Wingra Creek is a pleasant urban paddle in Madison. We usually try it once a year. If the water is too high, it can be difficult to get through the first railroad bridge; the water is too strong and fast and there is always deadfall to contend with. Sometimes the water is too low and the boat hits the creek bottom which causes an abandoned trip. The waterway can also suffer from invasive plants and algae making the experience extremely unpleasant. This year we were hoping that it would be “just right.” To be sure of our hunch, we walked along the Wingra Bike Path the day before, We found it “all clear” to take our friends Gene and Susan on an Independence Day journey.
Weather: Sunny, temp around 80 but uncomfortably high dew point.
Put in/take out: Olin-Turville Park’s non-motorized boat ramp. Everyone wants to know “Do canoes and kayaks have to pay the same $8 per day fee that big noisy polluting boats pay?” It is not specified on the sign, but a DNR staffer we ran into a few years ago told us that canoes did not have to pay the fee.
Timing: In at 11:30, out at 2:00 at a very leisurely pace.
The Trip: Pleasant urban paddle to the small dam at the end of Lake Wingra near the Arboreteum and St.Mary’s Hospital. The creek parallels the bike path, goes past Quann Park, Goodman Pool and several industrial-looking sites, and passes under many bridges for pedestrians, bikes, cars and trains. After Fish Hatchery Rd, the creek flows past marshy areas of the Arboretum on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other. There was not much trash, probably due to efforts of Friends of Lake Wingra. We saw lots of walkers and bikers and quite a few bank fisherman on this holiday. We met several other canoes and kayaks on the creek and one stand-up paddleboard. To make the route longer, there is a portage at the dam but we find the creek more interesting than the lake, not to mention less crowded.
Wildlife: swallows, ducks, a turtle, red-winged blackbirds, and a yellow-footed bird that we haven’t identified yet. Lots of flowers along the banks, including some beautiful spikey purple flowers with large arrow-shaped leaves growing in the water in two clusters near the Fish Hatchery bridge.
Take-away: Suggest paddling in spring or early summer when the creek is more likely to have plenty of water. Later in the summer when the water levels are lower, it gets sluggish and scummy and not too pleasant to paddle in.