Plover River I
Jordan Park to Iverson Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One of the best examples of “finding adventure in your backyard,” this last segment of the Plover River through Stevens Point makes for a wonderful day trip through a mix of floodplains, tall sand banks crowned with pine trees, clear water with a peppy current, a million meanders, and virtually zero development despite the urban surroundings. Added perks are beginning and ending at public parks with full facilities. The only cautionary note is this trip demands good boat control and flexibility (mental and physical), given the current, steep turns, and maneuvering around umpteen trees in the water.
May 17, 2019
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
≈ 3′ per mile
Eau Claire River (Kelly): ht/ft: 1.55 | cfs: 410
We recommend this level, but bear in mind that it’s only a correlation gauge – a decent but not perfect indicator. Generally speaking, water levels are usually reliable.
Jordan Park, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Iverson Park, Main Street
Time: Put in at 5:00p. Out at 7:30p.
Total Time: 2h 5m
Miles Paddled: 7.75
Wildlife: Wood ducks, woodpeckers, songbirds, geese, turtles and frogs.
Originating in the southwestern-most nook of Langlade County, the Plover River trickles along a public fishing corridor for about 15 miles. From the hamlet of Hatley to the city of Stevens Point there are some 40 miles of paddleable conditions before the Plover empties into the backwater of the Wisconsin River (although the river will need to be high enough to float in Marathon County, where there are more boulder gardens and riffles than you can shake a Shantytown stick at). For lovers of rivers, the Plover and Eau Claire flow almost parallel to one another and lie only a couple miles apart. Synchronized swimming? Not nearly as dramatic as the Eau Claire River (the one in Marathon County, by the way, not the one in the City of Eau Claire), the Plover is a darling jewel of a stream that remains one of the best secrets and undersung adventures in central Wisconsin.
While this trip was a revisit for the website from our initial foray back in 2013 almost exactly six years ago to the day (but at a level about half as high) – it was my (Timothy’s) personal maiden jaunt. (If you haven’t already read Barry’s account of his first ever time in a canoe when he was a wee lad with his family, which happened also to be this trip, and the hilarious account of his father jumping overboard and swimming to shore, please do yourself a favor, set this aside, and read Barry’s 2013 trip below – it still has me in stitches!) Also, this trip marked the beginning of our collaboration with the Stevens Point Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and what better way to inaugurate that than the quintessential Plover River ending at the eminently endearing Iverson Park inside the city?
I’d had the Plover River in my back-pocket docket for years. Driving-wise, from Madison, it lies in a kind of blind spot in that it’s a smidge too far to go to and do as a day trip – 90 minutes is my arbitrary cutoff for some reason – and while Point is only ten minutes more than that parameter, anything less than a 2-hour drive seems too short for a road trip. Call me idiosyncratic. But I’ll tell you when driving up to Point to paddle a short clip of the Plover is perfect: on a Friday afternoon in mid-May after getting done with work early.
(I’ll also tell you when it’s the opposite of perfect: when the following Saturday and Sunday of said weekend has the kind of forecast that makes you want to cry, or curse – that being all rain, 20 mph wind, and a “high“ of only 47 degrees – in short, March weather the weekend before Memorial Day. But that tale will wait ’til our next trip report on the Plover…)
So, we packed up the Outback, left the hounds at home for the sitter, and hit the road, making a quick rendezvous to meet sweet Melissa (cue the Allman Brothers), the Director of Marketing at the Visitors Bureau, who’d initially reached out to us about the collaboration project in 2017 and graciously greeted us with gifts (a cute cooler packed with local beer (in cans, of course), helpful brochures, regional guides, and enough maps to warm the cockles of any cartographer’s heart). In sort, she made us feel right at home.
OK, we also made a quick pit stop at the excellent and highly recommendable JR Liquor for a couple whistle wetters. (What? We wanted something cold for our paddle – who doesn’t? It was actually a lovely evening this particular Friday… before the crappy weather came in.) This was pure serendipity in that it’s just down the road a mile from the Visitors Bureau and on the way to Iverson Park, where we were to leave our bicycles for the post-paddle shuttle. Plus JR Liquor is a craft beer lover’s emporium and overwhelmed us (in the best possible way) with its canned options!
Oh, heck – they say things come in three, right? While we’re at it, we should give a shout also to local radio station 90FM (technically 89.9 FM), WWSP. Anytime I’m in a new city I search for local/community radio. I personally can’t stand commercial radio even when it’s a Packers game or the World Series, and most of the time I have a tailored trove of mixes, CDs, and podcasts to listen to while in the car. But when in Rome, I want to know what the Romans are playing on the airwaves. Also, I’m unabashedly enamored with college radio. (Where else will you find a setlist that starts off with Tribe Called Quest and Camper Van Beethoven followed by Archers of Loaf, Liz Phair, Built to Spill, De La Soul, Dinosaur Jr., Cursive, and Edie Brickell? Audio radiance for a radio audience.) We had no idea about 90FM prior to the trip and happened upon it by happy chance. It too was serendipitous, and I highly recommend it.
