Turtle Creek
★ ★ ★

Turtle Creek IV

By on July 11, 2015

Spring Parks to School Section Road
☆ ☆ ☆

A combination of two streams on one trip with a few hassles that should disabuse most sensible paddlers of recapitulating this, doing each separately instead, but this area of the upper Turtle Creek has a lot to offer.

Date:
June 19, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I(II) first mile (flatwater thereafter)

Gradient:
Swan Creek: 15′ per mile Turtle Creek: 2.4′ per mile

Gauge:
Clinton: ht/ft: 4.68 | cfs: 320

Recommended Levels:
This is an unusually high level for the creek. You should definitely be able to paddle this at 200 cfs and as low as 100 cfs, albeit with some scraping.

Put-In:
Springs Park, West Washington Street, Delavan, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
School Section Road

Time: Put in at 2:25p. Out at 4:25p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 6.25

Wildlife: A bald eagle, great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers, hawks, turkey vultures, muskrats, deer, songbirds, turtles (painted, soft shell and snapping) and at least one brazen fish (salmon? carp?) trying to swim upstream the dam.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

My intention was to paddle much more of Swan Creek than I actually did. My original plan was to put in at Country Road O just south of downtown Delavan, 3 miles upstream of the dam. The short back-story to this is a tip from a friend of mine who sometimes works in the Delavan area. An intrepid paddler, when he sees a stream rising his curiosity is piqued. A man much smarter than I, he encourages and typically convinces me to be the canary in the coal mine, pioneer paddle and then let him know afterward whether it’s good or bad. And I fall for it every time! So that’s how I even had Swan Creek on my radar, otherwise, I’d have had no idea about its existence.

On the satellite map it looks very alluring: an intimate stream surrounded by a primarily undeveloped landscape (absent the outskirts of a golf course and brief skirmish with an interstate highway) coursing through woods and a light ridge. Plus it would hook up with Turtle Creek, and who doesn’t like 2-for-1 deals? – especially when it’s a swan and a turtle!

But after checking out the creek at the CR O bridge, I began having misgivings. For one, it’s really narrow and thus prone to deadfall. For another, the current was quite fast because the water was high. That’s a dicey combination for a pioneer paddle. Contributing to my apprehension was that there are no other bridges between County Road O and West Washington Street, thus allowing for no scouting. In other words, once you put-in, you’re committed to it, come what may. As even a casual reader of the site would know, I myself have been rather burned (or wet) lately by deadfall-clogged creeks that have quickly turned a fun day to one that was fraught with frowns (or worse). So I was a little reluctant to get screwed again. Really though, I just didn’t think it was safe or smart to pioneer paddle a 3-mile segment about which nothing could be known when the current was so pushy.

See, old dogs can learn new tricks. It just takes a while.

So I drove back to town and scouted the bridge at West Washington Street. Directly beneath the bridge are quite inviting Class I-II standing waves with more light rapids downstream for about a hundred yards, including a pitch-perfect play spot ledge that looks like it was designed for whitewater surfing. There’s a public park called Terrace Park along the west bank of the creek where you can put-in off the grass downstream from the bridge but there’s really no good spot on the upstream side.

However, there is a true hidden gem of a large public park called Springs Park through which Swan Creek flows. I found a very convenient ad hoc launching spot only a short walk from the parking lot, a few hundred feet away. I chose this in order to run all the rapids at Washington Street. It turned out to be a smart move, as there’s a whole lot of tree debris in the creek upstream, as well as an impassable low-clearance culvert that would have been seriously dangerous to encounter in pushy current.

From there it’s a short distance to the dam (0.4-mile), located next to a municipal pool/mini water park. And here’s where it gets tricky. First, even though there is a sign pointing to where you need to portage around the dam, there’s still no good place to do so. It’s a steep bank on loose gravel to schlep your boat up, around a guardrail and then back down the same on the other side of the dam – wherein you’ll encounter the second problem. Next, there’s only one place to re-enter the water below the dam, but you’ll have two choices about which channel to take around large boulders that split the creek. To go right, at least in the volume of water I encountered on this day, you must be a seriously good whitewater paddler, as there are huge waves and swells ranking Class III+. To go left – which is what I did since I was alone and had no one to assist me in case I capsized – you scrape down what appears to be but is not in fact enough water at a 2-foot ledge (more on this below).

