council about his vision for the future. The council approved the department’s election of Hicks and Assistant Chief Jake Kulba.

There are six openings on the city fire department roster, and Hicks said that can be an problem, especially during the day when many volunteers work out of town. He used a call last week as an example.

“I got to the fire department around 11 o’clock, roughly within that range, and I was it,” Hicks said. “Luckily, we had two individuals come in, and luckily, it was not a working fire, but the point is that this is what we’re running into during the day.”

Recruitment, as well as retention of the firefighters now on the roster, will be a point of emphasis.


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