Sugar River IX
County Road A to Belleville
☆ ☆ ☆
A short and pretty but not terribly remarkable trip on the Upper Sugar ending in the delightful town of Belleville. This is a good place to go for beginners or those looking to knock off a couple hours after work.
March 28, 2015
1.6′ per mile
Verona: ht/ft: 3.04 | cfs: 50
This is just below the recommended minimum level. Please note that anything below 50 cfs will be extremely shallow and frustrating. We recommend a minimum of 60 cfs on the Verona gauge.
County Road A
Belleville Community Park, Belleville, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 2:10p. Out at 4:30p.
Total Time: 2h 20m
Miles Paddled: 6.25
Wildlife: Mergansers, two wood ducks, lots of sandhill cranes, one great blue heron, unidentifiable fish and a beaver.
March was a tease this year. After a couple weeks of blissful unseasonable warmth at the beginning, the second half of the month has gone out more like a lion than lamb. The forecast was sunny but upper 30s for Saturday, a little bit warmer for Sunday but rainy and windy. Thus, Saturday was the day for paddling. But the Badgers game in the Elite Eight was shockingly early (5:07 pm CST) so a trip closer to home and not too long on the water was the most sensible choice. The Sugar River seemed like a good bet, despite the low water. I’d done this stretch once before, years ago, but I did not truly cover it for the site. So that’s the back-story.
What we liked:
The Sugar is just a pleasant little gem of a stream. It’s not an amazing river in the sense of jaw-dropping rock outcrops, awesome rapids, or even significant riffles. But it’s close to home, the water clarity (at least in the upper river) is clear, the bottom sandy and the meanders are charming. Notable wildlife spotting is almost always a given, too. I really liked the variety of landscape settings on this short trip. The river flows past wide open spaces with sweeping panoramas of the valley and then tree-canopied spots dotted with thick oaks. There are pleasant bends and tight twists, especially in the wooded sections to keep you on your toes.
As you approach Belleville itself you’ll see a huge ridge – more like an escarpment or cuesta – that runs parallel to Highway 92. In the final section the river bends to the left and crawls past an attractive hill lined with pine trees. It’s around this point that the current comes to a silent halt, due to the lake effect impoundment caused by the dam in downtown Belleville. It wasn’t a big deal (the gradient on this trip is pretty skimpy to begin with) but I was surprised it caused a backup so far upstream. The takeout at an actual launch in a pretty and nicely designed park was a breeze. Parking is nearby and there’s water and restrooms, too.
Also nearby is the delightful Belleville Ale House. We didn’t have anything to eat but their beer menu (taps and bottles) was quite commendable. Plus it’s a beautiful interior. Our bartender plied us with free Gardetto’s and sauce, all lagniappe. If you’re in the area, we highly reco this place!
What we didn’t like:
When I paddled this the first time, three or four years ago, I (mis?)remembered it having a lot more riffles comparable to Badfish Creek. Maybe that’s due to the natural warp of memory, maybe the water was much higher at the time… Who knows? The water was very shallow during this trip, but that has everything to do with the lack of snowmelt and absence of spring rain (it’s not the river’s fault). Otherwise, there are two sets of wires to watch out for – both well marked with surveyor’s tape and even a warning sign beforehand.
This trip can be narrow in spots and those spots seem always to coincide with tree cover. There’s a fair amount of fallen trees in the water, but none so obnoxious as to require portaging (there were several conspicuous indications of sawed off limbs – thanks volunteers!). I got out of my boat to remove one large tree limb jutting into the water right at a bend where the current was quick. So while it was clear for me, my hunch is it can be prone to fallen trees in the future. Just something to think about if you plan on doing this stretch.
If we did this trip again:
This trip is definitely pleasant enough to do again but for me personally not until after exploring other untapped sections of the Sugar.
Sugar River Overview: Sugar River Paddle Guide
Sugar River II: Paoli to Belleville
Sugar River III: Valley Road to Paoli
Sugar River VII: Riverside Road to Paoli
Sugar River X: Highway 69 to County Road A
Sugar River XII: White Crossing Road to Valley Road
Good People: Upper Sugar River Watershed Association
Good People: Lower Sugar River Watershed Association
Map: Upper Sugar River Trail
Outfitter: Sugar River Outfitters
Wikipedia: Sugar River
Only .6 miles by car or 3.7 miles by bicycle using the extremely convenient and fun Badger State Trail.