After that Class I rapids whisks you 800 feet towards Richmond Road, where you will likely have to portage around because it is absurdly low-clearance. (Maybe it would be doable at a lower level, but this is a moot point because I don’t really recommend any of this anyway.) Re-entering on the other side is not difficult, but in the fast current you have to be careful and self-controlled about where to take out since it’s nothing but grass and weeds. You absolutely do not want to get swept into the bridge and pinned against, or under it!

From Richmond Road to the confluence at Turtle Creek is about 670 feet of riffles. The two meet at a pretty spot where a modest promontory jutts out between them, with a bench providing a scenic spot to hang out. You could put-in here, as evidenced by a trod path where others probably have. However, only 50 yards or so downstream is a low-head dam and I didn’t see anywhere to portage it. Normally, it’s not wise to run these dams due to the recirculating current below them (called “back rollers”), but sometimes you can, especially if the water is high since it allows for more of an angled slide down the ledge than a precipitous drop in lower conditions.

You might be able to scout the dam from the unnamed road catty-corner to Zoellner Lane, on the west bank of the creek, before you’re on the water but you’d have to be very discreet about it. I ran the dam to the right of its center, which looked safest. It was a lot of fun, but by that point I’d taken off my spray skirt, though I could have used it for this unexpected splash!

After the low-head dam all the swift current begins to slow down and but for a random riffle or two, everything is quite even-keeled. The section leading to King Street is pretty but not what you might call breathtaking. That said, it’s entirely enclosed within public land, a parcel of the Turtle Creek Wildlife Area, so what it lacks in write-home-about beauty it makes up for in undeveloped naturalness. But the King Street to School Section Road segment is quite lovely and definitely worth doing. The only trouble is there’s nowhere to launch at King Street. Thus, either you put in at the confluence and run the low-head dam for a pleasant 5.5-mile afternoon trip, or you enter the Wildlife Area via County Road M and walk south along the unnamed creek that feeds the Turtle for a 3.5-mile jaunt.

What we liked:
The rapids, baby, the rapids! Really though, one could spend a good hour in the half-mile stretch of Swan Creek alone. The standing waves beneath the West Washington Street bridge were fabulous and the ledge drop/surfing hole 30 yards downstream was awesome. I’m glad I was wearing my spray skirt, or I’d have taken in quite a bit of water! This small segment itself is a great place to get cozy with light whitewater without any real risk, as the water is shallow and there are no obstacles to get hung on. Plus the land itself is public, so getting out and back in as many times as your heart desires is easy and safe.

The raging whitewater (at least at 300 cfs) below the dam was quite a sight. Cooler still was a large fish (salmon? carp?) that tried hopelessly to swim upstream it. I saw this shadowy shape try twice before it disappeared beneath the waves.

The 800 feet of riffles and light rapids between the dam at Veterans Park and Richmond Road were certainly fun too but less of a challenge. And then finally that drop at the low-head dam on Turtle Creek was a great adrenaline rush. After all that it was high time to crack open a cold beer and relax in the hot sun, adrift in the wildlife watching turtles (aptly) and herons, my ears dialed in to the surround sound of songbirds. To be sure, there will be light riffles here and there for the next 5 miles, but they’re all easy teases.

The Turtle Creek Wildlife Area is positively lovely, and you’ll certainly delight in the natural landscape disrupted only three times by tasteful barns. Here and there, the land will rise gently in sinuous curves, always on the right. They punctuate the otherwise flat landscape with pleasant waves. After the bridge at Highway 11 the creek will narrow, pass an attractive ridge on the right and you’ll encounter a cluster of obstructions once or twice. It isn’t unsafe but you’ll need to have good boat control to avoid snagging on a stray branch or log. The takeout at School Section Road is not developed, but there’s a worn footpath on the left at the upstream side of the bridge. The only trick is, because the current picks up some speed here, you will need to paddle hard to the left bank to avoid missing the takeout.

