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Mile marker 113 N 43° 26.078' W 89° 29.09 Portage

         The Portage rest stop, along with its sister stop of Poynette, are among the largest of all the Wisconsin rest stops. They boast large pavilions, expansive picnic areas, and multiple parking areas. There are good reasons for their size and for the amount of traffic they handle.
        No less than three Interstate highways pass through here, East West, there are I-94, and I-90. North South there is I-39. Additionally there is nearby access to some old federal highways, and state highways.
        These stops are also the closest to the state capital of Madison, and are at approximately the mid point of the state population wise. For just these reasons, they have visitor and tourist information centers, which most stops no longer feature. At one time, rest areas were a great place to find a variety of brochures, pamphlets, guidebooks, and flyers seeking to entice travelers with the wonders of an assortment of local businesses and attractions. The rise of the Internet has made much of this obsolete. Now these may only be found a a few select stops that feature Welcome Centers. Generally such stops are at state borders, but the location of these stops has made them ideal candidates for similar treatment.
        As the photos indicate, this is an area of hills, with some gently rolling fields. It is a transitional area between the prairie of the south, and the woods of the north. Geologically, it is near the driftless area, where the glaciers stopped. It is also transitional in the sense that it separates the more populous urban portions of the state, from the traditional Midwestern section. To the North are the tourist areas of the Dells, Devil's Lake, and Baraboo. To the South and east is the old industrial heartland.


  • 124 car and 68 truck parking stalls
  • Men’s and women’s restrooms
  • Family/assisted restrooms
  • Handicapped accessible
  • Diaper changing facilities
  • Travel and weather info
  • Telephones plus TTY
  • Drinking water
  • Vending machines
  • Picnic tables and shelters
  • Seasonal prairie walking paths
  • Children’s play area
  • Pet exercise area
  • Recycling areas



        Unsurprisingly, the parking areas are large. They divide up into two sections for automobile traffic, and a truck area behind the pavilion. As is the standard practice, the ruck area is more secluded so that commercial drivers might able to rest without being disturbed by the more hectic transition of tourists and travelers.
      It is possible for 124 cars to park in angle spots encompassing two lots between the pavilion and the highway. There are 68 pull through spots for trucks secluded behind the pavilion, with a wooded hill as a backdrop
        The car and truck areas diverge when exiting the freeway, and then merge again upon re-entry. All traffic in the lots is strictly one way, going in the same general direction as the freeway that is served.
        The areas are quite well lit, and are generally busy enough and well patrolled enough to be quite secure. It is legal to snooze here, but the state does not allow occupancy for more than a 24 hour period, and does not allow camping. For the purposes of the law, camping includes extending any tip outs, unhitching any trailers, and setting out your lawn chars and canopy. I have never heard of anyone being bothered for sleeping here,and I have never been bothered, or even approached, myself.
Picnic Areas

        Unlike the precision with which the parking area was handled, I did not bother to try and count the number of tables and benches provided for the benefit of a family picnic or light stopover for lunch. The photos should give some idea of their number. Needless to say, there are plenty.
         The picnic tables are all permanently mounted on small concrete bases. This protects against theft, in these often um-monitored areas, and also against the possibility of the tables being moved out in to areas where they might become a hazard. They are set in a few designated picnic areas, and are set up in a variety of ways. Some are completely open, others are covered, and a few are sheltered near the main building.
         The concrete pads into which they are set are a nice protection against insects, and also against the dead area that generally form under picnic benches, where grass can not get enough sun. Such areas generally turn to dust in the day times, and mud during the rainy times.Unlike the picnic benches and tables of times past, there are made from steel, aluminum, and plastic. They are thus free from rot, mold, infestation, and splinter.
Special Purpose

