Black Earth Creek IV
Black Earth to Walking Iron Park
☆ ☆ ☆
A trip that’s two-thirds wonderful and endearing and one-third frustrating. But all along is fun riffly water in a Class I trout stream with gorgeous views of a glaciated valley full of pretty hills, meadows and barns. This trip ends in the vaguely urban environs of Mazomanie but it does so with a bang, not a whimper.
April 11, 2015
Class I (One class II below Olson Road)
8′ per mile
Black Earth: ht/ft: 2.40 | cfs: 80
We recommend this level (60 cfs is our recommended minimum level for Black Earth Creek).
Black Earth Community Park, Black Earth, Wisconsin
Walking Iron Park, Mazomanie, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 10:15a. Out at 1:30p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 8
Beaver, muskrats, wood ducks, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, blue winged teal, snapping turtle, trout, red tailed hawk and a bat (a first, for me, while paddling).
October 2020 Update:
This morning I checked the creek landings and saw that all of those big yellow signs that said the creek was closed at Highway 14 were all taken down, as was the yellow tape crossing the river upstream of Highway 14. As of 9/26/2020 the creek is open so ENJOY. – Gaila
September 2020 Update:
Gaila has informed us that during the ‘entire’ month of September they will be working on fixing the damaged MGE gas line under the highway 14 bridge. Therefore, until the end of September, the creek will be closed from Olson Road to (Two Bridges) Wolf Run Trail Head. Large cranes, equipment, a coffer dam, etc will be blocking the creek as MGE works on repairing a gas line damaged by the 2018 flood.
July 2020 Update:
Via the Mad City Paddlers. The annoying cattle fence, which is about 1 1/2 miles downstream from the Shoebox put in, has now been improved for paddlers to easily navigate over, thanks to money donated by philanthropist John Wick for this much needed update. Per Gaila Olsen, Black Earth Creek steward, the strands of barbed wire with sharp edges have now been replaced with two simple non-electric cables that swoop down across the creek like the Golden Gate Bridge. 95% of the time you can just slip over them. If the creek ever became super low (which does not occur hardly at all any more) you can possibly skim under on the right hand side or just get out and push yourself under on the right hand side. There is also now a sign about 100 feet before the cable saying cattle fence ahead and a sign at the Shoebox now says cattle fence ahead 1.5 mile non-electric cable. This cattle fence improvement will now make the paddle from the Shoebox to John’s Landing a pleasant, fun outing! A special thank you to both John and Gaila for making this happen!
June 2018 Update:
A reader of the site, Rick, emailed us recently: “I canoed Black Earth Creek on May 23rd, putting in behind the Shoe Box in Black Earth and exiting at the Wolf Run trail head. Beautiful day for a paddle, with the stream running high (91 cfs). All was well until I got to the cattle fences between the put-in and the Olson Road. bridge. There used to be a pass-thru, using PVC piping but that is no longer the case. The only way thru now is unwrapping barbed wire strands to create a small opening. Very dangerous situation, especially for inexperienced paddlers. Someone needs to let this farmer know that he’s causing an unsafe condition and polluting an already-stressed trout stream. I write to you so you can get the word out to those that are considering paddling that same stretch.”
So we followed up with Gaila Olsen who has been working with the farmer to remedy this gate for all parties.
“This farmer has been wonderful. He let us put in the pvc pipes and then kayakers complained that it was too narrow of an opening, so we made it a bit wider and one of the farmer’s very expensive brown swiss cows got out on highway 14 (not killed thank goodness). So we had to go in and take out the pvc pipes on the first fence. We did then resort to just hooking the first fence on the right hand side. So you have to get out, hook and unhook it, but those hooks/wires ‘disappeared’ and it looks like some calves this spring are now going through to the other side. So I think the farmer just did a fast hook –up with barb wire to keep those young ones going straight through. We have a friend who helps his brother-in-law do fencing and just last week he was out there looking at the fence with us and seeing what could be done (on a volunteer basis given that we don’t have much funds to work with). We know that it is a work in progress and the farmer has been sooo helpful in letting us try different things.”
So stay tuned and for the time being, Olson Road is your best put-in spot.
Black Earth Creek has been on my to-do list for years. I’ve put it off due to my apprehension of shallow water and inference that it would be highly susceptible to fallen trees since it’s so narrow. Compounding these misgivings is its proximity to Highway 14 in conjunction with the several obstructions I’ve seen from the road while driving alongside or over it. But the only true way to discover the character of a stream is to be on it, rather than speculating about it from a road, map, or satellite image. I’m sure glad I did so.
For one, I have a new annual spring paddle to take friends on, starting at Olson Road. For another, I now know there’s no reason to waste my or anyone else’s time frittering with the creek upstream of Olson Road.