Finding the put-in at Jordan Park is a bit ambiguous. Unlike the majority of river trips that begin at a bridge, here it’s a little more nuanced than that. The easy-to-miss road is off of Highway 66, on the south side of the road, about 700′ west of the intersection of County Road Y (which is on the north side of Highway 66). In other words, it’s on the other side of Highway 66 from the Jordan Park proper. After you turn onto that road, keep following it down (literally downwards) to the second parking lot (there’s a small lot you’ll see first, but that’s not the one you want – the river there is impassably shallow rocks). There are restrooms and a noticeable path that leads to the water at the base of an attractive footbridge.
(Alternatively, you can launch from the opposite bank about 75 yards upstream from here via Brilowski Road and put in just below the powerhouse of the dam, in order to take advantage of an immediate set of riffles (which, in retrospect, will be the only set of riffles on this trip). But most paddlers put in by the aforementioned footbridge.)
Interestingly, for half a century the dam here used to supply Stevens Point with its hydro-juice to power up the city. Prior to that, there was a sawmill here in the 19thCentury that processed the abundant area timber and then floated the fallen largesse down to the Wisconsin River and Mississippi beyond. It’s not for nothing that just above the Marathon-Portage county line there’s a road across the Plover River named “Pinery” or that one of Steven Point’s monikers is “Gateway to the Pineries.” Given the overwrought meandering and relatively tepid gradient of this last segment of the river, our heads need a good scratching at how there weren’t colossal logjams caused by this free market flotilla. It just seems like a recipe for disaster. Today, the sole purpose of the dam seems to maintain a backflow for the Jordan Pond, a neat and tidy recreational body of water on whose western shore is Jordan Park, a county park with picnic areas, a boat launch, and even a campground.)
In general, the Plover River fluctuates between high banks and lowlands, and this trip is no exception. While this trip is not endowed with the fun and attractive boulder gardens found upstream, it does feature two noteworthy sandbanks about 25′ and 50′ tall, respectively, that will knock your socks off (although we hope that when you do paddle this trip it’ll be warm enough to be barefoot or in sandals, sans socks).
For us, still in late spring, there was a lush green carpet of skunk cabbage and fiddlehead ferns rolled out for us that made us feel as welcome as Melissa at the Visitors Bureau. Fiddleheads are a personal favorite of mine, because they’re as adorable as they are edible. And, unlike morels, actually abundant. After a mile or so you’ll see a huge house (one of only a few on this whole trip) on the right that we mistook as the clubhouse for a golf course. Nope, just a big house without any links. Soon after this you’ll come upon the first of the two tall sandbanks, here on the left. Geographically, this is the “central sands” area of the state, an arrowhead-shaped region some 1.75 million acres large, encompassing eight contiguous counties, smack-dab in the middle of the state where glaciers of the last ice age deposited woolly mammoth-worthy amounts of sand and gravel. The landscape is predominated by sand, even in the low-lying floodplains portions of this trip, which shall follow the cool sandbank.
Wherever you are in the nearly eight miles of this trip, high banks or lowlands, you’ll be encountering fallen trees in the water. In what many consider their “bible,” Mike Svob’s classic Paddling Southern Wisconsin, he wrote of this section of the Plover River: “The almost constant need to maneuver in tight turns and past partial obstructions makes this a potentially frustrating stretch for beginners.” Those words were first published in 2001, and let us tell you – not much has changed in the subsequent 18 years! But what is also true is you’ll see signs of saw marks, both recent and “ancient,” from river angels and fellow paddler volunteers. We did not have to portage a single time, in spite of the many trees in the water. That said, it would be advisable to stay off this stretch during levels notably higher than what we paddled this trip at – especially for newbies – since the river would be pushy and potentially dangerous given all these fallen tree impediments.
At roughly the midway point in this trip, during a particularly “kinky” set of tight bends and overwrought meandering, you might see bicyclists, joggers, or pedestrians atop the right bank. This is the aptly named Plover River segment of the Green Circle Trail (see “Shuttle” info below for more on that).
After a short stretch of modestly tall banks, backwater sloughs, and woods, another tall sand bank will appear, in turn followed by the third. The latter is quite spectacular: approximately 50’ high, sculpted by wind and wave, a façade of lush sand flaking away like stucco, with a swerving wrap-around effect as you pass it by on the right. Visually at least, this is the highlight of the trip.