         Though park like, in many ways, these areas are not parks,and were never meant to function as parks. This is why camping is not allowed,and there is a 24 hour limit. To do otherwise would be to use taxpayer dollars to finance a service that competes with commercial taxpaying businesses such as campgrounds.
        Commercial operations and services that directly compete with commercial operations are prohibited. Still, there are some accommodations for the recreation that must sometimes accompany rest.
        As a matter of policy, rest stops feature a historic marker, a geologic marker, and an area of natural plantings, as well as a pet waking area (in this case, out behind the truck parking area, at the base of a hill), and usually at least one walking path. These are in addition to the picnic areas. This provides a bit of hospitality out on the road, presents the state in its best light, to those visiting or passing through, and offers an invitation to relax a while before setting off back on the road.
        The historic marker here, was erected back in 1979 when this a much smaller stop, back before the new pavilion was constructed. It is a fitting tribute to the idea of highway rest areas, with a short history of their development in Wisconsin, from strictly private, to strictly public endeavors.
        This stop  also features a pair of point of interest signs. One gives information about Revolutionary War soldiers that later became Wisconsin residents, or at any rate lie resting in what is now Wisconsin soil. The other recognizes the designation of these portions of the Interstate system as being the Wisconsin Veteran's Memorial Highway. These two signs are identical to a pair that sits in the sister rest area at Poynette. These signs give some purpose to getting out and stretching the legs. They also give a nice bit of background for the state, to visitors and Wisconsin residents alike.
        The Interstate system, from its inception, was meant to serve as a military road, even to the extent that the highway overpasses were originally designed to have shelters built underneath. Eisenhower based it upon the German Autobahn, which impressed him by the ease with which it permitted the German Army to move troops and artillery around during WWII. An old photo of some Wisconsin Civil War soldiers graces the sign.
         All three of these markers sit out in the more public front areas of the stop, near the entrance to the pavilion, with the larger displays out by the natural grassland planting, and the historic marker nearer to one of the picnic areas.
         While the adults are busy stretching their legs and reading signs, young children can burn off some of their abundant energy at a small playground. Older children will probably not be interested, but they can always grab some material from the welcome center, to hang around the vending machines. The playground is surrounded by soft mat material to minimize the bonking of young heads, and the scraping of young knees. A ring of concrete surrounds the whole area, and benches sit on the rim, for observant parents.
        Flanking the front entrance of the pavilion, are planter areas stocked with native grass to reflect somewhat the state of these native grasslands before the coming of settlement and the eventual takeover of the countryside by the farms.

        At the heart of any rest stop is the pavilion. These are designed to house the facilities expected by travelers, and to provide shelter and a bit of civilization on the road. They are designed to do this 24 x 7, usually at remote locations, and with the durability and self sufficiency to remain functional and presentable without the need for city infrastructure, electric and telecom.
        They make use of what grid there is in the countryside, make use of a satellite dish to keep their network, alarm systems, and telecom functioning, and depend upon the sheriff or state patrol for security.
        This pavilion was built in 2010, and is designed in the Prairie style, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. As such it features low pitch roofs, very high windows that almost act as skylights, and a lot of straight lines and angles. The roofs are of sheet metal, and painted to look like copper. The facings are of stone, and the construction is of substantial steel and concrete. These places are built to government standards and will likely last for decades if not centuries.
         The main entry is sheltered, and gives protection from the Sun in summer, and the wind in winter. It gives access through a double set of glass doors, to help keep the elements out. In general, the whole structure is surrounded by a half wall and a series of walks that almost creates a plaza. The side doors are also sheltered, though in a bit less style.
        Like all government buildings, these are built massively, with no expense spared. Within their stone facings, these are steel and masonry buildings that could last for hundreds of years, unless they are removed to make way for something else. They will likely outlive their builders,and outlive anyone viewing this page. 
         The multiple entrances allow for direct access from the main auto area, the rear truck area, or the picnic areas and special purpose areas off to the sides. The small, high windows allow for light, but make the building more energy efficient, and more resistant to vandalism. Delivery areas are at the back, and there are a couple of private areas for storage, maintenance, and electrical/telecom. A small shack out behind the truck parking area houses lawn and gardening equipment. Like all highway rest stops, the maintenance, cleaning, and general servicing of the facilities is handled by the highway department, which generally sues a combination of public employees, and people with disabilities , that are provided by various non-profit agencies. As a flagship stop, the Poynette and Portage areas doubtless receive special attention, though I have never seen a rest area that did not have well manicured lawns and garden areas, clean picnic areas, emptied out trash bins, and nearly spotless interiors.