What we liked:
The creek is at its absolute best after Olson Road but let me not get ahead of myself. The put-in at the community park in Black Earth is very easy and conspicuously permitted for public access (for fishing, technically but it’s still public) and there’s a fun and easy Class I drop below the bridge. For the first half mile or so it’s crumby with strainers and sweepers and town buildings but after the first Hwy 14 bridge there are beautiful views of bluffs, exposed rock outcrops, valleys, pastoral fields – it’s all quite picturesque.
Before you cross under Highway 14 again you’ll go over a mini-ledge and several swift riffles through a modest boulder garden – probably deposits from the last glacial melt. Additional views of bluffs resume below the second Highway 14 bridge, in turn followed by a fun Class I drop running parallel a red barn on river-right.
Downstream of Olson Road, some of the prettiest vistas of the valley sweep before your eyes. After passing under the railroad bridge (and a greenhouse on the left) you’ll be treated to a warm-up Class I drop shortly followed by an excellent Class II drop succeeded by a smaller Class I drop. The Class II is a great run. Even better, there’s an easy eddy to catch on the left to A) get out and run the rapid again or B) paddle upstream into the rapid to surf. It’s a great spot.
Innumerable mini rapids and delightful riffles continue all the way to (and past) the twin railroad bridges below the last Highway 14 bridge in town. Many of these have been strategically lined with stones to create a ledge – presumably to aerate the water for better trout habitat but it makes for serendipitous paddling!
There’s an endearing public pavilion and pedestrian bridge downstream from the notably tall Highway 14 bridge in Mazo. Then there is a tricky drop below the second railroad bridge. At the time of this writing, there is only one open slot without tree debris to run and there’s an 18” inch drop below it. The open slot is narrow and the current is strong, so boat control is key. However, pylon remnants just barely submerged lie below the drop on the left, which you do not want to hit while dropping downward in fast water! It’s an easy portage on the left to avoid this if you wish.
For the next mile the creek is continually riffly with a few surprising light rapids through essentially high banks flanking backyards in a neighborhood setting. If the water were less interesting, this section would be boring and banal but the current keeps you engaged. There’s another sweet Class I rapid below Bridge Street and finally one last rapid below the pedestrian bridge in Lyons Park, at the takeout. This is why beginning at Olson Road is such a blast!
What we didn’t like:
Immediately downstream from the put-in, you’ll run into an obstacle course of strainers and sweepers, hazards I don’t normally mind but dislike having to deal with right off the bat. Due to the peppy current, these can be dangerous for beginners, distracting for the rest.
There is at least one mandatory portage around an impossibly low-clearance driveway bridge at a private residence about half a mile downstream from the first Highway 14 bridge. As soon as you leave the water you’re essentially on private property and while state law concedes the necessity of portaging around such obstructions, natural or human-made, you never know how the landowner will react. In every sense, this is a drag.
About half a mile downstream from the “Miss U Hicks” railroad bridge you’ll encounter a set of two cattle gates, both dirty and dangerous. Each extends past the water up the banks, so you cannot simply portage around them; you must go through. In theory, they are supposed to swing forward, toward downstream but I found both immovable. The first was already ajar on the far right, so I could slip underneath it unscathed and unsullied. But for the second, I had to get out, stand in the water (thank you rubber boot slip-ons!) and push/pull my kayak through the narrowest sliver.
I don’t mind admitting that I had one of those WWEBD moments – you know, What Would Edward Abbey Do? – a la The Monkey Wrench Gang. Alas, I had no wire cutters in my dry bag of tools. Then I had Bruce Cockburn’s song “If I had a Rocket Launcher” in my head. Now, I know that the farmer is an economist hedging his bets not to lose stray cattle, not a sadist looking to entrap paddlers. Black Earth Creek had been virtually unpaddleable until only recently (the last decade or so) so I know this sort of thing is unintentional, but still…
Lastly, maybe it was the previous 2” of rain only days before, combined with spring but I saw no trout on this creek. The water was turgid from runoff and sediment upheaval but it was disappointing given its usual character.
If we did this trip again:
I would skip the Black Earth section and put in at Olson Road. The Mazo section is definitely the best part of the creek.
Black Earth Creek Overview: Black Earth Creek Paddle Guide
Black Earth Creek I: Walking Iron Park to Blynn Road
Black Earth Creek II: Blynn Road to Arena
Black Earth Creek III: Cross Plains to Black Earth
Black Earth Creek V: Black Earth to Hudson Road
Miles Paddled Video: Black Earth Creek: Walking Iron Park to Blynn Road
Miles Paddled Video: Black Earth Creek: Blynn Road to Arena
Map: Black Hawk Trail