7/20/2015 0 comments

Turtle Creek V

School Section Road to O’Riley Road
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A truly outstanding trip that will win the hearts of newbies and seasoned paddlers alike due to the surrounding scenery and river environment itself, with numerous access points to shorten or lengthen the time on the water – after experiencing this section of the beloved Turtle Creek, you’ll be coming back for more.

07
One of a number of straightaway sections on this trip.

Date:
June 21, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Riffles

Gradient:
3.4' per mile

Gauge:
Clinton: ht/ft: 4.79 | cfs: 350

Recommended Levels:
This is an unusually high level for the creek. You should definitely be able to paddle this comfortably at 200 cfs and even as low as 100 cfs even (with occasional scraping).

Put-In:
School Section Road
Take-Out:
South O’Riley Road, Clinton, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 1:05p. Out at 4:05p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 8.5

Wildlife: Great blue herons, hawks, turkey vultures, songbirds, turtles, water snake, deer, umpteen dragon- and damselflies and fish (up to and including the single-largest monster carp I’ve ever seen caught at my takeout and left to die on the pavement).
Time worth driving to: 1.5 hours

This trip was a last-minute alternative after my initial plans had fizzled earlier in the morning. I had just paddled the segment of the creek (“creek”!?! the Turtle looks and feels and behaves like a river in every sense, so think of it as a creek in name only) upstream of this one and I knew that the water still was running high from previous rains. My very first trip on the Turtle began where this trip would end, so it all seemed like the perfect time to come full circle and do this section, thus completing the Turtle Creek tutorial. And boy, am I glad I did this! I loved this trip and am confident you will too.

For a trip that's only 8.5 miles, there are three alternative access points (“PITO” spots, as we like to say, or “Put-in/Take-out”), which is generous to the point of spoiled. And while civilization is never far away, it never seems all that close either while you’re on the water. Much of this is due to the Turtle Creek Wildlife Area, a mostly contiguous parcel of land over 1,000 acres large that protects both banks of the creek with the overall feel of undeveloped naturalness (there is a brief interruption around Highway 14, so essentially 75 percent of this trip is enclosed within public land, predominantly sedge meadows and shrubs, hardwood forest and prairie remnants.) I recall seeing only two buildings the entire trip, which is quite remarkable. As such, this is arguably the prettiest section anywhere on Turtle Creek (which is saying something, as it’s an exceptionally pretty stream).

This trip doesn’t have the riffles and rapids downstream, though there are a couple brief winks of playful water (on the plus side, this section is more dependable for water levels since its gradient is more moderate). Neither does it have the rock outcrops or glorious truss bridges as downstream. And (spoiler alert!) you won’t hear jive or smack being bandied back and forth on the basketball courts in urban Beloit. But what this trip does have – and has in greater abundance than anything upstream or downstream – is an unspoiled landscape that doesn’t quit or get monotonous.

What we liked:
The intimate scenery, in a nutshell (or turtle shell). It’s the salient feature and selling point of this section of the creek. Don’t just take my word for it though; as evidenced by the numerous alternative landings at each and every bridge along this trip, lots of folks are paddling these segments.

Indeed, you could easily skip the School Road section, put in at Highway 14 instead and take-out at the next bridge past South O’Riley Road, at South Carvers Rock Road, etc. It’s very paddler-friendly and flexible in a way that few streams are, especially one as little known as Turtle Creek (little known as say compared to the Pecatonica or Sugar Rivers, where there are outfitters).

Uncannily, the bridges neatly dissect this trip in 2-mile sections, which helps you feel oriented and paced. There’s a perfect mix of sun and shade on this trip too, so that when you want nothing more than just to bask in the summery heat and celebrate for the billionth time the simple glory of mere being on the water, this trip will not disappoint. But when perhaps there’s been a touch too much basking there’s a lot of lush tree canopy to provide shady relief. Does this best of both worlds sound too good to be true? Well, it is, good and true.

My favorite section of this trip was from County Road C and East Creek Road, where for two miles the creek sweeps alongside a gentle woodsy ridge, the only notable parcel of raised land. I don’t want to oversell or embellish it; it’s quite modest. But it was more than I’d expected after looking at a topo map and it added a beguiling, exploration-inspiring allure.

