Wingra Creek on the Fourth of July

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.

Starkweather farther than ever

This paddle started out as usual on Starkweather Creek. We took some friends there who had not had the pleasure yet. The day was great for it, perfect water level and no scum issue.

When we got passed under East Washington St and got to the area where we usually turn around due to deadfall we were delighted that the obstacles have been removed. We got to paddle farther than we ever have! We suppose we have Friends of Starkweather Creek to thank for that.

The route took us passed Bridges Golf Course where we interacted with a few golfers and it went on from there. It was very pretty. We turned around due to time instead of obstacles but later recognizance proved there really was not much farther to go – we were almost at the airport!

Two Faces of Starkweather Creek

July 30, 2015

Setting: Friday evening, temp about 80, sunny. We planned a short urban paddle on a creek we hadn’t been on for several years, followed by music of Hanggai in the park across the street from the launch

Water level: adequate, no gauge.

Put in: at the excellent concrete ramp at Olbrich Park at 6:55 pm.

The paddle: M had scouted the creek that day by bike along the Starkweather Creek Bike Path to confirm that it was not obstructed or too scummy.  For the first 1/2 mile or so, we could hear the music of Dengue Fever at the “Silk Road” Sessions on the other side of Atwood Ave. The water level was good for paddling, and the surface was generally clear of invasives.  There was minimal trash (sometimes a problem along this urban creek), and no unpleasant odors.  The Friends of Starkweather Creek organize creek clean-ups periodically. We appreciate the efforts of these volunteers. We paddled upstream to just north of the dog park on Commercial, just south of Hwy 30. We turned around so we could get back in time to see Hanggai at 8:30.

Wildlife: many mallard ducks, one black cat under the Milwaukee St bridge, possibly the pet of the person who put the couch under this bridge?

Take out: 8:15.  We carried our chairs and our beet rollups across the street and arrived just as Hanggai started their set. We split a beer from one of the food stands and enjoyed a cool mosquito-free evening on the shore of Lake Monona under a blue moon listening to our favorite Mongolian band.  #magical


August 4, 2015

Setting: Tues evening, sunny, temp in low 80’s. We wanted to see if we could get past Hwy 30 into the Starkweather Creek Wildlife Area.

Put in: Oldbrich Park launch at 6:45pm

The paddle: We were not able to go much farther than our previous paddle due to an obstruction by tree debris, and since we don’t do portaging, we turned around. The water level was definitely lower than the week before, and the surface was scummier. We got a bit hung up on rocks under the E.Washington St bridge but didn’t flip or have to get out of the canoe.  We passed up the takeout and paddled into Lake Monona a few yards to get some photos of the Capitol before heading back to the takeout.

Wildlife: many mallard ducks, a cormorant?

Take out: 7:30

Take away: best to canoe Starkweather Creek after a decent rain.


August 30, 2015

Setting: Sunday evening, temp in the upper 70’s. We wanted to try the east branch of the creek. We encountered lots of big boats coming and going at the launch, leaving the smell of diesel hanging over the area.

Put-in: Olbrich launch 4:35pm

The paddle: We took the east fork but could not get under the temporary footbridge erected for the bridge reconstruction by Severson’s gas station, so we reversed course and paddled the west branch again as far as the E.Washington St bridge. The water was higher than the last paddle, and the rocks under the bridge were barely visible. The water level was good for paddling, and we took photos of the water level that we can refer to when are thinking about paddling this creek in the future.

Take out: 6:00pm

Wildlife: many mallards, which entertained us by leapfrogging over each other as they paddled ahead of us, and at least 30 turtles sunning on rocks and logs.