Namekagon River – Trego Lake (Trego Landing to County K), Washburn County (6.5 miles)

I have paddled Trego Lake before, and this summer I paddled it with a group of youth.  It is not my favorite section, as it is mostly a lake with a portage around the dam.  We put in at the Visitor Center, floating down the river past Jack’s and Log Cabin, both outfitters that rent out to paddlers finishing at their places.  After going past the outfitters, there is a red bridge that one may have to duck under.  The walking bridge is not very high above the river, so make sure to aim correctly to not hit the sides or your head.  The river soon goes underneath the two bridges of Highway 53 where Trego Lake starts.  The lake starts out pretty wide, with areas that are shallow.  You must make sure to stay where the current is best.  There is some wild rice growing.  I have harvested from here before, and it wasn’t the best (I think I was also there past its prime.).

A mile in to the lake, it narrows.  It is not shallow in this area and is much more intimate.  There are houses along the lake, none of them too overwhelming in size. After a mile in the more narrow passage, there is a landing on the left, on Trego Landing Road.  Many motor boats put in here.  Across from the landing is the Trego Lake Trail, which is owned by the NPS. I do not think that there is access from the water, but you can park at a lot on River Road to hike the system.

It is another 2.5 miles to the dam on the lake-like conditions.  Be prepared to paddle.  Our group was beginning paddlers, and some of them struggled to keep up with the pace we needed to get them back on time (they in fact did not get back on time.)  At the dam, the portage is on river right – a wide open mowed area to pull out and over the dam (and a good place to snack or lunch, with a porta-john.)  On another occasion, I did access the dam by parking near it off of River Road (not an ideal put-in but it can be done).  At the base of the dam, there is a put-in where one must set the boat in the water and hop in.  The water is swift but manageable, even for the youth (with guidance.)  It is another half of a mile to the County K Landing.  The river goes under County K and the landing is on the left.  One must be prepared to swing into the landing since the water is swift here.  This landing is well-used and has a lot of parking.

If you are up for a lake paddle, this is a nice stretch.  It is not my favorite, nor would I recommend it for a day trip for young people.  The benefit is there is little risk of strainers, though it comes at the cost of needing much strength to move forward.

You can find maps for this section at:

https://www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/upload/map3-trego-to-riverside-cv2012.pdf

 

Paddled July 24, 2019

Special Edition: Wild Ricing in Wisconsin

I started wild ricing three or four years ago when I took a class at Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary (https://hunthill.org).  The class was led by John Haack and Mike Bartz.  They first took us through the life cycle of the rice. Wild rice (manoomin – the good berry) is not a true rice, it is a grass.  (Rice is a type of grass, but not all grass is rice.) In the spring, the seeds germinate, and a small, fragile plant emerges.  The water must be a certain level, since rice is an emergent plant – the water is usually between four inches and four feet deep.  Too deep and the plant will not reach the surface.  Until mid-summer, the plant is in the floating-leaf stage of its life.  It looks like some other water plants that float on the surface of the water at this point.  Two of the last four years, there were very large floods (50-1,000 year floods) in July.  Where they hit hardest, the rice beds were damaged.  The fragile floating leaf stage was ripped out by the power of the waters that rose and wiped many things away.  A motor boat going through the rice at this point can also tear it out of the soil.  Mid to late summer, the plant grows up out of the water where the seeds ripen.

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In late August and early September, the rice is ripe.  To go wild ricing, one must know the regulations and have the right equipment.  I have riced in Wisconsin, where only citizens of the state and tribal members are able to attain a license at this time.  One can use a non-motorized canoe – no longer than 17 feet and no wider than 38 inches.  Your knockers must be made of wood, must be hand operated, and can’t be any longer than 38 inches.  These regulations are to mimic the traditional gathering of wild rice; you should not take every single grain out there – the size of the canoe and knockers, they allow for you to give back to the waters so that there will be rice next year, and the year after that, in perpetuity.  All of the Wisconsin regulations can be found at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/outdoorrecreation/activities/rice.html.