        As with any stop on the road, one of the first things in mind is food, or at least snacks.The Portage stop has two separate vending areas, each located at a side entrance. They offer the usual selection of very bad consumables to satisfy the most urgent demands of a travelers snacking vice.
        Profits from the machines go to support the non profit groups by which the building is maintained. generally these are groups like the American Council for the blind, though there are others. Like all snacks on the road, the prices can be outrageous, but at least you know it is going to a good cause.
        Overall, the interior of this pavilion is high, light, and airy. Though there are a few alcoves, there are no really small spaces, and everything is quite open, outside of the rest rooms. This is in contrast to many of the rest stops, which have pavilions that seem a bit like bunkers for some upcoming war or disaster. Then there is the clock.
        The centerpiece of this rest stop is a large pendulum clock with a lit face, and a metal sculpture hammered out to look like the state of Wisconsin.The clock is fully two stories tall, and reaches high into the upper levels of the vaulted ceiling. The clock is impressive and is pretty well visible from anywhere inside the cavernous interior. The high ceilings and open spaces almost make it seem as if you are outside. This feeling is added to by the presence of planters and benches throughout the interior, with the stone clad columns adding somewhat to the effect.
        As was mentioned above, this stop and its sister stop of Poynette, are provided with welcome centers. A welcome center features a generous assortment of literature aimed at the traveling public. This can include discount booklets, camping guides, tourist guides, maps, brochures, flyers, local magazines, and sale books. This used to be common fare at rest stops, but is largely obsolete due to smartphones and tablets. in common use with travelers. Rack after rack of advertisements are displayed near the entrances and along a center welcome area wall. A private store room holds boxes full of replenishment materials, so that no traveler need go un-pitched.
        The Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Style inspired building has lots of plain surfaces, high windows, straight lines, and simple moldings. He strove for a simple unencumbered look, and got it. All surfaces here are easy to clean, durable, and kept spotless. As these are meant to serve the needs of road weary travelers, the pavilion contains drinking fountains, water spigots, travel advisory bulletin boards, weather reports, and even an old fashioned payphone.
        This is very much a public building. Outside of the rest rooms there are no really private spaces here, in no small part because of the 24 x 7 nature of these stops, and the long periods when the buildings are left unattended. Such spaces are invitations to assault or to pitching  sleeping bag and making a night of it.

         The original and primary purpose of rest areas was to host rest rooms, as well as providing a place to stop and fight fatigue. The modern rest rooms at present day rest areas are a far cry from the pit toilets and shacks of the original wayside rest areas. There are still a few of the old-style primitive waysides around, but they tend to be on lesser traveled roads, and are replaced as traffic increases.
        The Portage rest area has two sets of rest rooms, so that at least one set will always be available for use. In addition to the standard men's and woman's rooms, the portage stop has a pair of private family rest rooms with each pair of men's and woman's rooms, primarily for those with small children, though this is also a godsend for those traveling with aging relatives that may require assistance in such matters..
        The rest rooms are windowless, but very well lit by a combination of high level skylights, and electric lighting. They feature a stone facing on the walls, and tile on the floor. These facings will last for decades, and insure easy hygienic cleaning. They are well drained, and designed for easy thorough cleaning. Each rest room features a baby changing station, and the usual liquid soap and hand towels. The sinks are designed to conserve water, and no hold gray water.
        The family bathrooms are completely self contained, and handicap accessible. They offer a level or privacy not available in the more public rest room, They are the preferred choice for parents with small children, or for people with special needs, or those that require a certain combination of privacy and assistance. They are well equipped with handrails, and are finished in a style similar to that of the main rest rooms.