Devils Lake (First and probably last time)

Most residents in Wisconsin have a fond enthusiasm for Devils Lake State Park. Maybe since we didn’t grow up here in the dairy state we don’t have the same dreamy associations. So to start getting to know this area a bit, we decided to paddle the circumference of the lake.  The summer of 2018 was a time of flooding and high water that made many of our lovely rivers inadvisable to be upon.

One thing you will love – no gas motor boats are allowed!

The term, devil’s lake is a misinterpretaion of the Ho-Chunk name Tawacunchukdah or Da-wa-kah-char-gra, which better translates to “Sacred Lake” or “Spirit Lake.” Spirit Lake is highly significant in Ho-Chunk oral history, and voices of spirits were often heard during the celebrations. –  Wikipedia

The Put-in

There are two boat ramps marked on the state park map. The signage is pretty bad for the south boat landing. If that is where you want to launch, pull in where the sign says “pet swim area” because the pet swim area and the boat launch are one and the same. There is parking across the street.

The north boat landing has great parking and is easier to find. Once there, your choice is to launch from a nice ramp or from a sandy beach. We put in from the beach and took out in the official boat ramp just to try it out. You do have to navigate around some sandbars to disembark. At this location, canoes, kayaks and small sailboats are available for rent.

The Lake

The paddle is about 3 miles. Watch out for rocks along the shore. Luckily they are easy to to see because the lake is quite clear, and the bottom is clearly visible along the shallow edges. The maximum depth is 47 feet.

The lake is a seepage lake, situated in a deep chasm with no visible inlet or outlet; it has no spring and no feeding river. The sunny side has rocks exposed. There are trails around the lake to walk – some of which are segments of the Ice Age Trail which follows the where the glaciers stopped.

There were a few other paddlers and many dogs, some riding in the kayaks.

We saw a gaggle of geese hunting for fish. It was fun to watch them bloop under, butts up!

There is a little stream and the water was high enough to explore but it ends in a culvert. At this point, we don’t know where that goes.  There is some vegetation in the water. Some seemed healthy and some seemed invasive. Very little algae at this point and quite clear compared to other waterways we paddle.

On the Southeast side of the lake there is a row of houses / cottages. These properties were grandfathered in when the WI law prevented new developments at Devils Lake. Mary had a little conversation with a cat in one of the windows.

There were rocks on the “shady” side of the lake that had a definite dividing line of mossed vs not-mossed rocks. Probably the water level was much higher a week or so ago. Also on this side is “Balanced Rock” which looked really small from where we were sitting, but it is a hiking destination for many.

We used the boat ramp to exit. Had a nice chat with this guy and his dog who relentlessly fetches. All in all, it was great exercise on one of the last beautiful sunny days of the summer and a nice pick of waterway to canoe once. Why only once? Because we do like more of the feeling of “going somewhere” and uncovering what is around the next bend. On a lake “it is what it is” – you can see pretty much all of it from the launch.

Lower Nemahbin 2018 (new dam, high water)

Somehow we didn’t get to the Lower Nemahbin in 2017 so we were twice as delighted to go back there on a weekday before the multitudes arrive for Labor Day.

The floods of this summer of 2018 made choosing paddling destinations require extra care. On this day we chose well, the water was high but not too remarkably so on this lake. The place the high water was most noticeable was near the dam, which was reconstructed since our last paddle.

Parking and choice of launch

There is a well-marked DNR parking lot on Sugar Island Rd in Summit, WI. There must be some turf wars going on in this town regarding the boat launch. The nice sandy launch is “private” and you get a strong sense that they want you to launch off the tiny dock in the reeds.  Instead we use the beach, taking much care not to be there any longer than necessary. We take a back seat to anyone using the area and are ready to apologize if we ever do get called out. Usually everyone is very friendly.

The paddle & the new dam

The water is still nice and clear. We paddled into the reeds which is actually the Bark River making its way through the lake. The current pulls you along; not much paddling required. The water took our boat right to the dam. Just before the bridge, the current was pretty strong. I had the idea that it would pull us right over the dam so I grabbed onto the reeds until we turned around.

We didn’t want to go to the upper lake and we didn’t want to spend time going around the entire Sugar Island, so we followed the western shore to see what there is to see. We had not done that before. There are some nice houses / cottages along there with neatly-tended gardens and sloping lawns that we are glad we don’t have to mow. The end of the lake was a stand of reeds. We just turned back around and meandered back to the take out.

Recon

Afterward the paddle we parked along the street and walked to the bridge to see what the newly-configured dam looks like – as in, did we miss anything? The dam used to be more of a chute or had a chute along side it that brave boats could go down. Now it is reconstructed to more of a traditional dam. The water was  actually higher than the dam so the current COULD have sucked us through. Glad we trusted our instincts and turned around!