When the morning dew is dry and you have the regulated equipment, you need one more thing – a push pole to go through the rice.  I bring paddled with to get me to the rice, but it is very dense and you need someone to stand up and push through it.  That person must have good balance since they are standing up, and I usually end up being that person with people I bring out for the first time.  One person pushes the boat forwards while the other reaches over alternating edges to sweep rice over and tap the grains into the canoe.  It is very important not to ‘hit/beat’ the rice – there are certain grains that will be ripe when you are out, some were likely already ripe and have fallen in (or into another person’s canoe) and others will ripen in the coming days.  If you hit the rice hard, it may damage those still ripening grains, which will be ready for you, someone else, or the wind later in the week.  If there is a hail storm or strong winds, this can cause the rice grains to fall in or be damaged as well.

Once you are done gathering what you would like for the day, you take your rice home and dry it.  The sun works well; I usually put it in the basement to dry for a day or so.  There are likely things in the rice you don’t want.  There are rice worms and spiders that will crawl away from the rice (especially if it is in the sun) and you can pick out sticks, stalks of ghost rice (rice that never had a seed form in them – they are hollow) or leaves.  Once it is pretty dry, there are three steps to making the rice ready to store for the winter.  I have only taken my rice to a local person that does it by machine, so I will tell of that here.  The steps are the same if you were to process the rice by hand, it would take much longer to do so and very few people do it that way now.  The first step to to parch the rice.  This is roasting the rice over heat.  It gets rid of any extra moisture and starts to loosen the hull.  Next, sifting starts to get the hulls to drop off of the rice, and winnowing helps them to blow away from the rice (using a fan.). You have your final product – hand-harvested wild rice!  There may be some imperfections in it – a hull here and there or a tiny stone, you can take those out when you see them.

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The wild rice that you hand-harvest is different than the wild rice you usually buy at the store (still ‘wild rice’ but a different variety.)  Some ‘wild’ rice has been genetically modified, and what you buy in the store is not wild at all.  It is cultivated and harvested by machine.  If you want rice that is truly wild, look for bags that say hand-harvested – likely found in ricing country – I seldom see it for sale even in these parts.  The hand-harvested wild rice is brown in color and looks much rougher than the perfect black grains one can buy at the store.  It looks alive, imperfect, not all the same, rough.  Each lake has a different grain depending upon the growing conditions within that lake, and how the genetics of those seeds have developed over time.  Some lakes have smaller grains, others have grains that fully fill the shaft of the seed head.  The woman that we visited that processed the rice had rice from each nearby lake on her door – both before and after processing.  She has been processing the rice since before I was born and could look at what you brought her and know where you had riced.  It is important for her to know this, too, as the timing for processing changes based on the grain’s characteristics.  You don’t want large grains and small grains processed together – you might burn the small ones or not finish the large ones!  This manoomin is alive, it is unique, it is the lifeblood of this place.  I would strongly suggest you try to find hand-harvested wild rice, or harvest some yourself.  When you cook hand-harvested wild rice, it takes a much shorter amount of time than what you would buy at the store too.  Definitely worth it, while expensive, either in your day out on the water or money given to those practicing a traditional harvest, you are part of the ecosystem as it has been for centuries.

This class also inspired me to build my own canoe at the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum.  In the class, we made knockers of cedar wood.  That being the hardest part of the outfit to come by, I am glad that we were able to take these home for use after our day out on the water!

2018 and 2019 Ricing done in September. Pictured are Ryan, my Mom and I.

Santiago (Sullivan Bay), Rábida and Chinese Hat Island

We snorkeled in Sullivan Bay near Santiago Island.  It is the youngest place we visited, towards the western side of the Galapagos.  It is 100,000 years old, made up of more than 100 volcanoes.  Some of them are the red cinder cones that dot the landscape.  The brown in the landscape is made from ash (tuff.) In the Galapagos, there is no obsidian because it needs silica, and there is none here.  Sullivan Bay has a flow that is from 1897-99 (but it looks very new).  Because of the arid environment, it has barely broken down and oxidized, and only has 2 species of plants growing on it – a lava cactus and Mulluga, a tiny plant.  There is very little wildlife here, mostly on the ocean edge with shoreline creatures and birds.

