Why Rhi? Best Things about the Land of the Hodag

Rhinelander, Wisconsin, is the largest town in the Northwoods – which isn’t saying much.

But that’s how we like it.

While it’s the largest city in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Rhinelander’s population is only about 8,300. It’s the Oneida County seat and boasts lakes galore, a picturesque downtown filled with storefront (that ArEn’T EmPtY!!), and a beautiful courthouse topped with a vintage Tiffany glass dome. It’s also home to a myriad of statues of the local legendary cryptid, the Hodag. (More about him later.)

Boom Lake, in the heart of Rhinelander

The basics: Rhinelander covers a total area of 10.66 square miles and our economy consists of a mix of manufacturing, retail, and healthcare. Rhidog (as surrounding residents often call it) is a hotspot for outdoor recreational activities, such as fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling, and is close to several state forests and lakes. Pictured above is Boom Lake, a 365 acre lake with a max depth of 30 feet.

Rhinelander is the ice fishing capital of the world. No, really. (Minoqua claims it’s them, but we beg to differ.) Okay, so it’s not official – but we are a destination for anglers. In our lakes, you can find including panfish such as bluegill and crappie, as well as northern pike and walleye. The exact species and population of fish in the lake can vary from year to year, depending on a variety of factors such as water temperature, food availability, and fishing pressure.

We also have muskies. Ew. The muskellunge is a species of large predatory freshwater fish known for their long, cylindrical body, large mouth, and sharp teeth. I hope I never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever see one.

Much less terrifying than the muskellunge is the adorable, endearing, precious, fantastic, glorious Hodag.

The Hodag statue in front of the county courthouse

Rhinelander is the birthplace of the Hodag. This legendary beast is said to roam the forests of the Northwoods. The official description of our local beastie, as per Explore Rhinelander, is that the Hodag possesses the head of a frog; the grinning face of a giant elephant; thick, short legs set off by huge claws; the back of a dinosaur; a long tail with spears at the end; and green eyes, huge fangs and two horns sprouting from its temples. This is according to Eugene Shepherd, who “discovered” the Hodag in 1893.

Shepherd also claimed that the Hodag breathed fire and smoke, and reeked of a combination of buzzard meat and skunk perfume. He stated that the Hodag was 7 feet long, 30 inches tall, and weighed around 200 pounds.

Shepherd was a colorful character in our town’s history. He witnessed the dawn of Rhinelander and watched it grow, working as a lumberman and resort owner. He also recorded much about the growth of Rhinelander from a tiny logging town to a bustling settlement. Shepherd “caught” a Hodag and had it stuffed, then exhibited it at events and fairs, attracting large crowds and widespread media coverage. (More deets here.)

Shepherd’s Hodag was black, but now it’s green. A local historian told me the story, but I unfortunately can’t remember all the details, so here’s what we go: the Hodag was adopted as the Rhinelander High School mascot in the 1930’s, and the school colors were already green and white, and had been since the school was established in 1889. Thus, the Hodag was changed to green so as not to change the school colors. I can’t find this info online, but the fellow who told me this runs the local museum, so I trust him. 😀

Oh, yeah – and we now boast the best high school mascot in America.

Rhinelander’s wintry woods

Every year, thousands of tourists inundate our quiet town for events like the Hodag Country Music Festival, the Oneida County Fair, the Hodag Heritage days, and other summer festivals and events. They also flock to our lakes and resorts and forests to enjoy our insanely gorgeous natural wonders.

I could write a whole article about the response we get from visitors – in fact, I probably will. For those visiting Rhinelander for the first time, driving up from big cities in the south, it can be a bit of a shock. Sure, we have the essentials – gas stations, Wal-mart, fast food restaurants, and even a few shopping basics like Kohl’s and Maurice’s – but there’s noplace in the Northwoods to buy electronics, aside from Wal-mart. It’s an hour drive to Best Buy, Wendy’s, Target, even Starbucks (though one is opening here soon!).

But that’s what we like about Rhinelander. (Some of us are actually irritated about the new Starbie’s – we don’t need that big city newfangled coffee!!) It’s small, quaint, friendly – there’s no traffic, barely any crime, and the natural beauty is beyond compare.