Lastly, there is an attractive train trestle just upstream of the preferred takeout. I’ve heard that a train comes through once a day. I missed it by 10 mins or so, since I heard it. But I do think it would be pretty cool to time it just right so as to be passing underneath it or at least in view of it.

There are two places to take out associated with S. O’Riley Road. The first is a parking area off the road and de facto access point to the creek itself. The second is at the actual bridge just downstream. I chose the latter because it’s where I put in during my first trip ever on Turtle Creek (yes, I’m a smidge sentimental like that). Don’t do it, instead, take-out at the upstream access instead. It’s way easier, safer and more convenient. The only reason to consider taking out at the bridge is to pass the mouth of Little Turtle Creek (which actually looks rather paddleable in its own right and is on the to-do list for a future time).

Finally, file this one under “news of the weird.” After paddling, I bike-shuttled back to the car. In the span of time it took to ride my bike 6.6 miles, then drive back to the boat, someone had been at the bridge, fishing and caught the largest monster carp I’ve ever seen – easily 3’ long – and left it on the curb of the bridge (photo below).

I heard somewhere recently that you’re not supposed to release a carp back into the water after it’s been caught. I don’t fish, so I don’t have a good angle on angling (but I can tell you that at the put-in, someone had caught a carp somewhat recently and left it to die and rot in the grass about 30’ south of the bridge. Holy mother of God, was that a horrific stench. The sight of squiggling maggots was pretty disgusting alone.) But the one at the takeout, whew! the thing was downright leviathan (I guess that last part should be in "what we didn't like").

What we didn't like:
The only mentionable here is a small amount of tree debris below East Creek Road. I cleared out some of the nuisance strainers and it should be totally passable without any real concern. But for beginner paddlers, this is the one spot to exercise some caution. Similarly, canoeists will have a harder time with this than kayakers.

If we did this trip again:
I will definitely be doing this again! Next time I’ll do it later in autumn, once the leaves have fallen, to have a better view of the landscape, albeit unadorned, particularly that segment below County Road C.

***************
Related Information
Turtle Creek I: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Turtle Creek II: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Turtle Creek III: O’Riley Road to Sweet-Allyn Park
Turtle Creek IV: Springs Park to School Section Road
Miles Paddled Video: Turtle Creek I: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Miles Paddled Video: Turtle Creek II: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Overview: Riverfacts
Video: Wisconsin Paddles


Map:




Shuttle Information:
6.6 miles. Mostly flat and generally scenic but the stretch of S. O’Riley Road between Creek Road and the water itself is in god-awful shape akin to the craters of the moon.


Photo Gallery:

01
The put-in at School Section Road.

02
Ditto.

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Hard to see, but approaching two fellow kayakers - cool folks - and the first of several on the water this day.

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Unspoiled landscape the whole trip.

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Occasional pines for extra pop!

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Attractive rusticated truss bridge.

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A few riffles, but otherwise flat.

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Pick a culvert, any culvert...

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A lot of sandy bottoms on this stretch of the Turtle, unlike the rocky/gravelly segments downstream.

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Approaching a small hill.

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Close-up of same.

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A few minor obstacles below E. Creek Road.

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Some basic maneuvering required, but otherwise passable.

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Handsome train trestle just above the takeout.

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Preferred takeout off of S. O'Riley Road

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Mouth of Little Turtle Creek coming in from the left.

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Unnecessarily rugged takeout at S. O'Riley Road bridge.

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Monster carp next to my size 10 sandal for comparison.

20
Leviathan!
7/19/2015 0 comments

Milwaukee River VI

Grafton to County Highway T
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Simply an exhilarating ride down the rapids of the Milwaukee River surrounded by beautiful limestone and dolomite dells and multiple islands that braid the main channel, this is a great trip for light whitewater enthusiasts with at least one white-knuckle drop that’s definitely worth the drive.

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The highlight of this trip is Chair Factory rapids, a Class II drop.

Date:
June 20, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class II

Gradient:
42' per mile (Grafton dam to Lime Kiln Park). 8' per mile (Lime Kiln to takeout).

Gauge:
Cedarburg: ht/ft: 6.1 | cfs: 375
Recommended Levels:
This can be paddled at lower flows (i.e., 250 cfs), though scraping will become a nuisance. Skilled whitewater paddlers will want to do this above 400 cfs.

Put-In:
14th Avenue parking lot (behind buildings) in the southeast corner (approximately 700’ downstream from the Grafton dam), Grafton, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
County Highway T/Lakefield Road

Time: Put in at 5:45p. Out at 6:50p.
Total Time: 1h 5m
Miles Paddled: 2.75

Wildlife: Great blue herons, fish and a woodchuck.
Time worth driving to: 1-2 hours

Since we were in the area, having paddled an upstream section of the Milwaukee River earlier in the day, we decided to tie another on before driving back to Madison. Not just any other either, but one of the steepest gradients on the Milwaukee River. It’s a short run of under 3 miles but it offers great rapids chased by more relaxed riffles and the ability to have that much coveted celebratory beer after the adrenaline rush.

This short trip has two distinct feels. The first is fast current flanked by rather stunning rock formations on a wide river ranging between 90-130 feet. The second is slower and less rocky but just as pretty because it’s undeveloped (there are several private residences along the tall banks in the first half) and more intimate due to the side channels. Each is great in its own right.

The whitewater section (1.4 miles) is nonstop paddling fun, plus the dolomite dells are quite attractive (it’s a little heady to think that this backbone of geology is the very same that lines Door County, continues under the waters of Lake Michigan, into the U.P., into lower Ontario, and then Niagara Falls itself). The flatter but more primitive section (1.3 miles) is a sweet treat unto itself – though probably of little interest to whitewater paddlers.

This is really a great diversion, or add-on trip, like we did. Or consider it a destination paddle and as they say, "it's so nice, let's run it twice."

What we liked:
This is essentially a whitewater run but you don’t have to be a hardcore whitewater paddler to do it. (We certainly aren’t!) Nothing on this stretch rates higher than Class II and there’s only one ledge that requires caution, scouting and strategy. It’s a super-fun ride. And gorgeous.

There is no exact put-in per se – the dam in Grafton just upstream requires a lengthy portage to an imprecise place via a parking lot off 14th Avenue – but swift water is everywhere, both riffles and easy Class I bumps.

There is indeed a sign that marks the “Portage” route but the put-in isn't defined so it's a choose-your-own-path-to-the-water type of adventure and involves some shimmying down a well worn bank that appears to be popular with fishermen. There, riffly rapids await.

For the first mile and change the river is lined here and there with beautiful 20’-tall limestone dells that are part of the mighty Niagara Escarpment, a huge rocky ridge (a cuesta, to be precise) in the shape of an arc connecting southeastern Wisconsin to Niagara Falls.

About ¾ of a mile downstream from the put-in is the only tricky spot on this short trip, a diagonal-shaped ledge across the entire river where a dam was removed in 2000 (there was first a Chair Factory there in 1848, and then a record factory for phonographs in 1916). To run the ledge, you'll want to go far left or far right, not the middle, where’s there an island. We chose the right because it looked safer (there was a bit of tree debris below the drop on the left that we had no business being near in that velocity of water). And it’s actually three individual ledges, not one single drop, each one pitched at a slightly different angle. The first is straight into a large pool (and if you're not wearing a skirt like one of us... "hello, boatload of water!"), then you veer right down the second, then pivot left for the third. It’s an intuitive read, but having solid boat control is needed because the current is squirrelly. And you don’t want to run this in a long boat!

We stress that you need to scout this drop before you’re on the water, because both banks are private property; thus, it’s technically trespassing to get out of your boat there (in other words, you must run this drop one way or another - there’s no portaging around it). To scout it, first stop at the Falls Road bridge, immediately downstream from the ledge(s). Also, there are no eddies here to catch and slow down in and the current is strong. If you wish to pause before running this, you'll need to lodge against the shore and hang on to a rock. It's really a ton of fun but nerve-racking until you run it.

Swift riffles will guide you down to Lime Kiln Park (a very cool park definitely worth checking out), where sweet rapids are found in the right channel after another removed dam site. This one is straightforward but no less splashy, or fun. After that, the river bends to the right and then makes a long horseshoe-bend to the left where the current slows down, notable because up to this point the river has principally been a fast straightaway. The last of the rock outcrops is found here too. A series of large islands braids the river in several side channels, each enticingly inviting and undeveloped. The current is still riffly and moving but the adrenaline rush has subsided. This denouement is the perfect way in the perfect place to have a beer and relax.

The takeout is on the downstream side of the County Road T bridge on river-right. It’s not a designated landing, but from the sight of trampled grass and banks it’s clear that paddlers use this regularly. In fact, it was at the landing where we met a guy who had just run this section (including the drop) with his wife and kids... in a canoe. Amazing (and kinda ballsy).

What we didn't like:
There’s certainly can't be that much to dislike about a 3-mile paddle, right? Well, other than being too short when it's this fantastic, right?

The trespassing issues with the land along the banks by the Chair Factory dam rapids is, quite simply, stupid (let it be noted that it is also underscored on the American Whitewater site that this is an issue). Apparently it’s not enough to own ginormous houses along a beautiful stretch of river; you have to own the banks too. (Grafting in Grafton?) Oh, the wealthy suburbs of Milwaukee…

Compounding the problem was that our visit coincided with the Giro d' Grafton, an extensive bike race in downtown Grafton, resulting in Falls Road being closed off to traffic. So we couldn’t scout the ledge(s) and had to do our best deducing/inferring upstream and hope for the best. Everything worked out and it was a big adrenaline rush, the kind that leaves you with a grin ear-to-ear afterward. But we definitely do not recommend doing it this way!

Also, one quick note about some of the pics below. My definitively not-waterproof SLR camera was unintentionally water-tested, which is why a lot of the shots are blurred or daubed with a bead of water. At one point I noticed that my camera, worn around my neck, nonetheless was resting in a pool of water collected on my spray skirt. Brilliant! The camera promptly stopped working after that point. Go figure.

If we did this trip again:
I will in a heartbeat and indeed, I look forward to it again already. But on the next occasion I’d paddle down to the following bridge at County Road C (aka Pioneer Road) and take-out there, adding another 1.7 miles.

On a parting note: Two years ago I did a portion of this trip alone, starting at Lime Kiln and going down to Thiensville. Doing a late-afternoon, part 2 paddling daytrip with Barry this time around was pitch perfect. I do believe there is a time and place for solo paddling (indeed, the vast majority of the trips we do are by ourselves) but I would argue that whitewater is not one of them. For one, there’s the safety concern; it behooves a paddler to have someone at the ready to rescue in the event of capsizing or getting pinned. But beyond basic prudence, there’s a real sense of camaraderie paddling rapids with another. You experience the thrill of reading drops and riding waves twice. Besides, you can’t give or receive a high-five when you’re by yourself!

***************
Related Information
Milwaukee River I: Newburg to Fredonia
Milwaukee River II: Estabrook Park to Discovery World
Milwaukee River III: Grafton to Thiensville
Milwaukee River IV: Kewaskum to Barton
Milwaukee River V: Newburg to Fredonia
Milwaukee River East Branch I: New Prospect to New Fane
Milwaukee River East Branch II: New Fane to Kewaskum
Article: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
General: American Whitewater
Good People: Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Overview: Kettle Moraine Canoe Routes
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Wikipedia: Milwaukee River


Map:




Shuttle Information:
Ordinarily, this would be a simple 3-mile jaunt along Green Bay Road past Lime Kiln Park. Due to the aforementioned bike race we had to take a more indirect route.


Photo Gallery:

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The put-in off 14th Avenue in downtown Grafton.

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Gorgeous dolomite dells along the river for first 1.7 miles.

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Looks a little like Oehler Cave, eh?

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A wild ride of endless Class I rapids.

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Approaching Falls Road bridge and ledge rapids, Class II.

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Scouting the drop just upstream of the ledges (run it river-right).

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Making the first ascent.

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There are three total ledges at different angles.

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The ear-to-ear grin of running a hair-rising rapids correctly.

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Looking upstream from under the bridge.

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Class I fun leading to Lime Kiln Park.

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Random waterfall in someone's back yard.

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The beginning of Lime Kiln Park.

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One more thrilling Class I-II rapid in Lime Kiln.

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Another unique outcrop.

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County Gighway T bridge.

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The take-out just downstream, river-right of the County Highway T bridge.