White River (Waushara)
County Road YY to Czech Lane
☆ ☆ ☆
An obscure section of a relatively obscure river, there’s a lot to like but also a lot to loathe about this trip – wooded hills, cool trees, clear water, good current but very shallow water, crappy access and a horror show of downed trees.
November 1, 2015
2.5′ per mile
There is no gauge for the White River (or any nearby comparable streams for that matter). Interestingly and incidentally, there is not a single USGS gauge in Columbia, Marquette or Waushara Counties, despite the many navigable streams in this part of the state.
Dam at County Road YY
Czech Lane, Waushara County, Neshkoro, Wisconsin,
Time: Put in at 2:45p. Out at 5:00p.
Total Time: 2h 15m
Miles Paddled: 3.75
Wildlife: Skinny fish (Editor’s question: huh?), wood ducks, deer and bald eagles.
Earlier in the year I paddled the main section of the White River starting below the dam in Neshkoro and into the Fox River (more on that in the future). Since then I’ve been curious about the segment upstream of the dam. Why such a short trip? Necessity. For one, upstream of County Road JJ the river is just a big fat fake lake, due to the dam. Then it becomes a flatwater marsh/artificial lake again shortly after Czech Lane. Hence this trip, which happens to be just shy of 4 miles.
In many respects the White is like its nearby neighbor to the west, the Mecan. Both are clear-water streams with sandy bottoms and attractive tall banks. Both have sprawling marsh areas and both feed the Fox River. Both are really fond of meandering, too. If the Mecan is an A student, this segment of the White is more like a C+. The White is wider but the water is weedier, shallower and full of downed trees in the beginning. If you want to see or experience what a river would naturally look like without the due diligence of volunteers sawing through and cleaning up downed trees, paddle the White River below County Road YY. It’s quite the exercise in entropy!
The topographic map of the upper White looks quite inviting and this was confirmed while scouting it out by car. There are lots of lovely hills here. The satellite map tells a different story, however. It’s never a good sign when woods are so thick you can’t even see a river. When that’s the case, you can expect to encounter downed trees and log jams. The White River is no exception to this. And while I saw a surprising number of chainsaw cleanups, none were fresh. So perhaps it was a more popular stream in the past? Or everyone gave up on the White and invested in the Mecan? Who’s to say?
What we liked:
Initially, I was quite excited about what I saw below the dam. Not crystal clear water but pretty darn clear. The setting of thick woods plus steep banks lent the environment a feeling of hidden intimacy. In the first mile you’ll pass by banks as tall as 30 feet and attractive hollows that lead back into the even taller hills that felt very reminiscent of such tucked away secrets found in Sauk County and the Baraboo Range.
There are no rapids to speak of but the current is quite peppy. Eventually the stream widens, and the woods recede. After contending with all the deadfall (more on that below), this openness is a sight for sore eyes and a much welcome source of relief. The river still meanders and remains shallow and the current continues to be solid. The environment is attractive – a pleasant mix of conifers and deciduous trees, tamaracks in a swampy bog environment that late in fall and approaching dusk took on a spooky, enchanting feeling (And who doesn’t like tamaracks? They look like trees in a Dr. Seuss book!)
In general, this will be the case for the rest of the trip. The east bank (left side) will be less developed and look a little wild, while the west bank (right side) will feature an occasional hill or raised bank. A few islands (most small, one that’s huge near the takeout) break up the stream into various channels. All of them are navigable. It’s a short stretch, at 3-ish miles but it’s essentially lovely.
I saw at least two riverside houses with canoes and kayaks tied up next to the water, so there’s definitely evidence of paddling this section of the White River. Whether they’re just leisurely fishing or floating and not trekking into the woody deadfall is anyone’s guess.
What we didn’t like:
Where to begin? I guess the beginning. So the parking at the dam is nonexistent. In fact, at first glance it looks like there’s no public access at all. The reason for this is the dam itself is a nondescript building immediately next door to a private house on the west (your left if you’re facing the dam from County Road YY). There’s a No Trespassing sign located there, which makes matters even more daunting. But this sign refers to the dam itself.
Between the building and the private residence is a very narrow path that leads to the bottom of the dam and back to the river; this is public. But you’ll have to park your vehicle about 50 yards away. There’s a rock rubble “path” that leads to the water itself. It’s all loose and unstable, which makes holding or dragging your boat down to water’s edge a bit precarious. It’s not dangerous by any means but it’s something to be mindful of.
Before you paddle five feet you’ll see downed trees downstream only 25 yards away – never a good omen! In the first mile you’ll have to negotiate a dozen+ obstructions. Some you can ride over, some you can duck (or limbo) under and some you have no option but to get out of your boat and portage around. Unfortunately, all of these occur in the prettiest section of this short trip. In other words, you don’t have a lot of time or attention of mind to appreciate the surroundings because you can’t ever relax.
The current under/through some of these obstructions is nothing to take lightly. As pretty as this section is, the obstructions are just an ugly mess. There are a surprising (to me) amount of houses here, in what feels otherwise as remote and hidden. (Spoiler alert: you’ll see a lot of houses during this brief trip, a good number of them attractive cabins – more “metro” than retro, lest one not have a latte in the morning when in the woods. Do note that I say that with envy as green as an Old Town canoe. I’d totally have an a.m. latte on my deck overlooking a river!)
Once you’re out of the proverbial and literal woods, the paddling is more easy-going. I did find myself frustrated now and again by how shallow the water was. For one, there’s no shortage of water coming through the dam and the clogged-up flowage above it. And I thought fake lakes were drawn down in autumn anyway. Plus there had been a whole lot of rain the day before. So I was pretty surprised by how shallow the river was.
The takeout at Czech Lane is nothing more than a steep gravel path from the road to the river. It’s not as loose and jumbled as the put-in, but some paddlers might find the slope a little dicey.
If we did this trip again:
Not a chance. First of all, it’s 90 minutes from my home for only 3.75 miles of paddling. And I literally have to cross the Mecan to reach the White. Stick with the Mecan. If I lived closer, then I’d have a different attitude and would want to clean up the hellish mess below the dam. But I don’t.
If I were to recommend this trip to another (which I would do only to an adventuresome soul) then I might even suggest that which I can’t believe I’m about to say: putting-in and taking-out at Czech Lane, paddling upstream as far as you feel like, turning back around and then going with the flow downstream. (I know, I know – who am I and what did I do with Timothy?!?!) I hate upstream paddling but sometimes it’s better than not paddling at all. Unless the chainsaws of yore return to the White and clear up the portaging, this is your best bet. Or just skip the White and opt for a stream with less baggage.
This short portion of the White River is pleasant and pretty in its own right but the portaging and obstructions below the dam are pretty miserable. I’m glad I did it, because I’ve been curious about it for awhile and I always like to experience how different segments of one river connect and relate. If I lived closer, I’d feel differently. But since I don’t, I have to write off this portion of the White. That said, the 18 or so miles from Neshkoro to the Fox River, while very different from this trip in appearance and character, are quite pleasant. So don’t dismiss all of the White River.
Wikipedia: White River (Fox River)