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While snorkeling, I saw purple starfish, pufferfish, sea cucumbers pooping, and blue-green teeny jellies.  The water was a bit ‘foggy’- the warmer waters come in with the day’s humidity; earlier in the day, the water is more clear.  I floated amongst the ocean, taking in the calm, being a part of the place.  It was primordial, with waves etched on the ocean floor.  Light from above, sun shining through the water, reflecting the sand’s topography below.  Light has done this for millions of years, sparking life.  The light had a higher frequency near me, my shadow.  Little light lines nearby my shadow, the spark that started it all.  It made me wonder: does life have a higher frequency than non-living things around it?

Our last stop on the equinox was watching the sun set from the top of Bartolomé Island, overlooking Sullivan Bay.  Bartolomé has an isthmus between two crescent shaped beaches that make it picture-perfect.  Others had snorkeled at one of the beaches, but I was wiped from being so active in the heat of the day (and already snorkeling once for the day!) It is a small island, but has one of the most famous views in the Galapagos.

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On the last day, we went to Rábida and Chinese Hat Islands.  On our morning snorkel, we saw a dead lobster, and a school of fish that let me be part of them, flowing with their movements, unafraid of me.  Our afternoon snorkel had a special end to our experience – being near Galapagos penguins!  They were up on the shore standing in the sun, making squeaking/honking noises at each other; we were in the water about 10 feet away.  There are fewer than 2000 Galapagos penguins, the second smallest penguin in the world.  We saw them, and along with the rest of the bird life on the islands, they weren’t afraid of us!  They like the central and western islands because the currents are colder there.  They nest in lava tubes and babies only come out when they are ready to swim. The last real El Nino was in 1997-1998.  It was a very strong one, and 70% of the penguins died.  It brought lots of rain and cold waters, leaving few fish for them to eat. There were white-tipped sharks in the water and sea stars too.

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If you go: Tips and tricks

The experiences that e had were set up through OARS – you can find the Eastern trip that we did here: https://www.oars.com/before-you-go/galapagos-islands-explorer-east/  OARS contracts with guides in the Ecuador and the Galapagos to set up amazing experiences for small groups.  That was probably the best part of the whole thing – the intimate atmosphere that all of our learning and adventuring took place in.  Our cruise had a maximum of 16 tourists on it – our had 9 (I think they said it averaged 11 over the whole season).  The Reina Sylvia also does a trip on the western half of the islands (more about geology) – a boat cannot visit an island more than once every 14 days, so they rotate between the two trips.  The national park and coast guard regulate this, and there is a tracker on each boat, so they know where everyone is at all times.  I would highly recommend OARS to anyone considering going to the Galapagos.  Our guide had over 20 years of experience guiding there and had some other stories as well.

Some tips from the trip:

  • I brought a wet suit. Our ship didn’t provide wetsuits, and I had one at home, so figured it was the thing to bring.  I knew it fit me and going to a warm place, I didn’t have many other clothes to bring and fill my luggage with.  The water was chilly at times, the others said.  I did go once the last day without it (it wouldn’t have had time to dry.)  The other BIG benefit was it was sun protection.  After the first morning out snorkeling, I was the only one that hadn’t burned the back of my legs.  I was glad that I brought it!
  • I would suggest a sun hat. I don’t own one, but do want one after this trip.  Others had them, and I was a bit jealous of the protection they had.  There are not many trees to shade you here!
  • Bring sunscreen, lots of it! I have never lathered so much sunscreen on myself multiple times a day in my life!

If you get the chance to go to the Galapagos, take it!  The best advice there is!

Snorkeling and Kayaking Isla Lobos, San Cristobal and Isla Genovesa

We snorkeled in the channel between Isla Lobos and San Cristobal, finding some more sea lions to play with.  Some of the sea lions were young and I would flinch and jump away when they came at my face, playing.  None of them ever touched me, and always turned away at the last second.  I am just not used to having wild animals come at me for fun in the water! Other sea creatures that we saw here were pencil sea urchins (they have very long, stiff-looking spines), purple snail shells, yellow sea urchins, “sandfish”, stone scorpionfish, green sea urchins and damselfish guarding their algae farms.  They will bite at you if you get too close.

