Maunesha River VI
Marshall to Firemen’s Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A return trip to mark an anniversary of sorts, this second time around was even prettier and less difficult than the first. Great wildlife, a surprisingly scenic landscape, fantastically fun moving water and a thrilling ride of nonstop rapids for the last two miles – this is the Maunesha from Marshall to Waterloo.
April 3, 2016
4′ per mile (except for the last 2 miles, where the river drops 10′ per mile).
If the water is high, we recommend paddling this. So, try catching it after some rain or still early in spring. If you’re nearby, a good visual gauge is any of the bridges in downtown Waterloo where there are rapids. If they’re high enough, everything else will be as well.
Marshall Dam off Waterloo Road, Marshall, Wisconsin
Firemen’s Park, Waterloo, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 1:40p. Out at 5:40p.
Total Time: 4h (including 45 minutes of clearing jams + a 30-minute backwaters excursion)
Miles Paddled: 8.25
Wildlife: Great blue heron, wood ducks galore, nesting geese, bluejays, kingfisher, sandhill cranes, beaver dams, muskrat, three groundhogs and three deer.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour.
A return trip to the river that essentially started me on the whole “who needs guidebooks?” mindset when wondering about where to go paddling each weekend (ironically, this mindset then inspired me to write a guidebook of my own – about places not found in other guidebooks. This should come out in a couple months, about whose publication/release we shall say more when the time comes). So while the manuscript is in the editing phase with the last touches being put on before it goes to the printer, it seemed appropriate to go back to the trip that more or less started things, three years ago, almost to the day.
This time around we started right below the dam in Marshall and added another mile, which was pleasant (though not essential). You’ll have to schlep your gear about 30 yards from the road. There’s an unpaved path that leads to the water but it’s very muddy, ruddy and not approachable unless you have a high-clearance AWD vehicle, and it’s ambiguous whether this is a public right-of-way. The only real advantage to putting-in here is a small rapid about 40’ from the put-in and adding another mile to this otherwise short trip. You’ll see the sights (and in season, hear the sounds) of Little Amerricka to the south as the river meanders underneath Highway 19 twice. Or you can simply skip this and begin the trip at the next two bridges, Koch and Waterloo roads, respectively.
What we liked:
When we first paddled this trip back in April 2013 the river was higher, the current stronger. This time around, the water was lower (but still higher than summer/autumn), the current less pushy. It was a great level, actually, and in retrospect I wish I’d marked a bridge or fixed some kind of visual cue for future reference. Being higher than normal, we could ride/ butt-scoot over a couple down trees that might otherwise pose problems in lower levels. And the rapids towards the end were fantastic!
That said, the 2-3’ drop at the railroad trestle bridge had notably less water flushing through its chute, which made running it a little dodgy. Rather than sliding down diagonally, this was more a boof-esque kerplunk. We both ran it, stayed upright, and then dewatered the boats at the bottom. As we’ve mentioned before, this drop is tricky because there are pylon remnants that you want to avoid but have only very narrow elbowroom to avoid running into. Given the velocity of the current, bumping into one of these can be, um, unpleasant… But it was an adrenaline spike while doing it, and a fist-bumping moment afterwards.
When the river begins to run parallel to Highway 19 you’ll see a large wetlands complex to your right. We first noticed a large beaver dam and then remarked how surprisingly deep the water was upstream of it. To be clear, this is some backwater or feeder stream of the Maunesha, not the river itself. We thought it would be a fun novelty to explore these backwaters. And so we did for about 30 minutes, on water ranging between 1-3’ deep, on a channel only 4-5’ wide, carefully making our way through tree branches like threading a needle. The loop took us to an even bigger beaver dam – right back to the river itself (though one could easily have continued in a different direction to further explore the backwaters). Here as elsewhere we were happily surprised by how pretty the Maunesha is, more so than either of us had remembered from the past. Indeed, there are several small hills (knolls?) reminiscent of Badfish Creek.
Special praise – OK, maybe amazement – must be given to my paddling accomplice, who on this trip who brought with him a battery-operated sawzall to help cut down tree branches and obstructions. A cordless sawzall in a kayak! This has been a daydream of mine for years, never to manifest in real life until now. So much easier than a handsaw. Maunesha, meet the Handyman! Together, we cleared out every clog where otherwise we would have had to portage around, instead paddling through. Alas, these efforts are futile, we know that. When the water lowers, there will be new obstructions exposed. Or the next time the water rises and drags debris down its way, the latter will cluster and create a new obstruction. And so it is, on the river. But still… a sawzall!
What we didn’t like:
There was a lot of litter, especially in the first couple miles. Plastic bottles mainly, your basic tractor tire which probably had rolled down a hill and into the water, plus an old door for good measure. It wasn’t awful but the amount of it was surprising, especially since it’s so early in the year.
If we did this trip again:
Leaving aside my own sentimental reasons for wanting to do this trip again, it really is a fun paddle. The surrounding landscape is quite pretty – more so than I remember it from a few years ago – the current is so much fun, and the wildlife is always diverse. It’s a great length for an afternoon trip, and the shuttle is quick and easy. There will be obstructions here and there but they’re definitely worth putting up with.
Maunesha River I: Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Maunesha River IV: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River V: County Road TT to Canal Road
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Maps: Capitol Water Trails
Wikipedia: Maunesha River
5 miles, easy and direct.