Many people paddle under or portage over the bridge to cross the street in order to take a spin on the Bark River, so we were surprised and disappointed that they made a kind of a reluctant path to portage around it. Maybe the people that do have plastic or aluminum boats.

The other side of the bridge from the dam, the flow looks great – calm enough for the likes of us, but the boulder put-in would be hard for our kevlar canoe. I’m really not sure how we would enter there except to walk in up to our thighs and scramble into our craft.

Future recon

We had a very nice conversation with a fisherman at the bridge/ dam. We watched him exit and crawl into The Bark in his big boots and waders. He gave us complicated directions to another place to paddle close by … in the end we remembered ” go past Walgreens…”  We’ll have to look it up on a map in search of clues… oh, and “Folgers” lake or “Fowler” lake maybe?

Red Cedar Lake 2018 (first time)

This lake is probably quite pretty, but we really couldn’t see much of the water surface. We got to it too late in the season – it was just packed with vegetation. The canoe did ok in this thick plant material, but kayak paddles would probably get tangled due to the different pattern of paddle strokes. We heard about Red Cedar Lake in one of the paddling books, and it sounded idyllic; we guess they must have gone in the spring. We probably will not try again this year.

It wasn’t a total fail – there were tons and tons of frogs on the lily pads! We startled them as we floated passed, and we heard “squeak-splash” continuously as they blip-blip-blipped back into the water. It was impossible not to laugh. No motors of any kind are allowed(!) and, if you are a forager, there are a lot of cattails to harvest. Did you know that almost every part of the cattail is edible at some point in the year? We did take two to turn into a ‘barbecue’ but didn’t use them soon enough.

What we liked least were the gunshots as we were unloading the canoe. We were relieved not to hear any shooting while we were on the water.

Red Cedar Lake is a 370 acre “water seepage” lake located in the town of Oakland which is just east of Cambridge, WI. (Turn onto Brosig Lane from US-12) For a State Natural Area, the entrance to Leonard Brosig memorial landing is not at all well-marked; we must have passed it by 100 times and never saw it.

We couldn’t paddle the route we planned, but there is an island in the middle of the lake that we set as a destination and circumnavigated it.

Wildlife

Frogs galore, great blue heron, red wing blackbird, saw yellow-headed blackbird which we see less frequently on WI waterways.

Lemonweir to Louis Bluff on the Wisconsin River

Setting:

The third time we have won Ice House Getaway on Louis Bluff, in the River Alliance Auction. This time we were playfully trying to push the bid up and accidentally won! The Weinhold family offers a 2-day stay in their Ice House cabin on the Wisconsin River to the highest bidder to benefit the organization. With their permission, we invited several friends to paddle the Wisconsin River with us, take out at their private beach on the bluff and then have a picnic in the riverside gazebo. This land is private (not rentable) and part of a nature conservancy so it will not be developed into a tourist attraction in the future.

Initially, we planned the trip for the previous weekend but postponed it a week due to heat (nearly 90 degrees – 4 daily records broken) and wind. The weather for our paddle was perfect-temps in the 60’s, sunny,  with manageable wind 6-10 mph on the river.

Flow

USGS #05404000 Wisconsin River at Wisconsin Dells: 4800 cfs (median for Sept 30 ~4000 cfs)

The shuttle:

About 15 minutes from Louis Bluff (Teisberg on the GPS), to the Two Rivers Public Landing off Cliff House Rd at the confluence of the Lemonweir with the Wisconsin River. It is a very pretty drive.

The paddle:

After last-minute visits to the porta-john and the obligatory group photo, we launched at 1:20. The headwind and crosswinds made us work fairly hard at paddling at times. We couldn’t just sit back and float! Because the water level was lower than on previous paddles on this section, we had to pay attention to our route to avoid getting hung up on sandbars just below the surface. We meandered back and forth from one bank to the other several times which meant we got to see close-up the beautiful sandstone bluffs on both sides of the river.

At the end of the trip, we entered Heron Bay at the north end of Louis Bluff which is sheltered from the wind. We paused to take in the awesome sandstone features and snapped lots of photos of the spectacular bluff.  It was sunny, warm and protected from the wind. As we approached the bluff, we met Craig Weinhold and his family and Dusty the dog in canoe and kayaks heading upstream to paddle around in the sloughs. Coming out of the bay into the main channel the wind kicked up some rolling waves which made for some particularly strenuous paddling the last few hundred feet to the Weinhold’s private beach on the bluff. Take out time: 3:20, about a 2 hour paddle.

Wildlife:

Not much. Maybe one eagle in flight, crows, a few jumping fish.

Skokie Lagoons (First time!)

Deb’s sister-in-law declared a goal to paddle the Skokie Lagoons which is north of Chicago. Our friends Jeanne and Katia live close by and the weekend we were driving through we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law could not join us but we are determined to help her achieve this achievable goal.

