Maunesha River II
Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
☆ ☆ ☆
A small stretch for the adventurous, the highlight of which is the novelty of paddling in the median of a state highway, where much to my delighted surprise one finds a hidden urban oasis of fun riffles, peaceful scenery and a heron rookery.
May 8, 2013
To run the rookery section (II and IV) without scraping and walking your boat, you’ll need to catch this immediately after a hard, solid rain.
Elder Lane, Bristol, Wisconsin
Twin Lake Road
Time: Put in at 7:15p. Out at 8:40p.
Total Time: 1h 35m
Miles Paddled: 2.5
Wildlife: Um, need I say anything more than a heron rookery?
Time worth driving to: 1.5 hours.
A little context first. One of my pals, whose (self-appointed) nomme de guerre is “the paddling guru,” tipped me off to this stretch of the Maunesha a few weeks ago when he and I ventured out on the Marshall to Waterloo stretch (frankly, I myself had never even noticed that a wee blip of Highway 151 bulges out, north of Sun Prairie). A little shy of a half-mile length of the Maunesha River flows through the median of Highway 151, which was all the novelty of a caper I needed to check it out.
It was a beautiful day and I was itching to carpe my diem with a little early evening paddle. I had no idea what to expect, though I was prepared for low water and logjams. I was about half-right but I would never have anticipated how truly pleasant and pretty this short stetch is or how riffly or that I would paddle beneath a heron rookery. Serendipity becomes such curious explorations!
What we liked:
The novelty of such a counterintuitive trip alone is enough to jazz the spirit. How often do you get to paddle through a highway? (Almost made me homesick for New Jersey. Almost.) Check out the “satellite” option on the map (below). See all that surprising greenery? I would never have guessed that there would be a hidden oasis so close to a) Sun Prairie, b) Hwy 151 or c) a Diesel Driving School. But there is and it’s actually worth checking out.
Along with that, most of this short trip consisted of really fun riffles. To be fair, the water for this upper stretch of the Maunesha was low, often frustratingly so. At its regular (i.e., not riffly) levels it was about 10-inches deep (I dipped my paddle blade in). Anything lower than that will be impassable at the riffly sections. The median segment inbetween the north and southbound lanes of Highway 151 are where the majority of the riffles are found.
The gradient for this roughly half-mile stretch was surprisingly notable. In higher water, especially after a lot of rain, this would be a very fun Class I whitewater run (in my opinion, more interesting, varied and challenging than what lies in downtown Baraboo). That said, there’s a fair amount of low-clearance trees in this section too. I am skinny, stupid and stubborn enough to be able to bend over enough to pass through but in higher water you would have to portage.
Often no more than 20-feet wide, this was hands-down the narrowest, most intimate creek I have ever been on. Had I heard a banjo nearby, I would have lost my shit. But by the same token, the smallness made the experience seem like even more of a caper than it already was.
The serendipitous highlight of the trip, without question, was paddling underneath a great blue heron rookery, smack dab in the middle of Highway 151! I counted at least 20 big old nests towering above me in the trees, most of them with watchful herons like palace gate sentinels eyeing me suspiciously. I just sat there in my boat in utter amazement, quietly humbled by my good fortune. Many flew away, circled back around and gently lit back on the nests. It was simply spectacular.
What we didn’t like:
Lest I romance too swooningly for this trip, allow me to make the following unequivocally clear:
1: There are lots of logjams, most of them impassable. After six portages in a half-mile segment my patience began to wane. Most of these were the “sidle up to the tree, clamber on top of it, drag the boat over and get back in on the other side” kind of portage. A couple required portaging around, onto the muddy, steep banks, which quickly got old.
2: The water was low enough at the flatwater sections, with just enough clearance to flow. During the riffly sections I scraped a whole heck of a lot, often requiring “wheelchairing” (scooting forward and using the paddle as a kind of pole vault). I never had to get out and walk but it got close to that. And each time you find flatwater ahead, breathe a sigh of relief and relax a little, there are more riffles ahead.
3: During the last mile, aka “Logjam City,” it got pretty buggy. No mosquitoes (thank God) but I can imagine that this will change soon enough, marking this section quite a nuisance (on top of all the portages).
If we did this trip again:
I definitely will! It’s only a 20-minute drive from my house and those herons were incredible. I especially look forward to doing it again with more water (of course right now, a day later, it’s been raining all day).
Maunesha River I: Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Maunesha River IV: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River V: County Road TT to Canal Road
Maunesha River VI: Marshall to Firemen’s Park
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Maps: Capitol Water Trails
Wiki: Maunesha River
2.5 miles. Be careful on the takeout road, however. There were a shockingly large amount of regular cars driving to and fro, all of them quite fast.