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I94 East Marker 261 N 43° 05.234' W 88° 53.070' Lake Mills
Lake Mills - Rest Stop 13


        This is the complimentary, east bound, rest area to that of Johnson Creek. The two areas were built at about the same time, in 1965, and to approximately the same plan. The Lake Mills rest stop was extensively upgraded, with the new building added, in 2002. This is about halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, on the eastbound side of Interstate 90/94, and sits right next to to Azlatan dirt race track, making it a natural stop for those attending events. It is also only a couple miles up the road from for those shopping at the nearby Johnson Creek outlet mall.  This is the last highway rest stop for those heading east, before hitting the Milwaukee area.
         I visit this stop far less frequently than its neighbor just across the road and east of here. This is unfortunate, because this is the larger of the two, with more parking, more extensive picnic areas, and more landscaped grounds. For the summer traveler, this is a great spot to stop, relax, picnic, clean the car out, and grab something to drink or snack on.
        Al of these facilities are quite green, out of necessity. They are out on the road, and far from standard services. Supplies need to be hauled in, and waste needs to be hauled out. In addition to being consistent with current ecological trends, green is cheaper out on the road. So while you will find the traditional classic trash bin, you will also find a variety of recycle bins for various types of materials. These things keep costs down, and reduce the foot print as much as possible.
        With the traffic on the Interstate whizzing by in close approximately, and expansive views of nearby farms and field, this is a great place to stop and get a sense of being on the road. Shaded picnic areas, potable water, rest rooms, and benches and tables invite the travel;er to stay awhile. In the summer, the place is a natural stop for a quick lunch or outdoor meal. At any time of year, this stop offers a break from the stress of driving, and even the opportunity for a quick nap. Camping is not allowed here, and stays are limited to twenty four hours. So this is meant as more of a safety stop than a camp area or recreational stop.
        The entire site consists of a main pavilion, a machine shed, three parking areas (one for trucks, buses, and motor homes, and two for cars) and the ramps that lead to them, several picnic areas, manicured grounds, and some grounds left wild and native. On ramps and off ramps are long enough so that slowing down and speeding up when exiting and entering the Interstate are easily accomplished.
        The photo here of the main entryway shows a couple of boxes for a hotel guide and a local attractions guide. These boxes come and go and are not left here by the state. Vendors and local advertisers leave them. They contain no money, as their contents are free, so they are rarely vandalized.
        In addition to making a handy place to stash news-boxes, the shaded "porch" of the entryway gives welcome relief from the elements or the sun, and also protects the entrance doors from the worst effects of the weather. It looks out onto the road, the lot, and the countryside.
         Most people don't spend much time here. They are in a hurry to get into town, or put miles behind them. They zip in, empty their garbage and perhaps clean out the car, use the rest room, stretch a bit, perhaps use one of the vending machines, and then they are on their way. For those not in such a hurry, this is a nice spot to take a break.
        These places have quite a different feel in winter, and I will try to get some winter photos. In winter, in and out, with perhaps a brief moment of relaxation from the stress of driving on slippery winter roads, or dealing with the limited viability of a snowy day makes this stop less pleasant but far more vital.
        Summer and winter alike, these stops save lives.
        The photos below show the natural prairie surrounding the exit ramp, and a member of one of the work crews removing trash and recyclables.

  • 103 car and 28 truck parking stalls
  • Men’s and women’s restrooms
  • Family/assisted restroom
  • Diaper changing facilities
  • Handicapped accessible
  • Telephones plus TTY
  • Drinking water
  • Vending machines
  • Travel/weather information
  • Wooded picnic area and tables
  • Pet exercise area
  • Recycling areas