The Skokie Lagoons are not in Skokie. Skokie is a native american word by the way. We didn’t have our canoe but we brought our own paddles and pfd’s – we rented. At first the canoe felt tippy but we adjusted to it and although we missed our own boat, we settled in for a fine afternoon.

Our time was limited but we paddled 2+ hours around the first island where there were loads of heron. Next time we hope to paddle all the way to the botanic gardens; this would be helping Jeanne reach an achievable goal and we are into that.

Wildlife

The heron on the island are so used to people that they don’t move away when approaching. We saw great blue heron but the thrill was black-crowned night heron which is pictured at the top of this post. There was also a lot of cormorants and in picture you will see five or more in a tree. Another tree had 10+ pigeons and we were joking that that is where they go when they are not pooping on sculptures downtown.

 

Rock River at Harnischfeger was lousy with heron

It was a windy day but the Rock River is pretty protected due to high banks. We went to put in at Kaul park (sometimes say “fisherman launch” since usually at least one person is fishing there). Since the wind was ruffling the water, the water was low for the launch, and the put-in was sort of scummy, we decided to go north to Harnischfeger Park which we had not used in awhile. Continue reading Rock River at Harnischfeger was lousy with heron

Scouting Neenah Creek

Friends who know we are not adrenaline junkies have recommended Neenah Creek to us LOL paddlers. Since a number of the Neenah Creek trips posted online show riffles, rapids, rocks, logjams, ledges, culverts and wires strung across the creek, we decided to check out the creek ourselves on the way to a Tuesday afternoon paddle on the Fox River north of Portage.

As a reference, flow for Fox River at Berlin on Aug 15: 1130 cfs (median ~700 cfs)

We checked out 4 sites. In the order of attractiveness to us, they are:

  1. Public landing off Big Slough Rd.
    This landing is actually on Big Slough Creek which flows into what I believe is Neenah Creek at or near the point where the South Branch also enters. Follow County Rd X to Menominee Rd and turn east. Where Menominee Rd T’s into Big Slough Rd there is a large public landing with a concrete ramp, picnic table and plenty of parking. No bathrooms. It’s obvious that big boats put in here, so the creek must be quite navigable. There is currently a sign indicating the Big Slough Creek is “no wake” at this time. Flow looks quite sluggish. There is some duckweed and other surface vegetation but much of the channel looks pretty clear. It is described as having “ok current, clear water and a sandy substrate” by an unknown author who posted a report in a word document titled “A More Obscure Branch of Neenah Creek” on portagemuseum.org. The date of the trip is not stated-might have been 10+ years ago. The author also adds “Prior to the final Big Slough Landing, there is the Hwy X bridge (a mile upstream). This could work with parking, but the launch area is poor. Continuing past the public Big Slough ramp, you can take out on Neenah Creek. It’s not a fast creek (at least not this far south), so you could probably paddle upstream to the Grouse Drive bridge, about 1.5 miles–a good bridge access area that is kind of secluded. Just be careful to not paddle up the “south branch” of Neenah Creek by mistake, or you’ll end up in Briggsville. A better Neenah Creek option after the Big Slough mouth would be to head down a couple of miles to where Muskrat Road crosses Neenah Creek. This is a popular launch with great parking and a good launch area.”

  2. Bridge on Muskrat Rd.
    Route from the north is off Grouse Dr. Turn south on Stevens Rd (called “5th Ct” on googlemaps) which turns into Muskrat Rd. There is room to park about 1 car on the shoulder. I wouldn’t describe it as having “great parking” or a “good launch area.” (see above) I would describe the launch area as “acceptable.” There are grassy, marshy banks which are not too steep on both sides of the road, one upstream from the bridge, the other on the downstream side; I think we could put in either place. We might have to duck going under the bridge, and in higher water the canoe might not fit. The creek here looks marshy and wide. Reportedly this is private property but the owner does not object to paddlers using the landing (according to wisconsinrivertrips.com, a great resource)
  3. Bridge on County Rd CX.
    This is a fairly busy road. There is a pull-off area on the east side of the road, room for one or two cars. You might be tempted to drive down a few feet of crumbling asphalt and park in a flat area down by the creek bank, but you’d have to pick your route carefully and it would be unwise if muddy. On second thought…no, just stay on the side of the road. The put-in itself looks OK, and the creek here has a nice tree canopy, no obstructions as far as we could see, with decent flow but not so swift as to prevent upstream paddling.
  4. Bridge at intersection of Dixon Rd and County Rd CM.
    Not a landing for us! Banks too steep and overgrown.

NOTE: we drove over the South Branch of Neenah Creek on 3rd Ave off Highway X. The creek runs through a large culvert, and we would probably want to avoid any route that goes through a culvert. It didn’t appear to be a usable put-in or take-out in any case.