Beaver Dam River II
Leipsig to Lowell
☆ ☆ ☆
A trip that has several sweet moments but also a lot of monotonous redundancy, in addition to tedious paddling towards the end where the river widens out to a lake-like impoundment caused by the dam. But there are beautiful sections here and there, plus abundant wildlife. An abbreviated version of this trip would make a wonderful summer afternoon.
May 1, 2015
1.8′ per mile
Beaver Dam: ht/ft: 841.0 | cfs: 130
This is a very recommendable level.
County Road S, Leipsig, Wisconsin
River Street Dam, Lowell, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 3h 30m
Miles Paddled: 11.25
Wildlife: Turkey vultures, turtles, butterflies, geese, feisty fish, wood ducks, common mergansers, sandhill cranes, great blue herons and muskrats.
This trip came on the heels of an earlier trip further upstream, in the actual city of Beaver Dam, I did back in January (more on that another time). While that trip is primarily light rapids and swift riffles through town, I knew that this trip would offer something slower and less developed. I chose the put-in at County Road S because that’s where I took out in January and knew that it would work well. There’s a large dam in Lowell that provides for a logical takeout.
The Beaver Dam River is pretty obscure to begin with, this section in particular. It has it moments, but alas, they’re just that, moments. The monotonous redundancy between mitigated the moments for me personally, but in retrospect I’d single out a segment of this trip to properly accentuate those lovely moments without the monotony. More on that below.
What we liked:
At the County Road S bridge you’ll catch the tail end of a small Class I rapid about 30 yards upstream that coasts you along an open pastoral landscape. After the next bridge (County Road J) the environs become woodsy, secluded and the river bulges out considerably to 100 feet wide. There’s a pleasant variety of dense woods and wet mesic prairie for the first few miles. The next bridge at aptly named Meadow Road is bizarrely low but would make for a fine alternate put-in for an abbreviated version of this trip. I passed a lone older guy fishing at the bridge.
Me: “Beautiful day today.”
Me: “Good luck with the fishing.”
OK, enough small talk. What lies below Meadow Road bridge is just lovely and lush as can be: flanks of billowy weeping willows in an undeveloped sedge meadow followed by upland woods and random riffles past small boulders. I loved this section of the trip.
After passing Low Road bridge the river makes a sharp left-hand turn at the base of a tall bank – the first of several more times it will do just that: make a sharp left-hand turn at the base of a tall bank. The first time it’s cool and attractive but five times later it just becomes a disorienting déjà vu. At the top of one of these tall banks is an auto salvage yard, but fortunately another random series of riffles whisks you away from the awkward eyesore in a long straightaway. It’s a fun little ride.
After this the highlights are scattered – old rusticated barns, gnarled oak trees reaching towards the river from upland banks, undeveloped wet prairies and great wildlife sightings. The last bridge at Sock Road could provide an alternative takeout and shave off 2.75 miles of impounded flatwater. To be fair, this section to the dam in downtown Lowell is pretty and almost entirely undeveloped, but it’s primarily a marsh.
Below the dam itself – which must be portaged if you were to continue downstream – there’s a hundred yards or so of Class I rapids. I didn’t paddle this myself because there were other fishermen all lined along the banks, plus you have a takeout dilemma: run the rapids but then paddle the swift water back upstream, which would be quite difficult, or go down to the next bridge and do a second shuttle? The next bridge is Highway 16, which is very busy and inconvenient.
Also, a special shout-out to the several dozens of frisky fish I saw leaping out of the river on this trip and even bumping into my boat. They couldn’t all have been carp! I’ve never seen so many fish splashing and dashing on one daytrip. And all that guy at the Meadow Road bridge could say is “Yup.”
What we didn’t like:
The river is very wide and sometimes the current just crawls. After the last bridge at Sock Road it’s all flatwater paddling with no current at all. And God help you if you’re paddling against the wind, because then it’s all work lest you go backwards. I don’t want to sound redundant about the redundant landscape, since I’ve already mentioned it, but it does get old.
Also, there are many straightaways on this trip. Sometimes that’s fine, even welcome, but here it felt mundane to the point of disabusing my curiosity. You rarely wonder, “What’s downstream?” because you can already see what’s downstream. And often that means farms and fields. Even though there are lots of in-between “filler” sections that are green and verdant, woods or meadows, this trip still felt a little too exposed to the everyday world and not enough of a daytrip retreat. And the noise of tractors and farm equipment is never too far away.
Lastly, I’ll share a comical debacle with you. It’s not worth explaining why I did this, but I got out of my boat at the first bridge (County Rd J) to see if it would make a better put-in for this trip (from the road it looks like there’s a developed landing downstream right; there isn’t). So I’m standing at the bridge itself above the river scouting things out, when suddenly a gust of wind blows out of nowhere. Next thing I know, my kayak unmoors itself from the precarious rock against which I’d lodged it to climb up the banks. “Shit, shit, shit!” Add to that, there was also a gentle but not unmentionable riffle coming under the bridge too, seemingly in cahoots with the wind.
I ran down the bank and past the “No Trespassing” sign (sorry, but you know…), put my camera on the ground and grabbed the longest branch I could find and very inelegantly clubbed my boat and dragged it over to the bank. Awesome, but in so doing I’d inadvertently knocked my paddle into the water, which now was setting sail all by itself downstream. “So, it’s gonna be one of those days, huh?”
I hop into my boat and basically doggie paddle to fetch my actual paddle (good boy!). I catch my breath, snap open a much-deserved first beer and continue anew. And then realize my camera is still back on the bank. Sonofabitch!
So I paddle back upstream, get out again (this time making rock-solid sure the boat ain’t going nowhere, believe you me!) snag the camera, get back in and get on my way. Quite the drama considering I’d only been on the water for 10 minutes and had 10 miles yet to paddle! Lesson learned: never trust the wind!
If we did this trip again:
I would definitely do this trip again but I’d put-in at Meadow Road and take-out at Sock Road for a 5-mile late-afternoon jaunt. And maybe I’d check out those rapids below the dam…
Beaver Dam River I: Mud Lake Road to County Road G
Beaver Dam River III: Cotton Mill Park to County Road J
Miles Paddled Video: Cotton Mill Park to County Road J
General: Glacial Heritage Area
Wikipedia: Beaver Dam River
5.7 miles, almost all of it on County Road G. This road is heavy on vehicles and does not make a great bike shuttle route but the only other alternative, to the west, is three miles longer.