Black's Cliff Resort's Birch Bark Blog

The projects, chores, and life of a family-owned, Northern Wisconsin resort.


The last few days we have been dreaming of summer and green of spring



Instead we have been dealing with few days of dreary weather



What do you down when frustrated by snow… rent a chipper and clean up brush around the resort.  Keeps you warm outside



Troy retreated to the office area with his varnish brush working on our small room in the back



Happily the sun has come out and things are melting again.  Could not resist putting a few chairs out



50′s and 60′s are not far away and I almost saw a 70 in the forecast.  There is hope for spring and summer



Til the warm temps show up we will continue dreaming of summer


Beautiful 70 degree afternoon and it was time to go to Cedar Falls 10 minutes from the resort to see the muskie’s spawning in the water fall.  We were not to be disappointed



Amazing to get so close to the big fish




There are 3 of them in the picture by the rock





I caught another one waving his tail at us



So neat to see



With the cooler temps on Sunday we finished off our batch of maple syrup.  All of the gallons of sap we collected were all boiled down into this one pot.  In this pot is an entire springs worth of work collecting and boiling down sap.  The thicker it gets with the sap added and boiled down the browner the sap gets.



Scooping it out and putting it in jars to be canned.  We ended up with about 3 1/2 gallons from our 40 trees this year.  Just enough for pancakes and use in cooking for our family



This morning the snow showers have returned and Mack is hiding under the dinningroom table til it stops snowing.  The good news is it will be melted by afternoon… the bad news is there is snow flurries in the forecast for the next 3 days.  After that we hope spring and the warm temps are here to stay.  Otherwise we may not get Mack out from under the table til July



Spring is springing around the resort.  I wish we had more time to enjoy it but work is calling.  Memorial Day Weekend is early this year and we have a resort to get ready



The Bass Buggy pontoon has been getting some attention.  We had Don and Laura Quackenbush come up to the resort to work on the furniture.  Don and Laura run Quackenbush Vinyl and Upholstery in Lake Geneva.  They are wonderful people and were thrilled to have them come up and work on the furniture.  If you need anything done in the Lake Geneva area I would highly recommend them



They did great work! and are coming back in the fall.  What project can we dream up by then?



Steve was taking off the carpet and working on the rest of the boat



Figuring out what wiring goes and what stays….



I think I know what I am doing



Painting was the main thing going on.  Birchwood was the first cabin on the list.  I took on the walls



Steve took on the up part that requires getting on the roof.  I do not do roofs



Meanwhile the syrup is still being boiled.  We almost have all the fridges empty of sap and are in the final few days of boiling sap to syrup



Pardon a small grumble here.  While sap was cooking time to get dog hair off of a bedspread.  Most of our dog owners are great.  Sometimes I run into other dog owners….. and the tape roller comes out on the kitchen table, they are rolled once, washed and rolled again.  Please keep this picture in mind if you are a dog owner and keep your dogs off the furniture or the bedding.  My kitchen table thanks you.  End of my grumbling



Back to spring working.  New railings to the beach were put up.  Steve got these cedar railings out of our woods



Much better!



Raking never ends.  Troy and the leaf blower are getting a work out



Troy took a break from leaf blowing.  I thought he was napping at Restawhile.



Nope scraping the porch floor for painting



Steve having fun power washing Muskie to get it ready for painting as well



This is fun!  Beats rewiring the pontoon boat



More painting on the roof going on at Bayview



I will stick to the walls of Birchwood while the guys rush around doing other things.  If you come to the resort and stand around too long looking bored you will find a paint brush in your hand this week or a rake.