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Genovesa is the northernmost island that we went to, a bit of a hike from the rest of the islands.  There are two other islands further north, but people only take private cruises there to dive.  The waters by Genovesa are warmest because of the ocean currents coming from the south.  This warm water means… hammerheads!  We did actually get to swim with hammerhead sharks! ‘With’ may be the wrong term, since they were well below us.  We woke up early in the morning and went snorkeling at low tide when the ocean has the least debris floating in it, to see if luck was on our side. Hammerheads are bottom feeders, with mouths on the bottom of their hammer-shaped head.  When you see this animal, you wonder – why?  Why have eyes out that far?  Other animals that are not predators do just fine with eyes on the sides of their heads, but this seems excessive.  The sharks were much closer to the bottom than we were, a bunch of them swimming around.  We were graced with their presence for a while, they kept coming back and we had many chances to see them below in the deep, dark water.  We also saw Galapagos sharks.

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Later in the morning, we kayaked around half of Darwin Bay to Price Phillips Steps.  The whole of the bay was where the caldera collapsed, the cliffs above had not collapsed into the ocean. We saw Galapagos fur seals up close in the rocks on the cliffs.  They have shorter noses, larger ears and thicker fur than the other sea lions (of which they are one) in the islands.  They are the smallest ‘fur seal’ in the world (not the smallest seal).  They really like to eat squid, and do their fishing during the night.  There were seabirds nesting along the cliffs as well.

Galapagos – Española Island

Back in March, I was in the Galapagos Islands.  We did kayak some and also went snorkeling (among other things like hiking).  I wanted to share some of those waters with you!

The Galapagos islands are part of Ecuador, and the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. To go to the Galapagos, you must have a special visa which is not needed to visit the mainland of Ecuador. I will focus on the the water-based activities that we did – snorkeling and kayaking!

The Galapagos sits on the second largest caldera in the world, the Sierra Negra, just one mile below the surface of the earth.  There is one large volcano in the western Galapagos, and many smaller parasitic volcanoes throughout the western part of the islands.

Our first day on the water, we stopped to snorkel at Gardiner Bay near Española Island.  My favorite part of the trip was to happen here – sea lions swam with us!  They came alongside us and wanted to play.  As we went along the shoreline, they followed much of the way.  It was magical, something I was not expecting. It made the animals so real, they had personalities, I was one of them.  The thing I noticed in this snorkel was the amount of sound that reverberated in the water.  It was the parrotfish munching, and I think because we were in a bit of a rocky cove, it echoed all around.  We also saw king parrotfish with yellow tails, green sea urchins, a sea turtle when we pulled up, and the chocolate chip sea star (it looks like it has chocolate chips on it!)

Each island has noticeably different sand.  The white sand here is from parrotfish eating corals, which makes fine, white sand.  Española is one of the oldest islands and it continues to erode.  At the same time, it is also being pulled down by plate tectonics.

The animals in the Galapagos are not bothered by humans; there were few, if any predators on land, and so long as you don’t touch them, the animals are fine being next to you.

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Sea lions go to sea, fishing for up to 10 days, and then come in and sleep for up to 4 days. Since they are in the ocean with sharks and other predators, it can be dangerous and a lot of work fishing – they may look lazy on the shore, but they definitely are not at sea! They were so relaxed, sleeping in the sun. Most of what we saw were the Galapagos sea lion (sister to the aggressive California sea lion), the least hairy of all sea lions.  They enjoy hanging out on the beach, and will also hang out on rocks. The mothers have babies year-round, though most likely during July and August. They are pregnant for 9 months and rarely have twins. The babies are usually weaned after a year, and are forced to leave when the mother gets pregnant again. Some may stay for up to 4 years if the mother doesn’t get pregnant. There were many nursing mothers everywhere. The babies may be on shore without the mother, waiting for her to come back (she doesn’t always, as there were occasionally dried out babies).  At 6 months old, the young can go out with the group and hunt. The mothers don’t bring fish back to them; their first fish is what they catch. Sometimes young sea lions catch and eat pufferfish because they are a slower fish. This is bad news for that sea lion, who will be pierced, poisoned inside, and die. The pufferfish doesn’t win either I suppose, but for all watching, hopefully the outcome is learning. Each colony of females and babies has an alpha male.  The male changes every 2-4 weeks because they must defend their right to be in charge of the colony.  If they are sticking with the ladies, they are not out at sea eating, and lose some strength.  When a stronger male comes to challenge them, eventually, they lose and must build their strength back to win again.  Seals and sea lions are different in a few notable ways – sea lions have external ears (seals do not) and sea lions walk on all fours, while seals use their front limbs to pull their body when on land.  There are no true seals in the Galapagos.