What we didn’t like:
Swan Creek is so alluring but probably not worth the potential nastiness. This was unrepresentatively high so I can’t speak to its character at lower, more normal water levels. But I’m confident that the 3-mile section from County Road O to Washington Street would require a lot of cleaning up. I’m loath to let an alluring prospect go but sometimes practicality gets the better of me (it’s rare, but it happens).

Unless you’re a hardcore whitewater paddler, just skip the whole dam. It’s an arduous portage and once you re-enter, you have to choose the right channel. Why? Well, let me tell you. I chose the left channel because it looked safer. It wasn’t until I began scraping down a 2-foot ledge, where I thought I had enough water, when I realized my mistake. The trouble is it’s not just inelegant scraping. Turbulent water will come at you from the right, pushing you to the left, where there are lots of strainers and low-hanging branches. You’ll want to paddle to the right to avoid these but doing so moves you against strong current, a conflict of interest. At least twice I nearly tipped over due to these squirrelly conditions. I got lucky, frankly; I easily could have gone under. And then you have to portage around the low-clearance bridge at Richard Road only 800 feet downstream. I just don’t think it’s worth it for recreational paddlers.

It’s unfortunate that to run only the Turtle Creek section you have to confront the low-head dam. I don’t recall there being anywhere to portage around it or just get out to scout. It’s fun to run but there is a safety concern due to the re-circulating current. But there’s nowhere to launch a boat after that point to make doing this trip by itself worth it, since it would only be about 3 miles, some of which is prone to occasional obstructions.

If we did this trip again:
I’d do the short Swan Creek section as a point and play for fun and practice beginner whitewater skills but that’s probably all. I definitely enjoyed this section of Turtle Creek but it’s the least interesting or engaging on the whole stream. I’d sooner paddle the next section of the creek – from School Section Road to South O’Riley Road – if I were in this part of the state again. It’s prettier and has no safety concerns or portaging. Stay tuned for that trip report…

***************
Related Information:
Turtle Creek Overview: Turtle Creek Paddle Guide
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 V: School Section Road to O’Riley Road
Turtle Creek VI: Fairfield to Sweet-Allyn Park
Miles Paddled Video: Turtle Creek II: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Good People: Friends of Turtle Creek
Overview: Riverfacts
Video: Wisconsin Paddles

Map:


Shuttle Information:

4.2 miles, most of which is along Hwy 11, which made for a less than ideal but totally doable bike shuttle.

Photo Gallery:

TAGS
RELATED POSTS
MILES TO DATE:

2386.00
HELLO
Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

Say Hello or Contribute
PADDLE REPORTS

Ahnapee River

Apple River (IL)

    Apple River
    4.20.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East Canyon Road to South Apple River Road

Ashippun River

    Ashippun River
    9.27.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

Bark River

    Bark River III
    4.7.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway 83 to Delafield Road

    Bark River II
    4.15.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Merton to Highway 83

    Bark River I
    7.15.10 | ☆ ☆
    Burnt Village County Park to Fort Atkinson

Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Red Covered Bridge Park to County Road 1150

Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
    5.10.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Goodrich to County Road A

Billings Creek

    Billings Creek
    8.13.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road F to Landing 10

Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

Boundary Waters (MN)

Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Faribault to Dundas

Carroll Creek (IL)

    Carroll Creek II
    6.21.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

    Carroll Creek I
    4.26.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
    5.7.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mines of Spain to Massey Marina Park

Cedar Creek

    Cedar Creek
    9.28.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road M to Cedarburg

Coon Fork Creek

Covel Creek (IL)

    Covel Creek
    6.18.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East 18th Road to Highway 71

Crawfish River

Crawfish River: North Branch

Crystal River

Dell Creek

    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Femrite Drive to Fish Camp County Park

Duck Creek

    Duck Creek
    3.23.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road G to Duck Creek Road