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In the famous words of my grandfather Maynard Black “Don’t just stand there do something”  These guys were having the time of their lives putting in docks

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My grandfather even put his inlaws to work.  Maynard is pictured with Millie’s parents above along with Craig and Dave painting boats

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Although he was known for taking some time off to go fishing here and there



It was time to head out of town for the weekend for a little R and R before the busy resort season starts.  Sir Charles looked ready to watch the place and keep an eye on things for us



His side kick Abby, is quite a party girl with the local boys but she looked ready to help out Charles with resort tasks.  We were not worried at all



Our first stop was in Saint Germain for some lunch.  We discovered a wonderful little cafe.  They are right on Hwy 70 in Saint Germain.  Known for their world famous cinnamon rolls, potato pancakes and pan fried walleye.  They also serve homemade apple sauce and jellies.  A must try if you are looking for a new place for breakfast or lunch



After that we were off to the maple syrup festival in Phelps.  Everything to do with maple syrup was going on in Phelps.  This was the syrup judging contest.  Three different categories based on color.  Light medium and dark amber.  The different ambers are achieved with the different sugar content of the flows during the season.



Then it was time to take a look at the fancy pans and machinery we do not use.  It makes our system on the woodstove look very rudimentary.



Ahhh a filter I would love to own!



More gizmos and gadgets than we could take in.  Someday if we ever get serious and do more than our 40 trees.

Words of the trade that people not in the syrup business might get confused on in case you ever go to a maple syrup festival

Sugar Bush:  Where your maple trees are.

Sugar Shack:  (this is not a term relating to a strip club)  A sugar shack is where you cook your syrup.  Usually a pole building of some kind with a chimney.  Usually does not have walls.  A cooker is usually in the middle of it that is vented out through the chimney.



Along with the festival was a craft fair and all the socks, gloves and socks I have been working on all winter headed to the fair along with the sock maker.  While Troy went on some Sugar Bush tours (see description above) I made and sold socks at the fair.  My favorite part was the accordion player who started up mid morning walking around and singing to his accordion.  It reminded me of Troy’s uncle Ralph who would bring his and play around the campfire.  Ralph had a few bawdy tunes for when the kids left the fire.  We miss Ralph and Lavonne.



That is a lot of socks!



What is a Maple Syrup Festival without a maple leaf.  We also got to meet Alice in Dairy Land (Wisconsin’s answer to Mrs. Wisconsin but she promotes dairy products through out the state).



After the festival it was time to do a little exploring in the area that we don’t get to do when the resort in busy



Time to get back to the resort and get things ready


Troy and I had been watching Cliff all day.  I thought the ice would hold for another day or two, but at 4 pm we had to call it.  Cliff went down April 8th at 4pm


Cliff takes the plunge


Here he was at noon and we were not ready to call it yet.  So who are the winners you ask????  We have 2 of them



Nobody picked April 8th but Lindsey Scheid picked April 7th and Jimmy Cikowski picked April 9th so we are going to split the pot between them.  Jimmy is pictured above in the red coat with Fritz a past winner in yellow and Tommy his brother in green.  Congrats to Jimmy.  Lindsey I do not have a picture of but will get it when she stops at the resort.  Lindsey and her parents Linda and Dave where guests of ours for years until Dave passed away suddenly and Linda and the kids bought a cabin in the area to spend time together.  Many in Birchwood know Linda’s beach sand entry in the log book.  Congrats to both Lindsey and Jimmy

Now to drag Cliff back in and dry him out before Linda and Jimmy stop to pick up their winnings



Snow returned again to Lower Kaubashine.  I took these pictures Monday morning where the road meets the lake.  Enjoy.  I believe this will be a calendar picture next year







Atleast the snow that came was pretty



The maple trees where going a bit overboard with all these up and down temps.  We had to go to our big evaporation pan over a campfire to boil our sap and catch up on cooking it.  We had 6 cabin fridges full, and both of our outside storage pots full and the trees were still dripping.



Craig decided with the new snow it was the perfect day to head back to Arizona for a month.  Before he left he sort of got the old bowling game working.  With the help of our local expert and lots of electronic cleaning he has the machine working for one person at a time.  When he comes home in May he hopes to spend some rainy afternoons cleaning and figuring out the rest of the machine.  He is getting closer to having this old machine working.  It has been a part of the resort since 1953 when Maynard bought it new.  It spent most of its life in the old rec room in the basement of the main house.  The last 15 years it has not been used for much besides piling things on it.  Hopefully it is working again this summer



I have been busy working on infinity scarfs.  These 2 are ready to go.  Fun colors.



More and more fingerless gloves and of course socks.