  • Rest area opened in 1965.
  • New building and expanded site opened in 2002.
  • "Drumlins" Historical Marker located on site.
  • "Old "original" style building was in the wooded picnic area.
         Most of these stops have historic markers or monuments dedicated to some great achievement or self sacrificing individual. The complimentary rest stop for westbound travelers has a monument to the 94th infantry division. This site has a monument to the glacial drumlins that formed this area.
         Geologically, this is a pretty interesting area, as is the entire Great Lakes area. This marker acknowledges the uniqueness.  interestingly, the marker, erected in 1992 is older than the building, which was constructed in 2002.
         The grounds are well maintained and regularly trimmed. Local crews come in from time to time to do the work. Wisconsin has ticks and various other outdoor hazards. Treating and manicuring grounds are one way to minimize the threat. The grounds include stone planters with decorative plantings, mostly near the pavilion along with hedges. A few areas of the grounds have been left wild, and are untouched from their natural state. Other areas have been set aside as picnic grounds, with benches, and even some covered picnic enclosures. A special run has also been set aside as a dog walking area so that the family pet can also take a rest break. There are some meandering paths cut through some of the wooded areas for short nature walks.
        Power equipment is kept in a shed off of the truck parking area, so that the crews do not have to truck their gear in and out when they come to service the sites. The grounds and picnic areas add greatly to the enjoyment of the area.
        While there is a pet walking area, non-service animals are not allowed in the pavilion, or on other parts of the grounds. Even within the pet walking area, dogs are not allowed off of their leash.
        There are several sections of the grounds that are left in their wild state and not mown. These mostly seem to be at the edges, and in the portion between the parking lots. This stop also has a fair number of trees, and a couple of pretty densely forested areas. The natural areas are not really for hiking, though there are a few paths through them. Mostly they just give a good indication of what the whole area looked like before the farms and cities took over. Contrary to what many people think, this part of Wisconsin was more of a grassy prairie than a place of dense woods.
        The grounds here are far from flat,and have not been leveled or graded. They are basically left in their original contours, with the exceptions of the lots and a few approaches to the pavilion. It may be that the natural areas are simply too difficult to tend.
        Most of the surrounding countryside in this part of the state is developed as farmland. So there is little to see of the natural state of the area, except for a few random patches.
         Many of these areas have native gardens, complete with pictures of the native flora; but I saw no such here. The temperate green of Wisconsin is well shown of here in the summer months, and the plentiful trees show of the fall colors when the summer ends.
        The best feature of the grounds, at least during the warmer months, is the collection of picnic areas. These are spread out in several areas around the grounds. In the picnic areas and wild areas, this stop greatly resembles a city or county park.
        The scattered picnic tables and benches are permanently anchored into the ground. Yet they sit an a variety of locations, so the traveler can picnic in private, public, the rustic splendor of the wild or wooded areas, or on a well manicured lawn under spreading shade trees. There are no grills here, but I saw no signs prohibiting grilling. What I did notice was that there are no bins to dump ash from a charcoal grill, so the prospective grill cook may wish to use propane.
        Most of the tables are set out in the open, but a few are roofed over like miniature picnic pavilions, to protect travelers from a particularly hot sun, or the wet of a summer shower. All tables, covered or not, are set in concrete pads. Several banks of recycle stations, and trash containers make it easy to keep this place clean. Dogs are prohibited from the picnic areas.
        The more open areas right across from the pavilion are probably the most popular. From here, people can watch the traffic, keep an eye on their cars, and see who comes and goes.
        Another good place is in the grassy strip between the inner and outer automobile parking areas. Most of the tables here are sheltered. On a sunny summer day, or a brisk fall afternoon, these are very pleasant places to take a break. Even in town, it would be a challenge to find a nicer spot. Take note that these areas are spotless
         As with the building and other structures, the benches and enclosures of the picnic areas are built to last. The steel framed benches set in concrete will still be here decades from now. Unlike benches in city parks, these remain outside all year round, providing a place to sit and relax even on a cold winter day. Also unlike picnic areas in town, these grounds are lit all night, and open to the public all night, just like the parking areas, pavilion, and walkways. In the city, most parks close at 10:00.
        A few of the tables have concrete walkways leading to the pads upon which they are set, making it easy to lug heavy coolers,and possibly grills.
        This is a particular handy thing for motor-home travelers, that may be self contained but tired of being cooped up in the coach for all meals.
         This is a far cry from the original wayside that stood here offering a water tap, pit toilets, a concrete strip for parking, a single light by the rest rooms, and a board with a map of Wisconsin, and perhaps a single splinter filled picnic bench.