Eau Claire River

Eau Galle River

Embarrass River

Flambeau River: North Fork

Fox River

    Fox River II
    4.30.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road O to Endeavor

    Fox River I
    5.14.14 | ☆ ☆
    Swan Lake to Portage Canal

Fox River (IL)

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

    Grant River IV
    4.24.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

    Grant River II
    11.21.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek III
    5.6.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek II
    8.9.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek I
    6.28.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

Honey Creek

Jump River

    Jump River
    8.30.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park

Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River: West Fork

Kinnickinnic River

Kishwaukee River (IL)

Koshkonong Creek

La Crosse River

Lake Columbia

Lake Mendota

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake II
    10.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

    Mirror Lake I
    5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Montello River

    Montello River
    11.8.16-11.10.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Harrisville to 11th Road

Mormon Creek

    Mormon Creek
    8.3.14 | ☆ ☆
    Mormon Coulee Park to Goose Island County Park

Morrison Creek

Mukwonago River

Mullet River

    Mullet River
    10.20.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Plymouth to County Road M

Namekagon River

    Namekagon River
    7.16-7.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road K to Riverside

Neenah Creek

Nippersink Creek (IL)

Oconomowoc River

Old Pearl River (LA)

    Old Pearl River
    4.3.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road

Onion River

    Onion River II
    10.11.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road A to County Road V

    Onion River I
    9.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road V to Sheboygan Falls

Pecatonica River

Pecatonica River: East Branch

Peshekee River (MI)

Peshtigo River

    Peshtigo River
    9.2.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park

Pigeon River

    Pigeon River
    12.5.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Lake Michigan

Pine River

Piscasaw Creek (IL)

Platte River

Plover River

    Plover River
    5.19.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Jordan Park to Iverson Park

Prairie River

    Prairie River II
    5.27.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road C to Stange’s Park

    Prairie River I
    11.17.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Haymeadow Creek to Prairie Road

Puchyan River

    Puchyan River
    04.19.15 | ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Huckleberry Road

Red River

    Red River
    12.9.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Gresham to County Road A

Red Cedar River

Robinson Creek

    Robinson Creek
    7.8.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old County Road I to Kelly Road

Rock Creek

    Rock Creek
    3.26.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Lake Mills to Millford

Rock River

Root River

    Root River
    8.2.13 | ☆ ☆
    5 Mile Road to Horlick Dam

Root River: South Branch (MN)

Rubicon River

Seeley Creek

    Seeley Creek
    5.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road

Six Mile Creek

    Six Mile Creek
    6.7.14 | ☆
    Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive

Spring Creek

    Spring Creek
    4.20.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Fair Street to County Road V

St. Croix River

Starkweather Creek

Sugar Creek

Sugar River

Token Creek

    Token Creek III
    5.22.11 | ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek II
    8.22.09 | ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek I
    5.2.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

Tomorrow River

    Tomorrow River
    7.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Rolling Hills Road to Amherst

Trappe River

    Trappe River
    8.2.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road WW to Wisconsin River Road

Trempealeau River

Turtle Creek

Upper Iowa River (IA)

    Upper Iowa River
    5.24.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Chimney Rock Road to Bluffton Road

Waupaca River

    Waupaca River V
    10.24.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Amherst to Durrant Road

    Waupaca River IV
    4.12.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River III
    9.22.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway DD to County Highway Q

    Waupaca River II
    7.7.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River I
    7.9.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

Wausau Whitewater Park

Wedges Creek

    Wedges Creek
    9.20.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort

White River

Wisconsin River

Wolf River

Yahara River

Yellow Creek (IL)

    Yellow Creek
    4.19.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Bolton Road to Krape Park

Yellow River

Yellow River (IA)

    Yellow River II
    5.6.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old Sixteen Road to Highway 76

    Yellow River I
    5.5.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway X16 to Old Sixteen Road

Zumbro River (MN)

    Zumbro River
    6.1.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Zumbro Falls to Millville
Support the Cause
Timothy's guidebook is out! Order on Amazon.com.



Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!