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The routine we started this day is generally the one we followed the rest of the week: breakfast, hike, snorkel, lunch, siesta, hike, dinner, sleep.  It was a nice routine to be in, relaxing, predictable, yet every time different.  Be prepared to learn more about the next few islands we visited!

Brule River, Stones Bridge to Hwy 2, Douglas County (12 miles)

The water has been high this spring, so we were able to get on the Brule again, this time the most frequently paddled part! I used both Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob to piece together what I needed to know for the trip. The first book has more detail – sometimes too much to know how dangerous a specific rapid might be. It names everything on the map which is nice as you go along. The other book is reliable for its assessment of feasibility (if it’s in this book, it will exist as a navigable river) and difficulty of rapids (if this book warns you to be careful, do, if not, you are ok).

The bike shuttle itself is a story. We stopped to get out and shuttle our bikes, and our car tire was making a hissing sound. We quick ran into the town of Brule, which does in fact have a tire shop – 15 minutes before it closed. They took care of the tire while we sat in the park across the street. People started showing up for a North Country Trail picnic, which we joined while we waited for the car! Our shuttle started on gravel roads, and we then switched to paved roads when we got to County B, for it was much quicker for me to bike further on paved roads than gravel.

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We started at Stones Bridge after the shuttle. The river here was much like it had been before – open and beautiful. Plant life included spruce, cedar, white pine, tamarack, alder, red dogwood, marsh marigold. While the wildlife was slim, it included an eagle, grackle and blue jays. Early on, we ran into some friends who were paddleboarding. Soon we saw a sign that said 10 miles to campground. That sign indicated the beginning of the private land – land that spoke of a different time and class. It was muddy in this area, which is called McDougal Ponds or Springs.

The first indication of an atypical river was the boathouse at Cedar Island Estate. Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower were all guests here while they were in office. Not your typical river home, eh? Cedar Island Estate lasted a while, with many cabins and a few bridges to go under, including the Green Bridge. It was such a perfect place – cedars, mossy ground, the river creating small waterfalls that could have been right out of a fairytale, or a president’s vacation. The only thing missing was elves or leprechauns; maybe they were not missing, just not showing themselves. After the Green Bridge, there was a rapids at the end of a small pond, another rapids under a bridge, and then a narrow tunnel-like rapids that brought us to another bridge.

Our next challenge was not too far ahead – The Falls, which were the most difficult rapids on the trip. The river makes an elbow turn to the left, so one has to make sure to shoot them right. We got the most water in the kayaks here. Big Twin Rapids were more of riffles that led to a lake, and Little Twin Rapids were bigger than their wrongly named pair.

Big Lake was the next challenge – it is open, and very shallow. Birch are more prolific on this lake. It is a lot of work to paddle the shallows, but we did it, passing two other couples paddling. We watched an osprey fish, and were excited when it got one and carried it away after a few tries! We figure that being so shallow must help the osprey see and catch the poor fellow. We went through Wildcat Rapids (riffles) onto Lucius Lake, passing cabins, boathouses, gazebos and 2 canoes ties to docks in the water. This lake was also shallow, and I got stuck in the mud enough to get out (I went left, another way may have been better.) At the end of this lake is another narrow area that goes under Castle Bridge. There were some weeping willow here. The river enters Spring Lake, and soon the Winniboujou Club. An interesting choice of name, I thought. The Nature Conservancy helps the club conserve land along the river. The oddest thing was a statue of a First Nations ‘chief’ I assume – just facing the river. I do not think that the name of the place has any true history with that sculpture or those that founded the place, and was a bit saddened by it.

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Most of this section screamed old money at me. It was beautiful. A piece of me is jealous of those that own or can take part of the beautiful old homes here. They were mansions, but much more – reminiscent of historic national park lodges, a heyday when canoeing was high class. The boathouses spoke these things to the passerby, the mansions overlooking the river, but blended in so as to be out of sight. One boathouse looked like a small cabin along the river, complete with flowers planted in the upper window. We only saw one family out – it seemed a place to not be seen, but to see a perfection you coveted. Maybe a bit of ‘social media’ of yesteryear, where paddlers by could only guess how wonderful your life was. Many boathouses had canoes tied up along the docks outside – as if someone stepped away from them 75 years ago and would be back soon. Even when the boathouse was open and could be used, it was a show that the owners were ready to jump in the canoe and enjoy their time in the wilderness. It was unlike any other river I have been on, and I yearned to be part of the high society that existed and lives there to this day.