After this show-stopper, an iconic scene torn from the upper Plover River playbook is laid before your eyes: a mix of trees in a lowlands with pine-flanked banks, root beer-hued water beneath you, and neither sight nor sound of development…yet. Do yourself a favor and savor this section. Below it the river meanders like a ribbon of water whipped this way and that, and the landscape becomes full-on floodplain for a mile or two. There will be a brief respite from the constant zigzagging where you’ll see a row of houses off to the left a ways. Less angular meandering will take you through a relatively flat, open area in turn leading to the first bridges on this trip, where you’ll paddle under the interstate. Look/ watch out for swallows beneath the bridge.
A wide marshy section is found on the other side of I-39, where the paddling is less taxing. Well, for a moment – and then there’s more meandering around fallen trees (but again, a way through without portaging). A rare straightaway leads to the next (and last) bridge at Main Street (aka Highway 66). On the downstream side of the bridge, on river-right, lies a quaint cabin, the first vestige signifying Iverson Park, truly a jewel of landscape architecture that’s as becoming as any design by Frederick Olmsted himself. (I mean, good lord, the park even has a toboggan run and ski jump! For the full rundown on the park’s history, see here.) Where stone wall riprap lines the water, the river will bend 90-degrees to the right. At the base of this bend you’ll see two braided canals, which in theory could be paddled; alas, the river was too high for us to do this, considering the low-clearance pedestrian bridges dotting each of these side channels. Indeed, we could not even fit under the attractive stone bridge preceding the beach, and so took out instead along the grassy right bank just before it.
As Barry admirably observed, the phrase “City of Wonderful Water” is spelled out in white rocks along a grassy knoll inside Iverson Park. It is indeed a telling testament to the Plover River itself and the Wisconsin River into which it flows that Stevens Point is so generously endowed.
What we liked:
The pines, the wild feeling of the undeveloped landscape, the clear-water sandy bottoms, those impressive tall sand banks, and of course the gorgeous layout of Iverson Park – these were our favorite features on this really fun, surprisingly scenic trip. Again, what Mike Svob wrote in 2001 is no less true today: “It is almost as wild a stretch as you’ll find anywhere: dense lowland forest, few bridges or houses, no power lines, and no nearby roads most of the time.” In other words, the Plover here has been preserved. This trip really is some of the best paddling in all of Portage County.
We didn’t even mind the tree dodging. It would be boring, frankly, if all the river were open before you mile after unchallenging mile. It would be too manicured and contrived. Seeing an obstruction ahead keeps you alert, posing a potential conflict, one that shall need to be resolved. Sometimes it requires problem solving, other times you’ll find that there’s a simple way under, over, or around, without much ado. But by and by, it does allow for a little confidence building and teamwork. Moreover, these “partial obstructions” do have a purpose – they’re not there as a kind of kayaking crossfit training area. Fallen trees provide habitat beneath the water for fish and the like. As long as there’s a way through or around for the paddler, then let’s leave these sleeping logs die (as it were).
What’s that you say – you’re hungry after all that constant paddling? Fortunately, Stevens Point has approximately one billion great dining options. For us though, since it was close and recommended to us for its fish fry – it was Friday night, after all! – we headed over to the Hilltop Pub & Grill for dinner and drinks. It’s literally a quarter-mile from the Iverson Park entrance, has great décor inside (beginning with castle-like doors for those still ruing the finale of Game of Thrones), and both the taps list and food are great.
What we didn’t like:
Like Barry, we missed the alternative put-in at Jordan Park on the opposite bank to take advantage of that initial (and exclusive) light rapid by the dam. It’s not really anything to go out of your way for, but still, it does look like good, clean fun (unless it’s too shallow to run).
Really, the only critique we can think of is the imperfect take-out and parking situation at Iverson Park. When we first drove there to drop off our bicycles, we were pretty disoriented and didn’t know where the actual river is (in part on account of those cute-as-a-button canals with their own Lilliputian bridges). Once we located the beach (it’s small), we noticed that there really is no official take-out per se. So, after you finish paddling, you’ll have to schlep your boat(s) and gear about 550′. It’s not a big deal, but neither is it ideal – especially after paddling around, under, or over 7.7 miles of deadfall. Considering how cool, diverse, and thoughtfully designed Iverson Park is, we found it a little surprising that there isn’t a more intentional boat launch area.
If we did this trip again:
We would, definitely, in a heartbeat. And, honestly, there really isn’t anything we’d do differently (other than take that little rapid by the put-in). This trip is great, period.
That said, paddlers looking for a loafer’s float or a there-and-back trip without having to shuttle, could launch a boat from the beach at Iverson Park and paddle down a mile to Patch Street, just above McDill Pond, and return to the same. There, it’s all a wild backwater marsh with no current. There is, however, a golf course along the east bank. It’s great bird-watching, but also look for birdies!
