Turtle Creek VI
Fairfield to Sweet-Allyn Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Here’s an encore performance of the beloved Turtle Creek that combines sections from previous trips for the sake of diversity as well as celebrating the first day of spring in 2016.
March 20, 2016
4′ per mile
Clinton: ht/ft: 4.6 | cfs: 300
We recommend this level. Below 200 cfs you’ll scrape here and there in the shallower sections but you can still run it. 300 cfs is high but by no means dangerous (except for when your friend pushes you into a strainer – see below). In fact, the water clarity was still quite good at this level. The current is quick and the riffles are at their friskiest. At 400 or above these would all wash out and the water will be brown.
County Road C, Fairfield, Wisconsin
Sweet-Allyn Park, Shopiere, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 11:40a. Out at 3:50p.
Total Time: 4h 10m
Miles Paddled: 13.5
Wildlife: Owls, hawks, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, blue jays, kingfishers, wood ducks, mergansers, nesting geese, muskrat, deer, fish, clams. Alas, no turtles this time.
Time worth driving to: 1.5 hours
Ever since first paddling the South O’Riley Road to Sweet Allyn Park section a few years ago, I’ve been trying to get friends out here for them to experience the many charms of Turtle Creek. Admittedly, saving this moment for a partially sunny day in March when the high was only 42 degrees (and at least 10 degrees colder when paddling dead into a northwest wind) was a couple shades shy of ideal. But it was the first day of spring and there are some advantages to seeing the landscape bare before the leaves return. Plus the river was high and running at a great level, which often is not the case with the Turtle.
We decided to add 3.5 miles to this trip by putting in at County Road C in Fairfield, rather than at O’Riley Road since the current was brisk and none of us had any commitments for the day (other than watching the Badgers basketball game later that night). While that might seem a bit ambitious on some streams, the Turtle is wide and has only a few meandering kinks. It took us exactly one hour to paddle the additional 3.5 miles by putting in upstream and we were very glad to have done so.
What we liked:
Because there are so many access points along the Turtle – each one uncannily between 1-3 miles from another – a paddler can pick and choose which segments to do in a way that is quite rare to find along streams. Combined with the attractive water, landscape, riffles and wildlife, the Turtle really is a paddler’s river. (Yes, it’s called a creek but this is ridiculous, as it’s always well over 50 feet wide.)
The first four miles of this trip lie within protected public land, the Turtle Creek Wildlife Area. There’s an attractive ridge on the right that has detoured the Turtle to the south (a novelty, since it mostly flows westward). I had first paddled past this back in June last year, in full summer flush, and now I really enjoyed seeing it bare for what it is.
There’s not a wide array of riverside geology in Rock County (despite its name), as the glaciers of the last Ice Age came as far south as Janesville. But there are some modest (but still quite pretty) limestone outcroppings just past the Carvers Rock Road bridge. In spring and late fall you can appreciate these better without their leafy camouflage. Rocks or no rocks, the banks along the “creek” remain high and hilly all the way to the Highway 140 bridge. I didn’t remember this feature from the only other time I paddled this stretch (I remembered it being mostly flat… which it will be for a few miles after Highway 140).
As you approach the rustic truss bridge at Smith Road, the paddling is just fabulous. That attractive bridge is soon overshadowed 75 yards later by the majestic limestone arch bridge in Tiffany (which to be fair looks prettier in summer, garlanded with greenery). From there the gradient drops again, after being a bit flat for a few miles, all the way to the takeout, which comes too soon. If it weren’t so convenient, you’d want to ride with riffles past Sweet Allyn park to somewhere else downstream. But one needs to stop paddling at some point and there’s hardly anywhere better than this park.
In our first report on this section we mentioned there being at least one strand of barbed wire. There was none at the time of this writing, we’re happy to report. In fact, there were no hazards at all, even in the kinky section just below the Creek Road bridge.