 

Once we passed County B and the town of Winniboujou (there is a landing on river left here before the bridge), the river became a regular river again. The national park lodge homes were gone, though it was still beautiful. There were many rapids here. There were three bridges amidst Williamson Rapids and then Hall Rapids. This was the trickiest rapids; if your boat went straight, you would end up in a log that was pinned to a rock wall at the bottom. Make a sharp left turn to avoid this!

At Nebagamon Creek, the river’s character changes – sandy, not quintessential boareal shorelines any longer. There were tag alder, ash and maple here. The land where the creek came into the river was for sale. Long Nebagamon Rapids were easy. Little Joe Rapids were the biggest rapids (the reliable book called only these rapids a Class II) that we went down. Both books mention a path to either portage or scout the rapids, but we saw no such thing. There was more elevation change than for other rapids, but these were easier than The Falls earlier.

Soon, we were near the campground for the Brule River State Forest. There was a landing to get out at (with a warning sign so you knew it was coming up). There is also a campsite near the river (further downstream) that Ryan thought he had used in the past.

Our last landmark – one we were looking forward to all day because of the name – Doodlebug Rapids! It was not hard at all, and we declared there were doodlebugs in the air (some kind of fly that at times the fish were catching – better than landing on us!) There were many ash and tag alder near here. As you continue downstream, you can hear Highway 2, and buckthorn can be seen on the shore. The landing is on river left, and you must pull up alongside, just like all of the other landings on the river – it seemed high class to have a wooden platform along the shoreline to step into your boat from.

Paddled June 1, 2019

Brule River, Stone Chimney Road to Stones Bridge, Douglas County (~4 miles)

We haven’t been out paddling yet this spring, and I wanted to get out on the Brule. My book, Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin, said that one could do the very top of the river, starting at County P in Douglas County. Given the adventurers we are, and that the book said that we could do the 9 miles in 5 hours, we set out to find out if it was indeed true, this top section navigable. Well, I would say County P has nowhere to put in. We had to turn around after crossing the small bridge. Going downstream, there was a thick tag alder swamp that one could make out a flowing body of water in. Where it came from may have tricked someone into thinking it was navigable, but it disappeared. (I am wondering now, with a map in hand, if we were looking at Wilson Creek, which also crosses County P. In either case, there was not a river that cried out to be easily paddled on County P.)

 

We continued on to see if the next parking area would bring us to a navigable waterway. There was a parking lot, and after a short hike down a fruitless hill and over a crosswalk through a bog, we found the river, and I declared it navigable. We found a sign that let us know that we were in the Brule Glacial Spillway State Natural Area, a protected place with some endangered species around. Ryan was wary to jump on a river that we may have to fight to get through, but I trusted that, at least in the 1980s, the book had declared that this part of the river was ok. We didn’t have to recalibrate a shuttle if we tried this, and I figured it couldn’t be worse than the Clam River section I had attempted that wasn’t even in the book.

We drove the car to Stones Bridge, our takeout, which was very nice with a bathroom, spring, and parking lot. We biked back to the kayaks, on Hazel Prairie Road, left on Turkey Farm Road (no turkey farm in sight), left on Stone Chimney Road. The roads weren’t bad for biking; Turkey Farm Road had some soft sand on it. Locking the bikes up, we portaged the kayaks down to the river and waded in (it is very soft where the boardwalk meets the river.) There are hepatica blooming along the uplands, and in the bog, there was sphagnum moss, white cedar, leatherleaf, bunchberry and goldenthread, among a few other bog plants.

 

The river was similar throughout – cedar swamps lining a tag alder swamp. Much of it was easy to paddle through. Other parts, we had to duck or push our way through the tag alder. It was much better than the Clam River! There was always a path to take through, though a few times we questioned which way the river went, we could always figure it out by watching the slight rippling of the flow. Do expect to have tag alder in your boat by the end of the adventure. You should be able to stay pretty dry though.

