Piscasaw Creek I
Maxon Road to Streit Road
☆ ☆ ☆
A rarely paddled but really pleasant trip that travels through prairie and farmland in Northern Illinois, Piscasaw Creek, a tributary of the Kishwaukee River, is a wonderful option for beginners or Southern Wisconsin paddlers looking for something new.
April 9, 2017
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
≈ 4’ per mile
Walworth: ht/ft: 5.0 | cfs: 4.4
Gauge note: The Walworth gauge is far upstream and isn’t the most reliable for gauging levels. If you are only going off this gauge, I would be more inclined to hit this at the right cfs versus ht/ft because the ht/ft moves in very small increments – I can’t confirm that is totally accurate, it’s just a hunch.
This is a highly recommended level. While it’s possible to paddle it a little lower, we’re only talking a couple inches lower for comfortable paddling. And as noted, since the Walworth gauge isn’t entirely reliable for gauging the levels, it can be somewhat of a crapshoot to catch it at the right levels.
Maxon Road, south of Beck’s Woods north, Chemung, Illinois
Time: Put in at 1:45p. Out at 3:15p.
Total Time: 1h 30m
Miles Paddled: 5
Wildlife: Dozens of geese (mostly nesting), 1 heron, about 8 beavers, (seriously – yet no dams?) a dozen of the biggest and flattest shelled turtles I’ve seen and 1 dead snake at the take-out (you know my feelings on that so I wasn’t too broken up about it).
If you tested the DNA on my seemingly endless bucket list of places to paddle, it’s quite possible that Piscasaw Creek has been living there the longest. Why exactly? Well, because my first exposure to discovering new paddles were by way of videos made by Tom Lindblade, and thereby paddling vicariously through him. (Fun fact: him and the Morralls of Morrall River Films were the reason why we started filming our own paddles.)
Yet, for whatever reason, we never made the relatively short trip from Madison to check it out (odd, considering one of our favorites, Turtle Creek, isn’t all that far away). Maybe knowing it was water-dependent, (making it hard to catch) or because it’s a prairie paddle with little scenery, (which suggests boooooring) we never made it a point to push it up the priority list.
But Tom’s video did highlight one aspect that always intrigued me. That being, a series of four farm dams. But what I didn’t know based on his videos were where those farm dams resided on this stretch. It just wasn’t clear in his broad overview of a couple trips that the video combined. I thought they were before Streit road…. they weren’t. Then again, I admittedly did a bad job of doing more research after initially mapping it out, all these years later. For some unexplainable reason, I never knew that Morrall River Films had done a more updated video of Piscasaw Creek, which coincidentally would’ve answered all the questions I had – including where the dam dams were (how I missed that video is beyond me).
So instead, I lucked into a pleasant paddle, (sans-farm dams) on a mostly unobstructed stream, with a few riffles and a couple nominal ledges that was all the more interesting in the overcast glow of spring about to be sprung – lifeless, yet quite engaging.
So, as stated, I based my trip and knowledge of the creek on Lindblade’s video, where Beck’s Woods is the suggested place to start. However, there are two parks/parking lots/facility/access points both north and south of Chemung called Beck’s Woods (it’s all connected, managed land and quite nicely taken care of). Tom notes that they put-in at Beck’s south of Chemung but it should be noted that there are actually two parking areas with trails that lead to the water, both off Pagles Road. The parking area closer to Highway 173 has more room for vehicles, but it’s a 900′ walk from there to the creek, which would be one helluva drag down to the water. The other parking area immediately south is easy to miss, but would be more recommendable. From there it’s only a 300′ walk to the creek. Furthermore, you could even drive a little off-road, drop off your gear right at the boat launch, and then drive back at the parking area to leave your vehicle. The path is wide and the slope is very gentle.
Now, the other Beck’s Woods access point is just north of Chemung off Maxon road and is similar in many ways. There’s a parking lot with facilities there too. Then, there’s a trail that leads to the creek but again, it would be a hike to get your boat to the water (it is flat however, where Beck’s south has a longer and larger hill to descend). With the recent rain, it would’ve been a sloppy hike on that soggy trail as evidenced by my sandles being instantly soaked when I stepped up to the sign at Becks Woods north.
So I opted to skip the dragging and hike, instead for for a quick drive and dump at the Maxon Road bridge. The road is narrow with very steep shoulders so parking on the shoulder really isn’t an option there. But it’s not a very busy road so I pulled my car near the bridge, put on the flashers and dropped my boat over the guardrail. Then I parked back at the Beck’s north parking area and walked back to Maxon.
I must note that there is an alternate put-in option in “downtown” Chemung, just northeast of the Highway 173/Pagles Road bridge. It’s an inconspicuous little pull-off (or “unofficial” park?) It didn’t appear to be private property – in fact, it looked quite used. I only noticed it because there were other cars parked there, nestled up to the tree-lined bank. I stopped to scope it out and also see if any of the fishermen were catching anything, of which there were a few and a woman sitting in a chair reading a book.
It would certainly be nice to put-in there as it looked inviting but this was already going to be a short paddle due to weather-related circumstances and my last-minute desire to paddle something new. So I figured I should make the most of it and head upstream. Plus, I really wanted to start nearest the source but there isn’t much more Piscasaw north of Maxon to paddle (above Maxon, the creek splits into comically narrow channels – ditches, really. There is a dead end but access to the creek would involve walking through someone’s backyard – and it would only add a few hundred yards – this is at the end of Rhonda Drive).