Tory and Steve have their own project going on. They are working on repairing the pontoon furniture on the Bass Buggy.  Next week we have an upholsterer coming to stay at the resort and put new covers on the cushions



Cliff is hanging on.  Our side of the lake is slower to go out, but it is getting there





Ice is slowly retreating



In the meantime back to work.  Spring cleaning cabins and making socks

This weekend we have cabins open and a few things going on.  The Fools Run 5K is Saturday at midnight.  Truly something you need to do once to see all the goofy costumes.  The Minocqua Chamber has more info on it at and here is a fun video of it

The Phelps Maple Syrup Festival is also Saturday.  Rumor has it the sock machine and all the socks will be there as well.  Here is info about it as well



The other side of the lake is starting to go out



There were ducks swimming along with ice but they left before I could get the pic



Our side of the lake taken from Jack’s  Landing.  Still frozen in



It is raking leaves time while we wait for the lake to unfreeze



Maple trees are still running like gang busters

People ask me about the clear sap.  Sap comes out of the tree clear.  When you cook it down evaporating the water and concentrating the sugar it turns brown.  The brown color in maple syrup is completely natural.  Nothing is added.  You just boil sap, add more sap and keep boiling.  That is how easy it is.  Easy as long as you have the maple trees to produce the sap.  I have heard of people tapping other trees like birch, box elder and others.  Maple trees just have the highest sugar content in their sap and that is why they are the preferred tree to tap



Our sap slowly boiling down on the woodstove.  We do things completely against the advice of most people making sap.  We boil ours in the house.  Most people have a sugar shack in the woods and cook it outside letting all the humidity and sugar residue in the steam loose outside.  We only cook enough for our family and do not have a system built outside.  We have an evaporation pan to put over an open campfire but we get lots of ash from the fire in the sap when we do it that way.  Our house is old, drafty and has wood walls that can be wiped down.  We just slowly boil it down and have not had problems in the last few years when we have done it this way.  If you have wall paper in your house this is a definite no, no as you can steam your wallpaper right off the wall


We left for a few days for spring break and came home to find the lake melting away.  Cliff was hanging out in the late afternoon sun


Shoreline melting away at the beach



Cliff has a ways to go before taking the drop into the lake but it is getting closer.

Since taking the pictures above the temps dropped again and refroze Friday morning.  It is going to be a long spring this year



This weekend we had a bit more snow come down.  Hoping this is the last snowfall or close to it



When it is snowing time to go to town for some good food.  We stopped by Friday for the fish fry at The Boat House.  The Boat House has changed hands the last few years from the Bosaki’s to Matt Morgans.  It is right next to the bridge and has amazing views of the lake.  We were all very happy with our fish and the service



The company could not be better.  All friends of ours from UW River Falls where Troy and I both went to college.  Fun weekend of laughs and reminiscing at the Cliff.  One of the couples had not been to the resort since our infamous wedding party back in the early 90′s…. a party like no other that has been had at the Cliff


They all would recommend The Boat House.  It was nice for our big group and very accommodating



With the snow on the ground and a few beers in our hands it was a weekend spend in doors.  Lauren asked me about infinity scarves and she and her mom Jackie helped me make my first infinity scarf.  There will be more of these to come in the resort gift shop



Craig spent some time working on the bowling game with our local expert.  The chances of it working this summer went up drastically but Craig is not promising anything yet



Mack was in 7th heaven when one of his favorite friends arrived, Char, along with Gail.  He is thrilled to see some of his summer friends returning



Spring got put on hold for a couple of days.  Winter made a return



Our maple trees stopped dripping and froze up



Before the snow and cold the trees were producing a lot of sap.  With the cold I had to break up the frozen sap left in the bags.  It was sad to see the trees stop flowing when they had been flowing so good.  They will be back to flowing as soon as it warms up



Cliff sitting out on the ice looked sad and forlorn with the cold and snow.  Almost defeated












Sitting up and hoping for a warmer day today.  Unfortunately I could not tell Cliff how cold it is supposed to be…. but this should be the last night of cold we are hoping



Shoreline back to being frozen up.  Ice Out will come….. I am sure it will….