Yahara River V
Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
☆ ☆ ☆
A surprisingly scenic and riffly stretch of clean, clear water in an otherwise developed area. While a short trip, this portion of the Yahara is protected and has great landings thanks to volunteer efforts. However, there is one section where a landowner is less than friendly.
May 25, 2013
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Riffles (One Easy Class I Drop)
≈ 5′ per mile
Windsor: ht/ft: 1.20 | cfs: 30
This level is too low for comfortable paddling. Instead, we recommend a minimum of 2’ on the Windsor gauge. Anything lower than 2’ and you will be scraping quite a bit.
Veterans Memorial Park, North Main Street, DeForest, Wisconsin
Windsor Road, Windsor, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 1:30p. Out at 4:30p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 5.5
Wildlife: Not one, not two but three owls and all in the same tree! A couple blue herons and turtles too.
A friend of mine scouted the upper waters of the Yahara a couple months ago but truth be told, I paid him little attention. It’s not that I don’t like the Yahara, I’ve had many a fine paddle on it, including my very first time in a kayak on a river (circa September 2008). But I have found myself having more of a “lower Yahara” state of mind. Ordinarily, the Yahara conjures too many congestions with too many people, usually in power or pontoon boats and usually in the Madison environs blubbering along from one lake to another.
Typically, for me, paddling is so much about escape and at least an illusory conceit of solitude. To my credit, on paper the DeForest area does not in any sense inspire escape or solitude. There’s development and people-stuff all over the place. However, to my friend’s credit, this stretch of the river is surprisingly picturesque and intimate at times, notwithstanding all the development.
For kicks and giggles, take a look at the map of this trip and compare the difference between the “Map” view and the “Satellite” view. You will notice that the entire stretch of the Yahara here is like a green sleeve (cue the music!) protected on each side as an urban environmental corridor. To be sure, it’s no wilderness and you’re seldom far from earshot or eyesight of backyards or cul-de-sacs. But it is a commendable effort in “greening” a developed community and giving the residents therein a place if not to escape from the rush of the everything else, than at least a temporary and well-deserved respite.
What we liked:
The width of the river at the beginning of the trip is nearly such that it could be brooked with a good running start (Note to self: look up origin of the phrase “jump the brook”). It’s like this for the first mile, during which you will paddle past unexpected quaintness at many turns, whether manifested as pretty trees or open fields. Needless to say, a scrappy creek boat would be better than a longer touring one.
This beginning section will be the slowest moving of the trip but there is a respectable gradient otherwise and you will find many laughing riffles welcoming you along the way. And if you like passing under bridges (and really, what’s not to like?) this short trip offers them up in abundance. Most of the bridges are part of the Upper Yahara River Trail, a pedestrian/bicycle path that wends around the river and it provides a delightful bike shuttle opportunity before or after the paddle.
There are no rapids on the trip but the current does rev itself to a quick clip at some points, which of course could be dangerous in higher water. There are a few very modest drops and only one or two choppy moments but nothing worrisome, just lively and fun! There are a few hills to course around, one of which has a very handsome exposed rock outcrop, which never fails to jazz me while paddling, particularly somewhere you’d never expect to come upon such geology hidden in plain sight.
What we didn’t like:
Before I get to the main point that will likely command more attention, I do want to say this first: this stretch of the Yahara will be runnable only in early spring or after a mighty hard rainfall. There was just barely enough water for us to enjoyably paddle this section. Had there been even another two inches of water this would have been a spectacular stretch but anything less than what is noted above would be inviting misery.
OK, now the main part. There comes a time in every paddler’s life when one happens upon a cranky property owner who apparently has no other passion or pastime in life than to bark at canoers and kayakers. Such is their prerogative, I suppose. Here’s what you may well expect to encounter, based on our experience.
A smidge more than midway through the trip you will have to reconcile the most obtrusive of deadfall blockages (Note: there are several in this 5-mile segment). Because I am stubborn and strong-willed and paddle mostly in a 9-foot crossover boat, I was able to forcibly propel/scoot my way over most of the obstructions. And as always, we did a fair amount of hand-sawing and trunk-tossing to better clear some of these clogged spots. But there’s one that requires a full-on chainsaw crew, which of course happens to be right beside the backyard of a curmudgeon shockingly quick on the draw to yell at us. He never threatened us (with what he would’ve, I don’t know) but considering that the law is on our side here but he was a real stick in the mud.
As often is the case in such confrontations, logic and fact-based argument do not prevail. Fortunately, we were a party of three, our ages ranging from 36 to 52, all of us well-meaning stewards of the land who’d sooner hug than cut down a tree. I still don’t know what his bugaboo was. All we were trying to do was a) paddle a public stream and then b) portage around an obstruction because circumstances required doing so.
Here is a short list of what we were not about but maybe he thought we were: picnicking on the 2-foot-wide muddy bank strewn with poison ivy; camping out that night in the crops; breaking out the boombox blaring Miranda Lambert while littering a case-full of Coors Light cans all over the place; or busting out a little impromptu foosball tourney.
All we wanted/had to do was portage over a fallen tree! Because his property line extended on both sides of the river I can only deduce that he felt that he owned the river…? Or that the moment we stepped foot onto dry land (when in the mud, I use the term “dry land” loosely) in order to portage we were trespassing. He advised us to take out and portage further upstream, actually pointing to some tree I could not possibly account for (anymore than someone pointing to a star at night and asking “see that one there?” Um, no… because there are thousands that look just like it!) and then walk through a field with our boats entow. Which of course begs asking the question, wouldn’t we then be trespassing on someone else’s land, in this case flagrantly trespassing now since we’d be cutting through woods or fields? But we placated in order to make nice and just be on our way again, which I must say is probably the best course of action to take, logic or ego aside.
But so we’re clear on this point, here is the law:
Public, navigable waterways in Wisconsin are defined as “lakes, rivers, and streams [that] have a bottom (bed) and side (bank), and enough water to float any boat, skiff, or canoe of the shallowest draft on a reoccurring basis. Occasionally, barriers such as wood or plant debris may impede actual navigation but waters are public even when multiple portages are required to get around obstructions. A waterway does not need to be regularly used for recreational or other general purposes, but is a public waterway based on its capacity to be navigable and public.” (Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). Additional info here.
If we did this trip again:
I will indeed, but only with more water.
Yahara River Overview: Yahara River Paddle Guide
Yahara River VII: Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
Yahara River XI: Windsor to Highway 113
Yahara River XII: Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
General: Village of DeForest
Good People: Friends of the Yahara River
Map: Upper Yahara River Trail
Wikipedia: Yahara River
4.2 miles, mostly on a dedicated pedestrian/bike path that hugs the river. 2.6 miles on the main road, whether by bicycle or car.