There are lots of islands, though (more than I’d remembered, frankly). These are always welcome presences, as they change things up and offer different channels to choose. Whether they can be camped on is anyone’s guess. I’d say you’d be on firm ground (legally and literally) if you find something still enclosed within the Wildlife Area. Past those perimeters, we’re just not sure. In the section between Highway 140 and Smith Road you probably wouldn’t want to, as the landscape is flat and you’d have no privacy. Creek Road runs parallel to the water here, and the visibility is predominant. If you were to try camping, we recommend it be somewhere between County Road C and Highway 140 (and let us know if you do).
What we didn’t like:
The only thing that detracted from this trip (and ranked it 4-star instead of 5) is the relative monotony between Highway 140 and Smith Road. As mentioned above, the surroundings are flat and farms are everywhere. The water is slow, wide and straight. Unfortunately, it’s the longest segment on this trip, at just under 4 miles. There’s nothing “bad” about it but it pales in comparison to its up- and downstream components.
On a more personal note, my friends and I had a learning moment on the water. We were goofing off, as will happen when A) you’re a guy, B) you’re giddy just to be on the water again and C) you’ve had a couple beers. There were three of us, paddling in tandem. I was on the far-right (unusual for me). The friend on the far left pushed the friend in the middle to the right, in the direction of a downed tree off the right bank. In correcting his direction, the friend in the middle had no choice but to cut me off in order to avoid the tree, which left me no choice but to head right into it.
The current was pretty brisk right there too, as is always the case with downed trees. I knew I was pretty much screwed even before I ran into the thing, as I was in my 15’ kayak, which steers about as well as a city bus. So I t-boned the tree and felt the backside of my boat turning right, towards the tree, which had the inevitable effect of pinning me. I knew from experience (i.e., the hard way!) that I needed to lean towards the tree to avoid being flipped under by the current. This I did and was able to buy myself some time so that I could first get my brand-new camera secured in my dry bag (so as not to lose yet another frickin’ camera while kayaking) as well as figure out how to get myself out of this mess.
Meanwhile, my friends had gone downstream of course. I shouted out “Hang on!” in as serious but not worrisome a manner as I could. To cut to the chase, after about 5-10 minutes I finally managed to dislodge the bow of my boat from under the tree by grabbing onto another limb with one hand while holding my paddle in the other and using it to push off yet a third limb. No easy feat in a tippy boat in a pushy current, and all without inviting water lapping over the cockpit sides. Now free, I made a mad dash for going backwards, away from the obstruction until I found a much welcome eddy. I won’t say it was graceful but it was dry!
The learning moment was twofold. One, don’t push your friends towards downed trees! Even quietwater takes on a surprisingly powerful force in these circumstances, and what seems harmless (and not really intentional) can become downright dangerous. Two, an emergency whistle might save your sorry ass! My friends didn’t hear me shout “Hang on!” and so they just continued on their way, having no reason to think that anything was amiss. In fact, neither of them knew that my kayak became a heat-seeking missile for that downed tree. A whistle would’ve alerted them. It’s something to consider. We’re all about having fun on the water, whether your beverage is boozy or not. But safety should always be paramount. OK, that’s it for our PSA.
If we did this trip again:
Absolutely we’d do this again! But maybe later in autumn, as we’ve only paddled the Turtle either in late spring or mid-summer. There are lots of gorgeous oaks along the water and seeing them in fall foliage could be pretty glorious. But the Turtle is worth going to anytime the water is high enough. Attractive ridges, public land, a smattering of islands to navigate narrow channels on mostly clear water, with excellent flow, abundant wildlife, cool bridges and great accesses – this is Turtle Creek and why we love it.
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 IV: Springs Park to School Section Road
Turtle Creek V: School Section Road to O’Riley Road
Miles Paddled Video: Turtle Creek II: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Good People: Friends of Turtle Creek
Video: Wisconsin Paddles
12.5 miles and a pleasant trip through the country at that.