Parking and ramps

         This area features three separate parking lots. One lot is for standard cars and trucks, while another is for semi trucks, motor-homes, and buses. Both areas are clean, will lit, and large. A third area is separated from the rest by a small parkland strip, and serves as an overflow for standard vehicles. The lots separate at the on ramp, and converge again at the exit ramp.
        You seek all kinds of traffic here. There is a lot of commuter traffic between Milwaukee and Madison, as well as the local mall traffic, and a few long distance travelers passing through. This standard parking area at the front of the pavilion tends to be a busy place during the day, but is quite nearly deserted at night, when most casual travelers are at rest. This is when the truck drivers take over, and all the activity moves to the back of the pavilion.
         There is a lot of activity here, and the site is open 24 hours. This is a safe, legal place to stop for a while, that costs nothing, and offers most of what a hurried travel might need to get him to his next stop. While the road is full of gas stations, truck stops, and the occasional mall or store, the rest areas are an quick and easy pull in and drive out, and with a 24 hour limit, offer a place to stay for a while.
        The area is well patrolled, and trailers are not allowed to be unhitched, nor are slide outs to be extended. The state is very sensitive to complaints from campground owners that the rest stops they support with their tax dollars might be competing for their business. Cars that sit here for more than 24 hours are legally considered to be abandoned, and may be subject to removal - even if there are people in them.



         Behind the pavilion, away from the highway, is a parking area laid out for trucks, RV's and other large vehicles. This is somewhat secluded and generally less busy than the front area used by more causal travelers. Though many love their jobs, truck drivers are not recreational travelers. When they come, they usually come here out of fatigue, or to fulfill DOT requirements of rest.
        They spend much of their time at these places, sleeping in the backs of their trucks. The parking spaces back here are all pull in-pull out spaces, so no backing up is required. In addition to the ease of parking, the drivers appreciate the well lit facilities, and the regular visits by troopers and sheriffs. While the truckers are not immune to the charms of picnic areas, vending machines, and rest rooms, they have a job to do.
         These areas really pick up at night and in the wee hours of the morning. When the tourists and day travelers are at home asleep, the truckers are in and out all night, and most pick the very early morning hours to try and get a jump on the morning commuter traffic. 
        The truck area has its own entryway, its own little news dispensers, and some picnic areas of its own. Being towards the back, and away from the more public parking and relaxation areas at the front means less disturbance for drivers trying to get their rest for the long haul ahead.
        In addition to the large parking lot, this area has the storage shed for the maintenance equipment, and several very large cell towers.
        Without such places, truckers would need to park on ramps, or by the side of the road.

         Separated by the pavilion, the car and truck parking areas are merged once again at the exit ramp. the ramp empties onto the eastbound lane of Interstate 94, headed towards Milwaukee, and the outlet malls of Johnson Creek. The ramp passes directly alongside of the Aztalan dirt race track.


         These pavilions are built like bunkers, in the style of most government buildings. They are public and they are substantial. Steel, concrete, and brick construction means that, like the old Roman public buildings, these will still be around in hundreds or thousands of years.  The windowless design makes for easier heating and cooling, and gives less opportunity for vandalism. These buildings and their surrounding areas never close.
        Though local sheriff and state patrol officers often park here, the buildings are largely left unattended. The world being what it is, theft of fixtures, electronics, consumables, and the possibility of malicious damage are always a possibility. These buildings are essentially fortresses.
        I recall reading that the Federal Highway System was supposed to double as a part of the Civil Defense system. I then take note of the heavy construction, relative self sufficiency, satellite dishes, and large interior spaces, and wonder if there might not be more to these places than meets the eye.
        The back looks much like the front, with a bit less of a protective area around the entry. Where the front opens to the highway and car parking, the rear opens upon a special area for larger vehicles like semis buses and motor-homes.
        While the front and rear of the building have entryways and glass doors, the sides have windowless steel doors that are locked and open onto areas not accessible to the public. Generally these are machinery spaces, or storage areas for landscaping equipment. A satellite dish can be seen at the back edge of the building. This provides access for the weather and traffic maps. validation of credit card information for vending machines is done through a large cellphone tower past the back of the building.
         The basic layout of the building is of an off center cruciform, with the front and rear entrance-ways being just a bit out of alignment with each other. An angled main public area connects the two entrance ways, with the rest rooms and utility areas off to the sides. This particular area has no permanent staff, but is regularly visited by cleaning crews and maintenance people. I have never seen one of these places dirty or out of repair.
         The building is surrounded by walkways and graveled open spaces. One interesting thing is that a comparison of the outside roof line and the inside spaces shows that there is a considerable amount of interior space that is hidden away. It would be interesting to get a set of floor-plans to these structures and see what is up there.
        Entry ways are flanked by an assortment of boxes containing coupon books, travel guides, and advertising materials. All are free.
        It is pretty interesting how the original small rest stop buildings have grown into these substantial multi functional buildings. Their size indicates that future growth was taken into consideration in their design.

