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Platteville's 'M' is Magnificent!

Platteville's 'M' is the world's largest

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Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 8:07 am, Sun Sep 9, 2012.

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. -- It stands more than 150 high and is marked with an iconic, 241-foot high "M," the world's largest.

On a clear day, the white "M" on the Platte Mound can be seen throughout the tri-state area, including Humke and North Cascade roads west of Dubuque. It's a prime, visual weather indicator and it observes its 75th anniversary this year.

Its ties are deep with the nearby University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Making the climb

I arrived in Dubuque in April 1988 from Ottumwa, Iowa. In my efforts to explore the area, one the first locales I visited was the "M." I was impressed. I still am.

On a recent warm, late summer morning I revisited the landmark, walking the 266-sponsored wooden steps (the UW-P Foundation refurbished the steps about five or seven years ago). It could be a challenging climb for the elderly and people who don't walk much. But there are two places along the way where you can sit down to catch your breath.

For those in shape, the walk up is easy. I'm 61 and hadn't been to the top of the "M" for years. Based on previous climbs, I wasn't sure what to expect.

But the climb took me less than 10 minutes. I only stopped once and was hardly out of breath at the summit. The steps are wide enough for two people, and there is a guard rail as well.

The view does not disappoint. The word "breathtaking" probably doesn't do it justice.

Peering south, west and north, I saw farms and the numerous crop patterns of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, as well as grazing cattle. Intermingled in the agricultural landscape was the city of Platteville, the UW-P campus and its landmark, Pioneer Tower. To the northwest, I observed two water towers -- which I assume were the city of Lancaster's.

A narrow trail, free of litter, winds through the Mound's wooded area to the north of the large observation deck. I can't say how long it is, but it is an easy walk and marked by several rock outcroppings.

They're not hard to climb, and they offer a view of the east downslope. Most likely when the leaves fall, the view to the north -- specifically the wind turbine farm in Montfort -- improves.

It might not qualify as a bucket list to-do item, but considering the many scenic vistas in the tri-state area, the Mound is one of the places to visit and enjoy nature.

The history

The "M's" origin dates to a December 1924 meeting of the Engineering Club, when members voted to place an "M" on the mound. A committee of five students was formed to investigate the project. The investigation never occurred and the idea of an "M" lay dormant until 1936.

According to UW-P history, Wisconsin Mining School students Raymond "Pat" Medley and Alvin Knoerr (their names are on a large plaque on the first step), both of the Class of 1937) stomped a large "M" in heavy snow on the Platte Mound in 1936. It took several trips. The weather was particularly cold and the image of the "M" was frozen in the hillside.

The following spring, a classmate of Knoerr suggested they construct a stone "M." Another student suggested they make it the largest "M" in the country, even larger than the Colorado School of Mines' "M," which was 200 feet high. The school obtained permission from landowner William Snow to construct the "M."

Shortly after beginning the project, Howard B. Morrow, director of the Wisconsin Mining School, approved a field day for students to help construct the "M." Students used picks, crowbars and wheelbarrows to move an estimated 400 tons of limestone to form the "M." It was completed in the fall of 1937.

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