So Maxon it was and really, it is the recommended access point. It’s an ideal put-in despite the drive, drop, and then walk back to the bridge from the parking lot.
The ride begins as what I’d consider traditional creek surroundings. Winding, wooded, (as much as it can be considering everything was yet dead in spring) and a little riffly. The first third is really the most varied in its environmental characteristics, but we’re not talking major extremes here.
The creek opens up a bit before the train trestle behind Dean Foods. Just after that you’ll encounter the first and only portage of this section, in a woodsy environment which, coincidentally happens to be that alternate put-in option right before the Highway 173/Pagles Road bridge. There are well-trodden and low banks so it’s easy to get up and work your way around the tree. Up ahead are some old pylons from (probably) a much older bridge (or something?). After Highway 173, it remains woodsy for a bit until just before you reach the pedestrian bridge at Beck’s woods south where the creek opens up. It was here where I encountered numerous fishermen.
From there, the next third opens wide to farm and prairie surroundings – prairie, being the Piscasaw’s signature adjective. It’s sometimes sparse, and sometimes shaped with a tree line here or there casting a pretty reflection. This continues on. Wooded on one side for a bit, then the other for a bit. Then back to prairie and farm land, mostly. It’s really quite pretty, or at least it was on this day. There’s something about the tans and browns of spring that just pair well with a blue sky and the sandy and rock of the creek bed – because, the water itself was crystal clear. 7-Up-hued, if you will (that’d the opposite of root-beer, right? Or Crystal Pepsi-hued, I guess?).
The last third alternates between (no surprise) prairie and farmland again, although with a bit of development. Long broad corridors follow tree-lined sections. It’s all intimate and pleasant despite the highway being not too far off in the peripherals. Although, as mentioned below, much of that potential noise might have been drowned out by the wind.
The take-out at Streit Road isn’t bad from a landing point-of-view but it’s not ideal for cars or bikes (more on that in a minute).
What we liked:
All throughout the entire trip though, there was island after island dividing the river in two channels – something I absolutely love in creeks this size. And the water levels were perfect. There was no scraping or scooting – I had caught it at just the right time (early spring, just like Tom suggests). And the wildlife in early spring is always fascinating. You can almost guarantee nesting geese and that certainly was the case (though, there was a great deal of beaver too, which caught me by surprise).
This was such a fun trip, I had to return (and soon).
What we didn’t like:
Wind! On one hand, it completely sucked. On the other, it may have prevented me from hearing the din of the Highway 173 traffic, as it runs pretty close to this creek almost the entire way. Then again, wind sucks so bad in general, that I’ll take vehicle noise over 20mph winds anyday.
More importantly, the take-out itself is fine but there is absolutely no place to park because the shoulders are narrow and suddenly drop off in a steep manner. It forced me to park my bike there instead of the car, guaranteeing a post-paddle shuttle, which is totally fine but I do like options. The other odd thing is that there was no place to lock up my bike (and then kayak on return) near the bridge. I had to walk an unusual way down the road to a telephone pole just to lock both of them up.
If we did this trip again:
Absolutely. I would definitely pair this trip with the next section and end at Denny Road (alluding to the next report here). It would make for a long 11.75 paddle, but also an excellent day on this beautiful creek. On its own merits though, this 5-mile section is perfectly suited for beginner paddles (After Streit Road, there are 3 farm dams (4 historically, but not much anymore) and the current gets a little pushier, requiring a decent amount of skilled boat control).
In general, when I’ve finally visited a river or creek that has been nagging at me to paddle, I’ve learned to temper my expectations so as not to build it up (and then be disappointed). In this case, despite there being no real exciting riffles, nor those elusive farm dams or really nothing notable as far as excitement goes, my quite “basic” expectations made for a very fulfilling and enjoyable trip. This section of the Piscasaw was just simply delightful, more of a paddle for those who appreciate the intricacies of prairie paddling. It’s another southern Wisco/northern Illinois paddle worth seeking out, and best to add to your spring bucket list.
Now, while writing this, I had to temper my rating for this stretch because what I personally enjoy and prefer in a creek was fulfilled on the next section (a little more variety and Black Earth Creek-style paddling). But don’t let that sway you because it was the true enjoyment I found on this stretch (really, “ why on earth did I wait so long to explore this creek?”) that was exactly the catalyst to return a few days later to explore the next section (and indeed, those farm dams).
Piscasaw Creek II: Streit Road to Denny Road
Piscasaw Creek III: Denny Road to Squaw Prairie Road
Miles Paddled Video: Piscasaw Creek II: Streit Road to Denny Road
Video: Tom Lindblade
Video: Morrall River Films
Wikipedia: Piscasaw Creek
This is an easy and short bike shuttle. It’s a straight shot with a little jog through Chemung and around the Dean facility. If you’re lucky, (lucky is kind of a stretch – if you have a heart) you’ll see some minature horses out in the pasture – you’ll just want to hug one. Also, for shuttle purposes, Streight Road is not a great take-out. So keep that in mind that you’ll probably do your bike shuttle after since there’s really no place to park a car.
Miles Paddled Video: