7/24/2016 0 comments

Mecan River IV

Dover Avenue to Germania
☆ ☆ ☆

Quite possibly the single most boring stretch of the otherwise lively and lovely Mecan River, the only honorary aspects to this trip are the novelty of paddling the Germania Marsh (if you’re into that) and a fun Class I-II rapid at the takeout.

The marsh is just a flooded impoundment of the Mecan River.

June 10, 2016

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater (Quietwater, flatwater, and one Class I-II rapid at the takeout).

2-3' per mile


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable. It’s best not to do this after a hard rain, as the water will lose its clarity.

Dover Avenue, north of Budsin, Wisconsin, Marquette County
County Road N/Eagle Road, Germania, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:50p.
Total Time: 2h 50m
Miles Paddled: 8.75

Wildlife: Songbirds, turtles, sandhill cranes, deer, osprey and tundra swans.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes.

As part of our ongoing project to complete rivers, this segment of the Mecan was the last to do before we could say that we’d truly paddled the entire river from its source at the Springs to its mouth at the Fox River. This was delayed because, well, it was the least desirable, frankly, having mostly to do with not wanting to do the Germania Marsh. To be sure, there is a time and place to paddle a flatwater marsh, but A) it’s probably our least favorite environment and B) against the wind in summertime is not it.

Not coincidentally, the landscape pretty much flattens out by the township of Budsin (south of Dakota) and will remain that way down to the Fox River. Gone are the lovely glacial hills and steep banks of the upstream sections. Gone too are the riffles and the woodsy corridors, the shaded areas with peat bogs, fens, ferns, natural springs and babbling brooks. You know, all the good stuff. So that’s why we held off doing this trip. But it had to be done, dang bust it. And now we’re glad it no longer ever has to be done again.

Most road bridges spanning the Mecan provide convenient access to the river for paddlers and Dover Avenue is no exception (although there is no designated parking area; just along the road). It may be a stretch to regard this trip as “residential,” as that term hardly applies for the countryside of Marquette County. But there are houses – and not the quaint family cabin tucked in a woodsy nook type one sees upstream, but rather the same humdrum houses one sees on many southern Wisconsin rivers. This is not a big deal, but it’s not what one expects on the otherwise vaunted Mecan River.

For the first three miles the river runs just west of Highway 22 before passing under it as it swings east. You’ll go under three farm bridges, plus County Road E and another at 15th Road. As noted, the landscape is pretty flat here. And atypically open. One of the Mecan River’s charms is its enclosed intimacy, whether in the woods or in a soggy bog. To be fair, there are moments where everything clicks and it’s all truly pretty, but A) those moments are few and far between and B) such as they are, they pale in comparison to the upstream sections of the river. Highway 22 provides a good access point – it’s where our very first trip on the Mecan ended, three years ago – and could justifiably shorten this trip, if one put-in there.

The next four miles are more redeeming, as there’s hardly any development in any direction. Here, it feels like you’re back in Mecan country. The river meanders true to its nature, and there’s a pleasant mix of conifers and deciduous trees. Several islands too will spice things up, offering side channels to take a chance on. There is one low-clearance farm bridge, an attractive truss style in the color of rust. Even in high water, when I paddled this trip, there was plenty of passage without having to portage.

Eventually you’ll come upon the electric fence fish barrier, requiring a portage on river-right. It’s clearly marked, even if the access points for exiting and reentering the river are makeshift. That aspect was a little surprising, since you must portage around the fence. I’d have thought that there’d be a more official or at least more developed area than a weedy, mucky ditch. Alas. One could call it a day here, without the hassle of slogging through the marsh. There’s a dirt road from the north, off Duck Creek Road (not to be confused with Duck Creek Avenue, which is one road north of Duck Creek Road… yeah, ‘cause that’s not confusing). Rumor has it that this dirt road is open only from May 1 to September 30. We don’t know if that’s still the case, since the shuttle was from the south.

After pulling over to the other side and reentering, the river will sprawl into the marsh half a mile downstream. The panoramic is just about 180 degrees. I don’t mean to be so harsh on the marsh, even if it’s just a fake lake (rhymes unintentional). It’s only a mile of paddling anyway… It’s just that it’s so shallow that it’s practically unpaddleable. And if you’re going against the wind, on top of that, well, good luck. And it’s not the kind of shallow where you can just get out and walk your boat. Here, it’s all mucky silt; walking through this would be an exercise (literally) in utter misery.

I have no idea what the level is kept at, but I did this in early June after a solid dose of rain, not during the thirsty drought of August, and still the water was four inches deep at best. Heartbreaking. This was my first time on the marsh, and it’s exceedingly unlikely I’d do it again, so we have no other frame of reference with which to compare our experience. In theory, you could explore the marsh – it’s not that large; you won’t get lost – but this simply was not a possibility in our case.

In the southeastern corner of the marsh lies the dam. It’s inconspicuous due to the tallgrass and cattails, but it’s well marked (and you should just know it’s there anyway). The portage trail is on the left, a gravel path that’s easy to see and access. It’s a short schlep to re-launching below the dam, again following a gravel path (one of the most appreciated signs I’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR, is along the path, stating “Access Restricted to Foot Travel Only.” Leave your hovercraft at home…)

From the dam to the takeout at County Road N (alias, Eagle Road) is less than half a mile, all of it nondescript until the bridge. Under the bridge lies a flue-shaped funnel of Class I-II rapids, certainly the funnest such drop on the Mecan River. It’s not technically demanding – just follow the "^" - but you should expect to get wet, as the waves are surprisingly “lappy.” (OK, that may not be a real word – but don’t you think it should be? If “bony” describes whitewater conditions that are too shallow and rocky to run, then why not coin “lappy” to denote waves that lap your boat – not to mention getting onto your lap? So, there. Lappy. Let it be.)

Anyway, if you don’t want to run the drop, you could take out on the right, above the bridge, although there’s no real path or access there. On the downstream side, also on the right, are rocks that provide a rugged but otherwise doable access to take-out at. Furthermore, one could rerun the drop by tromping through some brush and rocks on the other side of the bridge, river-right.)

What we liked:
It felt good finally to complete this missing link of the Mecan River, although in some ways it felt like a waste of a beautiful day and a day off. For the drive from Madison, it wasn’t worth it. But I did appreciate the four-mile section from Highway 22 to the electric fence fish barrier. It’s pretty there and almost entirely undeveloped. I’m glad to have done the Germania Marsh, since it’s a seminal feature along the Mecan corridor, and it too had its moments – including a large flock of sandhill cranes, not to mention two tundra swans. I loved the rapids at Country Road N/ Eagle Road; it’s such a fun drop to run, plus it’s a good place to surf in as well.

What we didn't like:
Like most artificial marshes that are nothing more than flooded impoundments of silty backwater created by a dam, the lake effect here is extremely shallow, practically to the point of being unpaddleable. Exacerbating that was trying to scoot my way across this big old mud puddle dead against a 15-mph wind. It sucked. All I could do to amuse myself – which lasted maybe 60 seconds – was to channel the Little Engine That Could within and sing “I think Mecan, I think Mecan…”

Also, it’s worth noting that I did this just after a heavy rain, which totally compromised the water quality, turning an otherwise crystal clear stream with sparkling gravel and luscious arcs of smooth sand into a murky, muddled brown (and yet that spike of high water still did nothing to augment the shallowness of the marsh itself).

If we did this trip again:
No thanks. For the drive and for the far better alternatives even downstream, but definitely upstream, there’s really no compelling rationale to do this trip again. But if others are curious, then I recommend putting in at Highway 22 and skipping the pointless segment from Dover Road. From Highway 22, you could take-out either at the electric fence (to avoid the marsh) or at the dam (to avoid the rapids at County Road N), as long as the roads are open (May 1 to Sept 30). Or you could continue past N to the next bridge, three miles downstream, at County Road J, for a 9-mile trip.

Related Information
Mecan River I: Dakota to Highway 22
Mecan River II: Germania to Lock Road
Mecan River III: Mecan River Springs to 11th Road
Miles Paddled Video: Mecan River I: Dakota to Highway 22
Article: The Mecan River Offers an Appealing Paddling Daytrip
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Mecan River Outfitters


Shuttle Information:
6.2 miles. Very easy on a bicycle.

Photo Gallery:

The put-in at Dover Road.

Pretty, but more open than the upstream segments.

Also more residential than other segments of the river.

Not atypical for most southern Wisconsin rivers but an anomaly on the Mecan.

One of many such farm bridges.


This actually was a welcome obstacle course to break up the monotony.

This was a first.

Fun with photography, below the Highway 22 bridge.

The prettiest section was from Highway 22 to the electric fence.

Grassy and shrubby, but still more reminiscent of the Mecan proper.

Low-clearance farm bridge.

A rear straightaway on the otherwise meandering Mecan.

Dirty old curmudgeon.

Electric fence fish barrier.

Apparently this is maintained to prevent predatory fish from feeding on the renowned trout upstream.

At the dike by the electric fence, looking south.

Re-entering the river on the other side of the fence, looking north.

Entering the Germania Marsh.

Sandhill cranes demonstrating how shallow the water is.

Now a'wing.

Tundra swans refusing to look at each other...

3-4 inches deep = not very paddleable.

Also not very paddleable against the wind.

The rather inconspicuous dam.

Another shot of the marsh, looking westward.

Re-entry access below the dam.

Please, no Jet Skis.

That's the cause of the whole marsh.

Looking downstream, below the dam.

Looking at the rapids at County Road N, from upstream of the bridge.

The make-do takeout at County Road N.

Looking at the classic "inverted V" rapids from atop the bridge.
7/17/2016 0 comments

2000 Miles

Wow, we eclipsed 2000 miles. To mark the occasion, we're going to take a few minutes to reflect on that because it’s actually pretty exceptional if you think about it.

Now let me preface this by saying we’re completely aware of single paddles that cover hundreds - even thousands - of miles for good benefits, causes, expressions of human fortitude and world records. And though I’m midwest-modest to a fault at times, it's be easy to let this achievement pass without much ado but that’d be doing us a disservice to this small-potatoes blog and all the work that's put into it.

2000 miles of covering rivers and creeks in a tiny regional area in the midwest shouldn’t be overlooked. These 2000 recorded miles are the result of hours and hours of planning, preparation, research and mapping. Hours hoping for more rain, less rain and always less wind. Hours of watching gauges, watching weather, sometimes hoping stormfronts would move in, sometimes hoping they wouldn’t, and sometimes not believing they did. Hours of driving, scouting, putting-in, taking-out, restroom stops, fueling up, meeting up, waiting. Hours of tying up boats, patching boats and cleaning boats.

Hours shuttling. Via Car. Via bike. Bike shuttling when the road gradient is best suited for the Tour De France. Bike shuttling when your bike can’t even shift to third gear and the tire is nearly flat. Bike shuttling in the dark on gravel roads best suited for ATVs.

Hours Finding a campsite. Or firewood. Eating Stove Top because Barry doesn’t care. Eating a campfire homage to the Sheh-meh-neh ala Burrito Drive because Timothy does care.

Hours of good times and bad. Poison ivy, oak and wild parsnip. Spiders, snakes and ticks - oh the ticks... - drawn to Timothy like moths to a flame.

Hours charging batteries to every electronic device we had. Hours spent searching for (or, yes, "borrowing") electrical at park shelters. Hours spent drying out every electronic device that fell in the water. Multiples cameras, a GoPro and an iPhone.

And then there’s the hours of time spent on a Mac and PC in Microsoft Word, Blogger, Google Maps, Text Edit, Photoshop, editing movies, editing pictures, editing words, emailing back and forth and forth and back, etc.

And the everyday hours. Rubbernecking at every stream we pass, then Google Mapping it to see if it’s paddable. And the not everyday. Having a Kayak stolen and spending time filling out police reports.

And the paddles themselves. Paddling a bunch of bad shit that nobody in their right mind would paddle, only so we can share the good. Toiling in nasty muck and mud and algae and carcasses and god knows what else. Hours of shitty weather, cold water, scrapes, bruises, sunburns and portaging hell. Writing a book on top of writing a weekly blog (that in and of itself is a feat).

And of course, Getting lost. Hours spent getting lost despite the best effort to map and travel accordingly. Taking wrong turns. And then another. Getting lost because roads and names of roads change more often than one would think.

But then again, it is about getting lost.

Because, if there’s one thing we love about the whole damn thing, that’s what it’s about. Getting lost. Be it for a day a couple days or just an hour. It’s about that moment, come what may.

And making friends. New friends and life-long ones. All a result of this little blog.

And we share it freely because we really love, not this just the exploration of the next great paddle, but the freedom we have in a floating vessel to search out places few people can access in this accessible world of ours. We can’t keep this to ourselves. We want others to paddle these places because the more we collectively paddle, the more these stream remain paddleable (it’s not like we have a city stream sweeper for rivers, ya know).

Last but not least, thanks to all you who really love this damn blog and all it’s awkward functionality (we’ll get to it when we’re not paddling). The friends, the fans, the contributors. Seriously, this wouldn’t have continued had it not been for the outpouring of random emails and messages of thanks and support. Those of you who have said “keep doing what you’re doing” are the best.

We’ll certainly keep doing.

Because it’s exciting, though it’s sometimes bull-shit but usually, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Here’s to 1000 miles more (we’re keeping it conservative because we make some questionable choices. You never know when it’ll be our last report). ;-)

7/17/2016 0 comments

Mecan River III

Mecan River Springs to 11th Road
☆ ☆ ☆

Two exploratory trips combined into one (for the sake of simplicity) that certainly tested one’s patience and fortitude, but also offered extraordinary beauty and a cool sense of pioneer paddling. Not for casual paddlers, due to shallow water levels and many obstructions – in fact, none but the most quixotic would want to consider this. But if you’re seeking the wildest parts of the outstanding Mecan River, this trip is it. Just don’t be surprised if you get dirty, tired, wet and a little frustrated after the fourteenth portage.

So pretty, despite the impediments.

June 3-4, 2016

Class Difficulty:
Riffles (maybe a Class I rapid in higher water). Because this upstream portion of the Mecan is so narrow and obstructions that jut from the banks or lined in the stream itself are many, you can expect to play bumper boat and run into things. The swift current enhances this. While not dangerous per se, this is not a daytrip you’ll be much relaxing on.

3-4' per mile


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable, but because this trip begins at the headwaters of the river, intrepid paddlers who even want to attempt it would benefit from waiting until after a good rain to avoid a lot of scraping in the shallows but enjoy the riffles and light rapids.

Mecan River Springs, Chicago Road in Waushara and Marquette Counties, Wisconsin
11th Road

Day 1: 7.16.15
Mecan River Springs, Chicago Road to Highway 21
Time: Put in at 1:15p. Out at 5:05p.
Miles Paddled: 5.25

Day 2: 7.17.15
Highway 21 to 11th Road
Time: Put in at 2:15p. Out at 5:15p.
Miles Paddled: 5.5

Total Time: 6h 50m
Total Miles: 10.75

Wildlife: Deer, trout, songbirds, hawks, great blue herons, beaver, turtles and sandhill cranes.
Time worth driving to: 20 minutes.

Say the “Mecan River,” and most paddlers in southern Wisconsin have a general idea of what you’re referring to. Narrow creek-like stream, crystal clear water, sandy bottom, some riffles, northwoods-ish environment with raised banks and some pine trees (others, who may not have had the most pleasant experience, might chime in with: really narrow, really shallow, one sharp turn after another, lots of things to bump into, cold water, wet trip, took forever). All of those attributes are true, for the Mecan is a two-sided coin in that sense (and why it’s not the place to bring beginner paddlers – we’re looking at you, Bill).

But whatever one’s take on the Mecan, chances are you’re referring to one of two trips in Mike Svob’s book (or perhaps Mike Duncason’s book before him): from Dakota to Germania or Germania to the Fox River. Few paddlers venture into the Germania Marsh – and for good reason (unless you’re a die-hard birder), as it’s wide, flat, slow, shallow and pretty dull. But even fewer paddlers have ventured upstream of Dakota. Perhaps a there-and-back trip around the natural lake at Mecan Springs State Natural Area, the headwaters of the river. But in between that spot and County Road JJ/Y, where most Mecan River trips begin? There’s practically no information out there. For a river that’s only about 45 miles long, that leaves 16 miles of unknown opportunities. Math fans will quickly compute that such a gap equates to one-third of the entire river. And that, friends, is where Miles Paddled comes in.

Who better to explore the obscure? Who better to brave the wild and wooly mysteries of murky waters, the terrific obstacles of fallen trees and logjamborees? Who better to labor with handsaws and pruners, hauling loose limbs, stumps and clumps? Who better to curse aloud with blood, sweat and tears, mud and dirt, skin rashes of unknown origin, too many ticks to count, spider bites still healing weeks later, all the while wondering why the hell do we actually do this in the first place? Who better to spend one hour per mile paddled – or portaged – hopelessly, pitilessly trying to pioneer an experience for the sake of blazing trails (alas, not saddles), knowing full well that none but the fringe of the fringe will even know what we’re talking about, or where, much less actually care? But that’s who we are and what we do, dagnabbit.

So we spent the better parts of five separate afternoons on the Mecan in autumn last year and late spring this year to paddle (or walk, in some cases) every bit of it that we don’t have on the website. Admittedly, much of this was for the sake of our own curiosity, plus we’re a little OCD about completing rivers (hey, it’s a better hang-up to have than rearranging furniture or checking locks, right?) The upshot? There’s good, bad, some ugly, a lot of beauty and a ridiculous amount of potential – which is a euphemistic way of saying “opportunity” for folks with chainsaws who like to see tangible jobs well done. Those with Mecan-do attitude, you might say.

We did this trip on two consecutive days, sensing that it would have been a fool’s errand to try to do it all in one day. The river – really a creek – is very shallow and very narrow in its uppermost segments, the streambed punctuated with boulders and lined by overreaching branches from tree-lined banks. We knew that the probability of obstructions would be high, if not constant. So exploring the Mecan in bite-sized chunks – first, from its source to Highway 21, and then from Highway 21 to 11th Road – seemed like the most sensible approach to doing something that was not terribly sensible in the first place (we already knew about the river below 11th Road, because Timothy paddled it last year, and the segment from 11th Road to Dixie Road is the official trip in his forthcoming book.)

Even though these were two separate trips, the overall feel of the river environs on both is much the same – yet certainly distinct from the more conventional stretches of the Mecan River from the town of Dakota to the Fox River. Up here, the river really is pretty wild and more rugged than those downstream. There’s less development, more hills, and the gradient is certainly steeper. We daresay that the upper Mecan may well be the single riffliest stream in south-central Wisconsin.

Day 1: Mecan River Springs to Highway 21
While we’re not the biggest fans of flatwater lake-paddling, the Mecan River Springs is surprisingly quite lovely. First off, it’s a pretty cool novelty to be able to paddle the actual source of a river (usually it’s much too shallow to do so). Secondly, almost all of the lake is protected public land that is part of the state natural areas program. The water is clear, wildlife is abundant, and gentle hills encircle you reaching as high as 30'. We didn’t see any springs bubbling up from below the water itself – they might be there, somewhere…? – but on the north side of the lake the banks were percolating with groundwater, a pretty enchanting phenomenon. Access onto the lake is as easy as it gets, and there’s plenty of parking as well. The only houses on the lake are on the southeastern portion, and there are three.

Light riffles await at the County Road GG bridge, which is where the river “begins” for all intents and purposes (note: there is no dam or anything here. It’s all continuous, which again is a rare novelty). An attractive area of meadows and marsh lies on the other side of the bridge before the river narrows in earnest and meanders like madness. The water is crystal clear – but shallow. The streambed itself is composed of sand and gravel. Obstacles such as logs and small boulders will require you to dodge around, duck under, or ride over, but it’s essentially smooth sailing for the first mile, which shocked us (and also led to a totally false sense of expecting/ hoping the river would be magically obstruction-free). The banks will rise 15-40’ tall, sometimes dramatically, other times gradually where gentle knolls lead away from the water. The creek-like feel of the river is all the more enhanced by its unabashed riffles, which in turn made the conceit of “discovering” and “pioneering” this section all the more giddy.

That is, until we came upon a barbed wire fence in the middle of nowhere, eventually followed by another (they’re usually in sets of two). Talk about all but literally puncturing the little balloon we had been feeling. To be fair, getting through each of the fences unscathed was not a problem whatsoever. But the mere presence of them was unwelcome, of course, but also foreshadowed the doom and despair of other obstructions further downstream (it’s worth noting that, to our knowledge, these are the only two barbed wires anywhere on the Mecan River). The first few obstructions were easy as snap, typically a modest cluster of tangled downed tree limbs. Because everything had been open up to this point, we dedicated ourselves to clearing the first few sets of these. Often, all this requires is getting out of your boat and just pulling these errant branches out of the water and tossing them aside onto the banks. Some require a handsaw and clippers, but many can simply be yanked out.

We cleared out everything leading up to the next bridge, at 9th Avenue (where a small riffle whisks you through a culvert), and shortly downstream of it, too. Unfortunately, things get real ugly real fast in the next section, from 9th Avenue to Highway 21. Expect a full mile and change of logjams and impassable downed trees. To say that this was frustrating is putting it mildly. It got so bad that eventually we stopped trying to paddle altogether and instead just walked our boats – because it becomes pointless getting into and out of it over and over again, when you know that there’s yet another obstruction right around the bend… followed by another, etc.

The landscape does eventually open up, the banks grassy and no longer tree-lined (diminishing the likelihood of obstructions), yet the river tapers to its narrowest dimension in the half-mile or so leading to Highway 21 – literally jump-the-brook narrow. Brush and alders extend from the banks, and because the river is ridiculously meandering and narrow, you can expect to “encounter” these now and again. And there will still be an obstacle or two to portage, once an enclosed forest setting comes in just before Highway 21. One of these obstructions is a rickety but pretty cool footbridge right on top of the water that is part of the Ice Age Trail. In fact, a very pretty segment of the trail lies from Highway 21 to the Mecan Springs SNA. Because of this, one could do a “boat-and-boot” trip on this section of the Mecan by taking out at Highway 21, where there is a sizeable parking area, and then hiking back to the Springs instead of car or bike shuttling, another novelty.

Day 2: Highway 21 to 11th Road
Riffles and rocks lead up to and continue past the box tunnel bridge at Highway 21. That will be the case for the next couple miles, actually. Not unlike the previous day, when the first mile or so was surprisingly free of impassable obstructions, the short stretch from Highway 21 to County Road B is mostly open. It’s shallow, narrow, and fast; you’re always on-point and pivoting left and right around, under, and over obstacles. The segment from County Road B to Cumberland Road, on the other hand, was much more of a nuisance. There, lots of downed trees impede a paddler’s progress. While not as frustrating or dirty as the trip from the day before, it was still a disappointing nuisance after awhile. Disappointing in that, if cleaned up and cleared out, these upstream sections would be friggin glorious.

To be fair, there are indications of past chainsaw’ing and sweat equity having cleared out some truly thick tree limbs, for which we were most grateful (and not a little surprised that others had already dared brave these troublesome upper sections). Sinuous riffles continue to Cumberland Road. (A quick note: after this trip we machete’d a doable path at Cumberland from the road to the river, on the upstream side of the bridge, river-left. It’s still a little slippery and steep and only a few would bother launching from this point. There is, however, a designated parking area just a hundred feet west of the bridge, one of dozens of access points along the Mecan River Fishery Area.)

From Cumberland to 11th Road lies one of the prettiest sections anywhere on the Mecan River. The current remains frisky and brisk, and you’ll still be dodging around obstacles. We spent a solid hour at least clearing out three separate clusters in this section, so as of June 2016 this should be entirely open, without portaging. But again, it’s not a section to relax doing, as you’ll still need your best game on, lest you crash into the banks or rocks or logs like a pinball (“open” doesn’t mean “wide open,” but rather “open enough” to squeeze through or under without portaging). At first the banks are grassy and low, and innumerable small springs feed the stream. Closer to 11th Road the landscape is even boggier – like a forested wetland– with spongy fens and sphagnum moss coming out of the woodwork, together with green blazes of lush ferns. But the banks will rise as well, many of them sandy and as tall as 20’ with attractive pine trees lining them. The feeling of intimacy and seclusion is spectacular. You’ll pass by one or two houses at best in 3.5 miles.

In the final mile leading to 11th Road the river does slow down and widen, the bottom sandy. Conifers start towering above you, while in the water itself are umpteen stumps sticking out, the tops sprouting grasses that look like pineapple leaves or punk-rock hairdos. A left-hand turn will take you to 11th Road, where the bridge features two culverts. There’s a small ledge leading to the one on the left (the one on the right is not runnable, due to a tree cluster on the downstream side). The paddler has two choices: run the little rapid here and take out on river-left on the downstream side of the bridge, or skip the ledge and take-out on the upstream side, also on river-left. The little ledge is fun, but getting out on the downstream side of the bridge is muddy and steep. Getting out on the upstream side is a breeze, but you have to be careful about paddling hard enough to dry land without getting pulled into the current leading to the ledge. It’s not dangerous, but the current is strong here. Either way, there’s another convenient parking area on the north side of the bridge, about 75' away.

What we liked:
Maybe it’s the contrarian in us, the nonconformist, but whereas our first experiences on the Mecan River, years ago, felt a little underwhelming, these lesser known, more obscure upstream sections totally clicked. Whereas we’d previously felt that the Mecan was overrated, now we got it and felt smitten.

In these 11 miles the landscape changes so much that it feels like going to an amusement park, yet it still manages to retain an inner core or character that wavers not. From a flatwater spring-fed lake that resonates with tranquility and palpable calm to a scrappy stream with frisky riffles and challenging meanders; to gravel bottoms lined with boulders to lush sand as far as the eye can see; to a hardwoods forest of oaks, ash, maples, sycamores and oh so many pines, to a spongy bottomlands of wet fens, seeping springs, and fanned out ferns; here tree-canopied in variegated shades of light and shadow, there a wide sky of raging sun for all your skin to soak up; now a hilly terrain of undulating trails up and down, then a flat swamp that seems to go on forever – the river itself always clear, always engaging, always intimate, swift, secluded. This is the Mecan River at its best – this is any river at its best (well, except for the obstructions).

Also, parking is excellent. At the Springs, at Highway 21, at Cumberland Road, and at 11th Road, are designated parking areas right by the river. Of these, only the Springs and 11th Road have an area that resembles a launching access, but both Highway 21 and Cumberland Road are totally doable.

What we didn't like:
The obstructions, of course. Seven hours is a long time to paddle nearly 11 miles. Granted, at least two of those hours were spent clearing out some of the many obstructions. But still. And there’s hardly anything worse, when paddling, than taking your boat for a walk because the portaging is so constant as to make getting in and out of your boat just about pointless.

The worst section is from 9th Avenue to Cumberland Road, approximately 3 miles total. A month or two later, Timothy still has spider bites on his legs from the ridiculous amount of drop-down commando arachnids from the low-clearance trees, at one point 17 just on his shins. And let’s not talk about ticks. They’re ubiquitous as well (though typically only when you’re on land, which is to say when beginning or ending your trip – but we’re talking about finding them on us after the most casual brush with the thinnest blade of grass, not after tromping through brush waist-deep or bushwhacking the jungle dark). Hell, we found one tick on a tie-down strap that was on the ground for maybe one minute before lashing it over our boats. That’s how ubiquitous they are.

The other problem with this trip is the shallow water. Considering how close one is to the very source of the river itself, catching it with enough water to avoid near-constant scraping will be difficult. But making that even trickier is not paddling when it’s too high as to be pushy and dangerous or when the water is cloudy. Such is the paddler’s dilemma…

If we did this trip again:
On the one hand, it would be a tough sell to endure the many portage-required obstructions, especially as for us this trip is over an hour’s drive away. On the other hand, if any stream merited an all-hands-on-deck clean-up and clear-out mission, it’s precisely the upper Mecan – even though it’s far away and often shallow. It’s just that pretty and engaging a stream; creek-like paddling surrounded by a glory of public land. But like a beautiful old house that’s been neglected for a decade, the upper Mecan needs a whole lot of maintenance, insofar as paddling is concerned.

Conservationists may argue that it should be left as is, and that we paddlers should just mind ourselves with the more conventional and already established sections further downstream. That may be a valid point. Nonetheless, we’d return with muscles and machines to clear out the most egregious spots while leaving as light a footprint as possible. We ourselves benefited from the work others have done already on these obscure segments and we in turn cleared out at least eight other portages. We’re hopeful that this tradition continues.

Related Information
Mecan River I: Dakota to Highway 22
Mecan River II: Germania to Lock Road
Mecan River IV: Dover Avenue to Germania
Miles Paddled Video: Mecan River I: Dakota to Highway 22
Article: The Mecan River Offers an Appealing Paddling Daytrip
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Mecan River Outfitters


Shuttle Information:
7.5 miles. Very easy on a bicycle.

Photo Gallery:

Gravel path leading to Mecan River Springs SNA, off Chicago Road.

The springs-fed lake that is the source of the Mecan River.

Very pretty landscape surrounding the lake.

A hilly section along the Ice Age Trail going around the lake.

Great wildlife too.

Strangely aesthetic scum.

One of the natural springs coming out of the hills.

Same, now looking in the opposite direction.

At the bottom of the lake at County Road GG.

On the other side of CR GG the lake becomes a creek-like river.

Sun-dappled solitude.

Hardwoods and hilly landscape.

Tall banks lining both sides of the river.

Some obstructions are passable and fun.

Unwelcome but totally passable barbed wire fence.

Before: cluster.

After: clearage.

One man and a handsaw.

Things start getting ugly around 9th Avenue.

Obstruction before.

Swift passage after.

But then we just stopped, feeling defeated.

Very narrow stretch along the Ice Age Trail.

Still pretty and intimate - when clear.

Pedestrian bridge, part of the Ice Age Trail?

Frisky riffles whisking you towards Highway 21.

Looking upstream from the Highway 21 bridge.

Mini-ledges underneath the Highway 21 bridge.

Boulder-strewn, shallow and swift.

One of the larger obstructions to watch out for.

This is what you call "fugly."

Narrow but passable; don't expect to relax.

The obstructions diminish after Cumberland Road.

We weren't the only ones out here clearing out obstructions.

Some of the obstructions enhance the wild feel of the river.

Tall pine-lined banks.

One of the many natural springs feeding the river.

Fun obstacle in the river.

Not fun obstacle in the river.

The last glaciers were generous in leaving behind hills.

Future portage...

Getting closer to 11th Road, things clear up.

Yet another boggy natural spring.

Many forested sections along the Mecan.

One of only a few signs of development.

The upper Mecan is especially glorious in autumn.

Lots of several such grassy stumps by 11th Road.

Picturesquely tranquil - now you can relax.

Fun runnable ledge at 11th Road.

Binocular view of 11th Road culvert bridge.

The best access is on the upstream side, but this means forfeiting the little ledge.

Doable access on downstream side, but muddy and steep.

Why it's named a river and not a creek is beyond our understanding.

Ice Age Trail access/parking at Highway 21.