 

A few places, cedars had fallen in the river, sometimes bowing the alder further into the path. We could tell that they river was maintained because we never had to get out of the kayaks – the trees and most offending branches were cut off and sent downstream. Maintained enough that the recreational kayaker could get through! Sometimes, it seemed that the tag alder had been bent all the way down in masses, with no offending cedar lying on top of them. We wondered if this was the result of the massive floods we have had the past few years. The river meanders so much that the waters may have flowed right over the land the alders are on. It is a tag alder maze, if there ever was one!

 

This river is unique, it is all flat water, with tag alder mostly spread out enough so that we could go through it. Definitely a different experience based on the many other rivers we have been on.

Along the river, there were tag alder, white cedar, black spruce, white pine and some green goopy algae that seemed very out of place. A quarter mile from the end there was a property with a few buildings on it, I will guess from the map, Blue Springs, with many springs at it. The takeout at Stones Bridge was very easy.

Map:  https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/StateForests/bruleRiver/documents/brulemap.pdf

Paddled May 12, 2019

Namekagon River, County K to Whispering Pines. (7.7 miles)

I recently took a group of 4-H families on the Namekagon from County K to Whispering Pines, a pretty popular part of the river. With the group, we used Jacks Canoe Rental, which make the shuttle and travel easy. We put in at County K, which has lots of parking. There is an area to drop off boats, and then an area to park, and there were many cars there on a beautiful day. All sorts of people were around, including people with portage packs that I assume were going to stay overnight on the river.

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Being a leader on this quick trip, I was paying less attention than I should to my surroundings to write about it. I will have to revamp this post in the future with more details! At first, we started out on a quick section of the river. We were swiftly carried away and had to find a place downstream to wait for the group. There are strainers on the river here, so watch out for them in the quick current. The river winds a lot, and there are some riffles and small rapids. We took a lunch at campsite 26.7, which was very spacious. All of the campsites we went by looked like it would be easy to get boats out of the water (much more so than higher up on the Namekagon, where you are bringing the boats up steep inclines where there is not much room to store them). Campsite 25.3 is closed for restoration. There was some poison ivy at the campsite, and an old chicken of the woods mushroom greeted us. We took out at Whispering Pines, which comes up out of nowhere. It was easier to see the campsite sign past it. The river is swift here too, so make sure you are able to get over to river right to get out.

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Along the river, there were oak, maple, tag alder. Lots of leaves were down on this beautiful fall day, more than the rest of the woods up in Washburn County. The river must affect them turning before the rest of the trees.

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There is a great deal of information on this section of the river – Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob, Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and the map from the National Park Service are great resources.

 

Most recently paddled Sept 22, 2018

Namekagon River, Big Bend Landing to Trego Revamped (7.7 miles)

This is such a popular paddle, and I do it feel like I did it justice on it’s first post in 2016. For one, I have pictures now!

I recently did this paddle with a group of middle and high schoolers and it was a very pleasant day. As noted before, you want to avoid summer weekends, so that you do not have lots of other people around you o the river, drinking. I have heard from rangers that it is getting worse. The Apple River has cracked down on their party status, and now people are coming up here more to do just that. There may be some intervention on this in the future, but for now, you can just choose to avoid the area on the best summer weekend days.

There are a few campsites along this stretch of river, most in the first half of the trip. There was a couple camping at one of the sites as we paddled by, and another group taking a break at another one.

This section of river meanders through forest and marsh, creating some islands in the lowlands. We put in at Big Bend Landing, where the river actually is going around a horsehoe turn for the first half of the trip. The river is wide and calm on the turn, and is very beautiful in the fall. We lunched at the Earl Landing, which has camping, water and pit toilets. This is where many of the outfitters put in and there is a nice new boat ramp to drop off canoes and tubes. If you take out here for a rest, remember to be courteous so that if others come to drop boats off, your belongings are not in their way. After the Earl Landing, the river continues to meander through forest and high banks, and there are some riffles (some may consider them Class I rapids). There are also strainers along the side of the river. We did have a canoe tip because of a strainer – they all leaned away from it… and the boat tipped. Know how to avoid the strainers and boulders in the river, and how to react if you do end up close to them.

After the first Highway 63 bridge, the river weaves through low wetlands creating sandbars and islands. The river can be very shallow, but it isn’t too hard to find the main channel and continue downstream. The river goes under Highway 63 again and is wider, with higher riverbanks.

