We are excited to introduce longtime columnist and outdoorsman Mark Walters as Valley Sentinel’s newest regular contributor. We spoke with him about his background, what he enjoys most about being an outdoors writer and canoeing down the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. Below are his responses, edited for clarity and space.
Valley Sentinel: Could you share a little bit of your background?
Mark Walters: I grew up in Poynette. I currently live in Necedah, I have for 20 years. I’m very into independent living: growing my own food, raising cattle, chickens, growing major gardens, very, very large in gardens, from fruit trees, everything, from asparagus to rhubarb, to all the crops, you know, for putting up food.
VS: What got you started writing this column? How long have you been writing the column?
MW: Started writing in ‘89, for the Poynette Press, while I was working in Canada at a fly fishing resort. When I got home it was popular, it was really popular, so I just kept writing. I’ve been doing it ever since, which is going to be 32 years in May.
VS: What do you like most about doing this?
MW: I like being independent. I like just deciding, you know, because I’m 100% self employed, and so I just decide what I want to do next week that I think would be interesting for a wide audience. And usually I try to travel to different parts of the state as well, just to give everybody something in a year’s time with me.
I grew up with my dad in sales, but all he really cared about was taking us kids on trips and that’s what we did. You know, we traveled, traveled, traveled, simple little things, low income, low budget trips, but we were out there and about there all the time. I’m just totally into the outdoors. There’s no doubt about it.
VS: Favorite place in Wisconsin to be out in the field/in the woods? Why?
MW: I would say the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. This coming fall will be the 50th year in a row that I’ve been there for opening day of the deer gun season. I’ve never missed that. That’s where my hunting camp is. I’ve been writing about that forever. So that would be my favorite place. I spend a lot of time in there, it’s just massive, it’s a humongous area of public land. It’s pretty neat.
VS: Favorite Wisconsin body of water to ice fish? Why?
MW: I love the Mississippi River. And it doesn’t matter where, I do. I love the backwaters. I love the islands. I love the main channel. There’s no one special place, there’s four places that I just go, “eenie meenie miney moe,” based on what the ice conditions are and where I’m hearing about the bite, you know? Yeah, it could be Stoddard, it could be Prairie Du Chien, it could be Alma, it could be Trempeleau. So I go all over the Mississippi.
I even tried to canoe up it in ‘87, I tried to canoe up the Mississippi River, 980 miles and I hurt my wrist. I couldn’t go any further. Right out of high school I was a deckhand on a riverboat. So I really like the river, but I like big forests. I like marshes. Very probably my favorite thing to do is to be in a canoe. Because I like duck hunting in a canoe. I like fishing in a canoe. I like just exploring in a canoe. You know as far as going on trips, I’ve done a lot of canoeing a lot, lot, lot.
VS: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
MW: That I started KAMO — Kids and Mentors Outdoors. It’s a youth organization where we take kids out for outdoor experiences. I started it through my column, and started a chapter in Ladysmith, a chapter in Florence and started a chapter in Baraboo. And people got back to me, when I put out this idea, met with me, and it just grew. And that was in 2007, and now there are seven chapters. So it’s pretty cool. Check out KAMOkids.org. We have a really active Board of Directors, just a very cool thing we do for a lot of kids.
VS: Any favorite hunting or fishing spots in our coverage area?
MW: I like the Wisconsin River by Boscobel. I like the Wisconsin River from Sauk City to the Mississippi. We do canoe trips there too. That’s beautiful. Yeah, that goes right to your neck of the woods, right. Literally. Yeah, I love the Wisconsin River. You go out there during the summertime in a canoe, you’re gonna catch fish. Oh, yeah, that’s all there is to it.