Trout Lake Station Announces “Virtual Open House” – An Interactive Scavenger Hunt on Vilas County Lakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Boulder Junction, Wis. – The word “canceled” is far too common these days in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Thanks to the current global coronavirus pandemic, events like Cranberry Fest, classic car shows and music festivals are taking summer 2020 off.

The same is true at Trout Lake Station, just south of Boulder Junction. While essential research is ongoing thanks to the staff and scientists who live nearby, the Center for Limnology’s research station is off limits for the several dozen University of Wisconsin-Madison students and visiting scientists who usually call it home in the summer. And the annual open house, which draws 300 or more visitors to the station each August, won’t be proceeding as planned.

Screenshot of the virtual scavenger hunt.

But the staff and scientists at Trout Lake Station didn’t let that stop them from coming up with a safe, socially distanced way to share their science this summer.

Starting Friday, July 31st, Trout Lake Station is launching a virtual scavenger hunt that will lead participants to several Vilas County locations. Just like their in-person open houses, participants will to learn about current research on six Vilas County lakes, as well as fun facts about the plants and animals that call them home.

And, in keeping with another part of their annual tradition, ice cream is still in the picture! Scavenger hunters who get a high enough score can head to the Corner Store off of County Highway N to claim a free dish or cone.

“We knew that gathering hundreds of individuals on station this summer was not going to be approved and could be a big risk for attendees,” says Trout Lake Station director, Gretchen Gerrish. “But, instead of cancelling, we tackled the challenge of going virtual. Our goal was to establish a way for people to stay distanced while visiting some regional lakes, learning about science taking place on station and engage with the animals and plants found in the region.”

The virtual scavenger hunt is available via a free smartphone app called ActionBound. Participants simply log on to the “Trout Lake Station Virtual Open House” and receive their first “clue” – coordinates to a nearby boat landing. From there, participants are led to stops at Allequash Lake, Trout Lake, Sparkling Lake and more. At each stop, the interactive app directs participants through a series of activities – from tracking down evidence of certain animals, to identifying rare aquatic plants or fish, to even doing their best loon impersonation.

Participants can complete the hunt in any order they choose and, if driving or biking to each stop isn’t an option, the entire hunt can be completed virtually.

The scavenger hunt was developed by Cassie Gauthier, a UW-Madison undergraduate who served as the Center for Limnology’s summer science communication intern. Gauthier lives in St. Germain and, although she couldn’t be at Trout Lake Station in person, a childhood spent on Vilas County lakes helped inform her virtual work from home as she came up with an engaging digital experience.

Like much of the work getting done these days, Cassie spent hours on video conference calls. She interviewed researchers at Trout Lake about their work and then distilled their science down into short, informational blurbs and engaging activities for each lake.

The time-consuming process wasn’t easy and it definitely wasn’t the in-person experience she had hoped she’d get this summer, Gauthier says, but “it has been a fun, new journey for me and I am hoping that the scavenger hunt will also be a fun, new journey for everyone else who participates.”

The scavenger hunt goes live this Friday July 31st. While the free ice cream reward at the Corner Store in Sayner only runs from July 31 – August 9th, the scavenger hunt will be modified and distributed to schools and online learners to be used throughout the 2020/2021 school year.


To access the scavenger hunt go to this link – – there will be a “start guide” to download from that page and an overview of ratings and how many activities there are within the scavenger hunt.

More information can be found on the Center for Limnology website.