The river has many plant species along it, including pine, oak, white birch, tag alder, maple, wild rose, sedges and cattail. A plant that has been prolific statewide in 2018 is the wild cucumber. It is a vine that can cover the top of trees and kind of looks like a blanket over them. We explored some ripe cucumbers. It appears that the end of the ‘cucumber’ falls off, and the seeds, when ripe, fall out. There are a few chambers of seeds, and two seeds in each chamber. Nothing would probably eat it, it is quite bitter, slimy – and in the winter you can see their skeletons handing from the vine still. The Trego Nature Trail goes along the north side of the river for most of the stretch south of Highway 63. We did see eagles on this section of river.

The take-outs are obvious – Lakeside Road Landing (river right) and one right across from it near the Namekagon River Visitor Center (river left). If you continue, there is a take-out at Trego Town Park (river right) or you can go under a very low red walking bridge. This quickly takes you under US Highway 53 onto Trego Lake.

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There is a great deal of information on this section of the river – Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob, Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and https://www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/upload/2014-Namekagon-Map2BW.pdf from the National Park Service are great resources.

 

Most recently paddled Sept 11, 2018

Yellow River – Green Valley Road landing (Tozer Lake Bridge) to Swan Bridge Road (~7 miles?)

I have done this section of river a few times before. I decided again to lead two Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) trips (http://www.wisconservation.org/field-trips/) on the river this year, with Joan Jacobowski, who works with the National Park Service when she isn’t foraging or volunteering. As I prepped for the first trip, I was surprised that I hadn’t written about it yet. I guess a few rivers slip through, and even now, I write months after I write about this river (I did take notes both times I was out this summer!)

This river is a bit wilder than the nearby Namekagon, and very accessible without too much challenge. This is why I have chosen it for a second year in a tow to lead people from around the state on. We put the boats in at Green Valley Road, where there is an ample parking area. There is poison ivy along the edges, so be aware for that. In the river, turn right, under the bridge (it is very slow-moving, and hard to tell which way is downstream!) There are lots of wild rice beds here, and if you go later in the season (July) you may have to cut a path through the rice while it is starting to stand up. There was usually a channel to follow, but sometimes we had to create our own path to the next closest channel. In June, the rice is still in the floating leaf stage, and is just starting to stand up and become erect. This is very easy to move through. We avoided the rice, because at this stage, if it gets ripped out, well – it is ripped out of the ground and dies. Motor boats and late floods are a culprit for killing rice at this point in the season. Other things that may kill rice are high water earlier in the season (damming lakes and rivers can cause the water level to be too high) and pollution – rice is sensitive and is an indicator species. I will write more about wild rice soon, as I went a few times this fall!

The river winds through lowlands, with lots of sedges, cattail, wapito, water dock, red and white pine, red maple, tamarack, white birch, bracken fern and jewelweed. In June, the yellow flag iris and blue flag iris are blooming. The first is invasive (though I must say it is pretty and brightens the riverway) and the second is at-risk. Wildlife that I’ve seen on this section of river include bear, eagle, turtles and dragonflies. In 2017, on the trip I took with the NRF, we saw a mother bear and two cubs climb a tree – then the mother came down, and we couldn’t see her any more. We were safely in boats on the water, and didn’t disturb her any longer, but could watch the cubs in the tree – it was pretty cool! Towards the end of the paddle, before the last turn, there is an eagle’s nest back a little ways from the river, on the left. I found it when I ‘followed’ and eagle there, it gave away it’s home!

The river goes under Hector Dam Road, where there used to be a dam. There is a bit of a drop off and swift current. A bit of fun amidst a slow lazy river. This is a forested area, much more reminiscent of other ‘northern’ rivers, with higher banks and lots of trees.

The takeout is at Swan Bridge. There is not a parking area here, but you can park on the edge of the road when you shuttle. I usually take out on the downstream side of the bridge, on river right, though none of the banks here are ideal – they are all steep. At the landing I’ve found ox-eye daisy. This takeout can be challenging for people. Overall this is a great section of river to see wildlife and get away from the hustle and bustle of the northwoods!

 

 

Paddled June 6, 2018 and July 14, 2018