Modern Problem Solving

Dec. 1, 2023
It takes innovation, determination, and sometimes being pushy

By David Matthews

Floating islands sound like something out of a Star Wars movie, but they’re very real to residents of Chippewa Flowage, Wis.

The floating islands on Lake Chippewa are actually bogs that started out as floating clumps of mud. Over the years, plant seeds scattered by the wind or dropped by birds flying overhead germinated on the bogs and increased their mass.

Today some of the bogs have grown to be several acres in size and even feature mature trees. They could be easily mistaken for islands, until they start moving.

One of Lake Chippewa’s largest floating islands, known as the “Forty Acre Bog,” causes headaches for locals nearly every year by drifting over to a bridge and blocking the only passage between the east and west sides of the lake.

“It’s one of the first things you look for when you come out here in the morning; where’s the bog?” local resident Denny Reyes told the Arizona News.

When the bog starts to get too close to the bridge, the only way to move it back out into the lake is by boat.

Given the size of the floating island, one or two boats won’t budge it. It takes more than two dozen boats to relocate it.

“When we move it, we gotta get it kind of in the right spot, or it can be back [against the bridge] in a couple of days,” local homeowner Greg Kopke said.

Some residents have suggested more permanent solutions for protecting the bridge, like blowing up the Forty Acre Bog. However legal protections for animal habitats ensure that none of Lake Chippewa’s floating islands can be destroyed.

Sorry “D. Vader,” but thank you for the suggestion.

Stuck in time

Every year, a handful of New Jersey motorists ignore the warning signs — and their common sense — and drive their vehicles out onto the beaches in Brigantine.

While four-wheeled vehicles with special permits are allowed on the beach, cars are not, but that doesn’t stop some drivers from venturing out onto the soft sands of the Jersey Shore to get a better view of the ocean or an amazing sunset.

Often, they end up staying longer than they expected when the find that their car has sunk into the sand and become stuck.

Andrew Grossman, owner of Rip Tide Bait and Tackle in Brigantine, started sharing pictures of these stranded BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes vehicles on social media. Based on the overwhelming response that his posts received, he decided to publish the "Beached Cars of Brigantine Calendar” in 2021.

This month Grossman will release the 2024 calendar, and like previous editions, it’s expected to sell out quickly. Grossman donates a portion of each sale to the Neighbors in Need charity in Brigantine, which unfortunately does not support neighbors who get themselves stuck in sand. 

License plate fate

Traditional embossed metal license plates are on the road to retirement.

Colorado recently joined more than 20 other states in mandating the replacement of embossed plates with flat screen-printed plates when residents buy a new vehicle.

State officials have found that wear and tear from driving, weather, and even car washes cause the reflective finish of embossed plates to erode, which can render them unreadable to Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology used for toll roads and law enforcement.

Of course, we all know that the future is digital, and the same is true for license plates.

Digital license plates use display technology akin to the e-ink in your Amazon Kindle to display your license plate number on a weatherproof digital screen. Registration can be renewed online with no stickers or trips to the DMV required.

Digital plates are already approved for sale in Arizona, California, Michigan, and Texas, and are legal to use in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico.

Starting at $599, digital license plates aren’t cheap, and many feel they lack the warmth of traditional metal plates that were hand-forged by artisans at a federal penitentiary. RB

About the Author

David Matthews

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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