Rock River II
Janesville to Beloit
☆ ☆ ☆
Beginning in the heart of one city and ending at the beginning of another, this segment of the Rock is not as industrial as one might think. Indeed, there are a few miles on this trip where the otherwise wide river narrows and is protected on both sides by huge corridors of undeveloped near-wilderness. Add to that dazzling displays of wildlife, some pretty countryside, a dedicated bike path that runs parallel to the river and always reliable water levels, this stretch of the Rock is worth checking out.
September 21, 2013
Afton: ht/ft: 4.15 | cfs: 1500
Water levels are almost always reliable.
Monterey Dam, South Washington Street, Janesville, Wisconsin
Highway 51 boat launch just before the County Q/Newark Road, Beloit, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 1:00p. Out at 5:15p.
Total Time: 4h 15m
Miles Paddled: 12.5
A dozen+ great blue herons, a couple flopping buffalo carp, a bald eagle and some turkey vultures.
Earlier in the summer something caused me to remember that I paddled half of this trip, putting in at Monterey Dam and taking out at Happy Hollow Park a few years ago, something that I had completely forgotten about. The details of that experience remain hazy, as happens in those mid-November paddles when the landscape is bare and unadorned, cold and brown. Also, there is nothing especially fetching or spectacularly catchy about this trip; no huge looming cliffs, no cool rock formations, no breath-arresting rapids. All of these factors likely contributed to the faultiness of my memory.
But this paddle is a memorable once and I’m very glad that I not only did it again but this time, extended it by another five miles down to Beloit. Better yet, I paddled it with a pal who grew up in Janesville. This was his first time paddling down the Rock in a kayak, a kind of rite of passage not done since his childhood romps. So the day was charged with an endearing nostalgia that made me almost, almost, homesick for the polluted Passaic River in New Jersey.
What we liked:
First off, before you even take your boat off the car there is much to take in just weaving through some of Janesville’s neighborhoods. For a small city usually associated with its manufacturing history (RIP G.M.), Janesville has what may be a surprising amount of dedicated park area comprising some 2,600 acres.
Two sections of the Ice Age Trail also run through the city, forming a letter “V”. The western portion lies parallel to the river upstream of the put-in for this trip, its highlight, the pretty Riverside Park. And sprinkled here and there are old mansions from the city’s earlier days of chugging capitalism.
Anyway, if you choose to put in at Monterey Dam you will have to schlep your boat about 50 yards or so to the water (a more official boat launch lies half a mile downstream from here). You might opt for the Monterey put-in because the dam is kind of cool and there’s a nice surge of current coming from it (and the nice riffly spot underneath the railroad bridge makes for a fun start.) Plus, there’s a random-looking chemical plant you’ll soon pass after a charming island, it is Janesville, after all.
Yet, after you pass under the West Eau Claire Road bridge at the four-mile mark, the surroundings are entirely wild and undeveloped. This section continues for another four miles or so until the next bridge at Town Line Road. From there, signs of civilization resume in full force with a humongous power plant on river-right and a rock quarry on the left (but no houses yet).
Still, all is far from lost. Another mile downstream, after passing under a railroad bridge on river-right is the pretty Rock River Prairie State Natural Area. And while housing begins on the opposite shore, you can easily distract yourself with the sights of the aptly named Big Hill Park in Beloit, which runs pretty much contiguous to the prairie but seems enormous after the relative flatness of the surroundings by that point. There are some entertaining sights to take in along the developed river-left shore; houses with boat garages, fake dog statues, fake hawk windsocks and one house with half a dozen fake palm trees! A mile later you’re already at the take-out.
What we didn’t like:
Nothing really, but I’ll say this, the Rock is a big, wide and not terribly clean river. I personally think it makes up for that with unexpected stretches of tranquility and intimacy but if industrial-urban river corridors are absolutely not your thing, you may not want to paddle this.
If we did this trip again:
I will probably put my exploring cap on next time and (try to) paddle some of Bass Creek, the mouth of which is about a mile upstream of Happy Hollow Park in the town of Afton (where incidentally, the Rock River gauge is located).
Rock River I: Oregon to Dixon
Rock River III: Kanow Park to County Road P
Rock River IV: Watertown to Johnson Creek
General: Rock River Trail
Wikipedia: Rock River