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Black Earth Creek is known more as a Class I Trout stream than it is for canoeing and kayaking. The good news is that it's navigable, the bad news is that's it's not easily accessible.
August 17, 2013
Black Earth: ht/ft: 2.01 | cfs: 39
Walking Iron Park/Lions Park, Walter Road, Mazomanie, WI
Time: Put in at 11:20a. Out at 1:15p.
Total Time: 1h 55m
Miles Paddled: 5.25
Wildlife: A deer, ducks, cranes, turtles, carp and dozens of trout.
Long story short. I planned a 6.75 mile "Dead Set" of Black Earth Creek > Blue Mounds Creek > Wisconsin River (a Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, if you will) but the put-in at Morril Road was a non-negotiable non-access point with farm fencing downriver and really tall, thick growth, upriver.
So I looked downstream at Blynn Road. It also didn't look great and I literally would've only paddled a few hundred yards on Black Earth Creek before it turned into Blue Mounds Creek so I went upstream looking for access. Mahocker Road wasn't any better, nor was Hudson Road. So I pulled out the Gazeteer and found a county park down the road from Hudson, Walking Iron Park. It looked like there might be a place to put in since the creek flows right through it.
What I found wasn't as ideal as I imagined, essentially a tiny path alongside and downstream from a footbridge but at this point, I was itching to paddle this very pretty looking creek. It helped that it was really riffly under the footbridge, making for a very inviting entrance.
Now I obviously didn't have this section, Walking Iron Park to Morril Road, mapped out so I didn't know exactly how many miles I had just added to the journey and since I was pressed for time, I decided to paddle from the park to Blynn Road and call it a day (realizing that the take-out was going to more or less suck).
It's worth noting that Blynn Road is the last take-out before a 6 mile journey to the Arena boat landing take-out on the Wisconsin River and there aren't any roads or trails to exit on if needed.
Judging by the time it took to paddle this section, I figure I had traveled between 7-8 miles total. I wasn't even close. It wasn't until I mapped it for this report that I was shocked to learn that I only paddled a meager 5.25 miles. It felt like much more.
I'm really surprised it took almost 2 hours to go 5.25 miles. That's a really low average (usually it's 3-4 mph) and surprising considering the current (felt like it) was really moving. I have to assume it was all the curves and portages which extended the paddle. It also means that this could have potentially been a 4-hour paddle if I had continued down to the Arena boat landing. Which is really crazy…
Alright, that was more "long story long".
What we liked:
This is a beauty of a creek, just absolutely gorgeous. Its cool, crisp and clear water runs over an alternating sandy and stony-bottom. If trout-bottomed could be a physical characteristic, that would also be a fitting attribute because they were everywhere and with every stroke of the paddle, they darted every which way, sometimes running alongside my boat. At times I'd look up thinking the shadows I was seeing were birds above.
There was an occasional carp too but the trout far outnumbered them and ranged in size, some a good 14-16 inches. I also spotted some huge turtles with flat shells (I know turtle species like the back of my head), ducks, cranes and one deer (on my shuttle).
I also spotted an unusual amount of sporting goods in the creek. There were two basketballs and one kickball all trapped at portages. Which made me wonder, what's with the Mazo kids losing their balls in the creek? Beyond that, this is a very clean and unpolluted creek, or so it appears, save for the occasional tractor tire.
The creek is mostly shallow for much of your paddle strokes but deeper pools pocket the bottom (a key characteristic of a trout stream) and especially around the edges of the many bends but the water level was surprisingly accommodating. It was reading just above 2' but I had no trouble making my way through and rarely, if ever, did I get stuck on the bottom. The current felt really swift and would pull my kayak to safe passage throughout (clearly, as mentioned, it wasn't moving as fast as I thought based on the time it took to paddle this short section).
This is a curvy little creek that alternates from tree-covered stretches to open farm land, offering a wide variety of landscape to take in as it twists it way towards, eventually, the Wisconsin River. Initially, I thought I'd need a creek or smaller-sized boat just based on the constant curves I gauged by mapping this trip out but that wasn't the case. Averaging about 40' wide, it's an intimate paddle but for that reason, expect to do some climbing if you attempt to paddle this, only because there is a good chance a recently fallen tree could block the way.
Up until about a mile past Hudson Road, it was smooth sailing. I thought I had a home-free paddle with no portages because I saw signs of freshly cut branches. Then it started clogging up well before Morrill and there were four solid portages that had me climbing and clamoring over fallen trees.
In hindsight, I'm really glad I did this extended (and unintended) section prior to Morrill Road. It was probably the prettiest part of the paddle and more remote than from Morrill on, which nestles up alongside Highway 14.
I did meet a canoer putting in at Blynn who said the downstream section from there is great (the section I had really intended to do). He paddled it last year and said it was clear. He mentioned that someone had come through and cleaned it up. In fact, I actually know and can credit Capitol Water Trails for clearing it (I had heard that they were clearing it last fall and were looking for help. I wanted to partake but couldn't make it that day).
What we didn't like:
There are just no great put-ins or take-outs so you have to improvise and check yourself for ticks after walking through the brambles. While the put-in was manageable at Walking Iron County Park, the take-out at Blynn was chosen out of last resort, not for ease of use (and yes, I definitely had to check for ticks after that one).
You really have to wonder about this creek's accessibility from a canoe or kayak launching standpoint. My official "B.E.C. Consipiracy Theory" is that its inaccessibility is actually on purpose, perhaps to keep it the gem it is to the benefit of locals and trout fishermen. It has, afterall, been named one of the top 100 trout streams in the country. Maybe there is a fear of abuse by allowing easier access? Of course I'm making light of it because I'm of the mentality that there would be enough of us "trash paddlers" who care enough to pack in what others haven't.
You can tell that Black Earth Creek is a special place and it's one of those creeks that makes me a happy paddler. I'd hate for it to be only appreciated by select few but what I want to see (start presidential music) "is a day when anglers and canoers and kayakers (maybe not tubers) come together and unite and build a put-in here and a put-in there and make this great creek that flows through these great driftless towns, an equal opportunity creek for our sons and daughters (and especially, me) to enjoy."
I should've been a politician.
If we did this trip again:
If I did this section again (which is completely possible) I'd try to start up at North State Street/Highway Y for an added mile to make this a reasonable 6.25 half-day trip. I say "try" because I have no idea if that's an accessible put-in option (I didn't scout it) and the track-record for finding put-ins and take-outs on this creek hasn't been good so far...
But first, when I do visit this creek again, I'm absolutely going to start at Blynn Road and work my way down to the Wisconsin River to complete that "Dead Set" I had intended to do in the first place.
Map: Black Hawk Trail
View Black Earth Creek in a larger map
Miles Paddled Video:
Walking Iron County Park trail head (the put-in is just beyond this).
The put-in near the Walking Iron footbridge.
Riffly waters under the footbridge.
Hudson Road bridge.
Clean, pretty water.
Morrill Road bridge. Note the gates... you can lift them for clearance. They're just on ropes.
Open farmland area. Tons of trout in this section.
Blynn Road bridge.
The take-out upriver of Blynn Road bridge.