        The interior spaces are dark, and finished off in a glazed brick that is almost a tile. The only thing that prevents them from being gloomy are the high ceilings and rafters. At one time, the interior of these places was filled with rack after rack of booklets. handbills, maps, and advertising brochures, all beckoning to the dollars of the hapless tourist or visitor. Today most of this is gone, except for the welcome stations on the state border. The Internet is the new resource for the savvy traveler.
        There are two entrances to this building, each opposite the other. One faces the freeway, and the other faces the back parking area. These are the only sources of natural interior light. Each side has a double entryway of heavy steel and double paned glass doors. The vestibule between the two sets of doors allows for strategic placement of vending machines to welcome the hungry or thirsty traveler. Outside, a sheltered entryway and a large protective roof offer some protection from the elements.
         As with everything on the road, the vending machine prices are exorbitant. this is in some degree because of the captive nature of the average traveler out on the road, but also due to the expense of lugging food products out here, and the costs of maintaining the machines. Signs posted in the building indicate that money from these machines goes to support building maintenance, which is provided by visually disabled employees of the American Society for the Blind. Like many machines on the road, these will take your credit card, using a cell phone connection to verify. A large cell tower sits just past the rear parking area, to serve this section of the highway.
        Inside that pavilion are drinking fountains, rest rooms, bulletin boards, and various notices. A tap is provided for those who wish to fill a water jug. There are a couple of benches for those who wish to sit for a few moments, but nothing of any real comfort. These places are not designed for those who wish to linger. Announcement boards are placed at each end of the building. They are primarily for safety announcements, warnings about road construction, and cautions against driving drunk. This particular stop also has a historical posting about the Black-hawk War, and about Abraham Lincoln.
        A protected monitor displays weather and traffic and is updated every minute, probably through the satellite link on the roof.
        Though the library of tourist materials is a thing of the past, Maps are still available, and a suggestion box sits next to their dispenser.
        There are several private areas, locked off with steel doors. These contain the heating and ventilation, as well as the cleaning materials and tools for maintenance and other utility areas of the building. Like many rest stops, this one has two sets of rest rooms, so that there will always be a rest room available, even during cleaning. This also insures redundancy in case of mechanical failure, as it may take a while to get a repair done out on the road.
        The entire facility is handicap accessible, with wide doorways, and special accommodations in the rest rooms. Indirect lighting shines up into the ceiling, almost giving the feel of a skylight. These lights are on 24 hours a day, as there is not any natural light except that from the doorways.
         This building was constructed in 2002, making it one of the newer roadside constructions featuring most of the newest green enhancements.
        In case the vending machines at the front entrance were missed, there is another bunch at the rear entrance. The road always makes sure that travelers have plenty of opportunity to spend their money.

Rest rooms
         What can I tell you? These are rest stops, after all. So the rest room are an important part of why they are here. This particular area is between Milwaukee and Madison, and is not in a metro area with any city services. There is no municipal water or sewer here, so the facility has to be very frugal and efficient. They are also quite efficient when it comes to heating and cooling. As with the rest of the facility, there are no large expanses of glass here, and the restrooms have no doors leading directly to the outside.
        The interior is clean and completely tiled, for ease of maintenance. The floor slopes gently towards the inside wall, where there is a slight channel with large drains. This allows for hosing the floor down, when required, and mopping or pushing water to the inside wall for draining.
        Sinks have no faucets. Water flow is controlled by infra red sensors, which can be seen as black circles on the molding above the basins. removing your hand stops the water flow. There are waste dispensers, but I saw no indication of hand towels. These are very green facilities, even to the solar cells on the roof.
        The basins are shallow, and constructed of a plastic composite. I suspect recycled materials in keeping with the green theme of this stop.
        If the basins seem a bit thick and shallow it is because the water does not drain out into a septic system. The water is held in
the basins until removal by maintenance people. This is another of the green/low footprint features of this building. These features cut costs, as well as cutting effects on the countryside. Though rather expensive to build, these sites are very cheap to maintain and service.
        Men's and ladies' rooms both have changing stations Despite the current political climate, even this close to Madison, only the men's room has urinals. Like the sinks, the water flow is controlled by infra red detectors. In this case, they are mounted in the walls, behind kick plates.
        The cleaning channel and drainage area can be seen beneath the urinals.