Plover River III: Shantytown Road to Jordan Park
Plover River II: Esker Road to Bevent Drive
Miles Paddled Video: Esker Road to Bevent Drive
Camping: Collins County Park
Camping: Jordan County Park
General: Stevens Point Convention & Visitors Bureau
Guide: Paddling The Plover
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Nature Treks
Wikipedia: Plover River
Motor vehicles have two options: the highway (I-39 to Highway 66) for a zippy 5.6 miles on the west side of the river, or the more residential option of Brilowski Road on the east side of the river for 6 miles.
Bicyclists also have two options, also one on the west side of the river, the other on the east. Both are longer than the car shuttle, but both access different portions of the delightful Green Circle Trail.. The “west option” is 9 miles long, squirrely and more residential, but features 3.6 miles along the Plover River Trail segment of the Green Circle Trail, which follows the meandering river in a very pretty stretch. The “east option” is half a mile shorter and more linear, and offers the tail end of the Iverson Park Trail segment along the banks of the Plover River’s backwaters upstream of its confluence at the Wisconsin River, not to mention the Heartland Trail segment, which parallels an industrial corridor and rail yard along a paved path. The only caveat to the west option is navigating the correct city streets to get back to Jordan Park, when you’re not on the designated trail. For the east option the one caveat is once you get to the end of the Heartland Trail segment (it dead ends), you then turn left (north) and take Brilowski Road for five long, linear miles (with a couple dog-legs).
Naturally, bicyclists can take Brilowski back to Jordan Park in the same fashion as motor vehicles and shave off a few miles, but that’s less fun, of course. Regardless, bicyclists are strongly discouraged from taking Highway 66 back to the put-in, because it’s busy and fast, not terribly safe, and not at all fun.
On a purely personal note, I have my own dad anecdote to share (though not nearly as funny as Barry’s). My own father, bless his heart, has been sending me edible goods from Figi’s for twenty-odd years now. Christmas, Easter, my birthday, Thanksgiving, etc., I’d receive in the mail a tin of some tasty, toothsome treat. What’s interesting about this is, well, a few things. For starters, this has been going on since well before I ever left the East Coast and moved to the Midwest. I don’t know how he happened upon Figi’s as a mail catalogue food purveyor – this started well before my father had made any sort of acquaintanceship with the internet – but it had nothing to do with my eventual move to Madison. (Figi’s, for those unfamiliar with its sweet and savory offerings of sausage, cheese, jam, crackers, cookies, snacks, cutlery, napkins, and whatnot, was started and headquartered in nearby Marshall, Wisconsin.) Anyway, earlier this year he received some message or another that Figi’s could not process whatever tin of raspberry shortbread cookies or chocolate covered pretzels he’d ordered. Around that same time I had heard on the news that Figi’s was shuttering many of its warehouse doors. A sad end of an era, but maybe inevitable.
Just the same, it was literally bittersweet (and totally unexpected) to pass by a Figi’s processing plant along the Heartland Trail while doing the bike shuttle. Naturally, it inspired a photo op (which I’d eventually send to my dad back in Jersey for Father’s Day). So, all things come full circle on the Green Circle Trail.
Mea culpa: My camera went dysfunctional a month before our May trip. It supposedly was repaired by the manufacturer (or their assigned lackeys), but clearly that was not the case. We apologize that some of these images are blurry and a touch out of focus. The camera went back a second time.
Previous Trip Report:
May 19, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆
Characteristically similar to the Wisconsin River to which it flows, this popular section of the Plover is a relaxing and easy paddle for canoers and kayakers of all skill levels and is bookended by two great parks in Stevens Point.
Time: Put in at 11:50a. Out at 1:55p.
Total Time: 2h 5m
What we liked:
My reason for wanting to paddle the Plover River was one of curiosity and stirring up old memories because the last time I paddled the Plover was the first time I ever paddled. This was the place of my first-ever canoe trip, over twenty years ago, a family trip with my younger sister and three other families and their kids. Although some parts of the trip are more vivid than others, it’s left a lasting memory and I really wanted to visit it again all these years later with my new perspective on paddling.
I had thought about this trip often but I didn’t even really know exactly where it was we paddled. After some simple investigation, I soon found out that it was the popular Jordan to Iverson section. I vividly remember the park that we took out at – it was busy, people were swimming and I remember it being really pretty. As it turns out, that was Iverson Park and it’s just as pretty as I remember.
It was also on this trip that one memory was made that trumped all others. My Dad, who isn’t the tradtional outdoorsmen-type, (but has on occasion had a flair for the dramatic) had enough frustration with portages and I guess nature in general, that when the banks of Iverson Park appeared, in a trip-defining (and ridiculous) act, he jumped out of the canoe and swam to shore, never being happier to be on land than at that moment. It was quite the spectacle and is obviously the memory that I (and I’m sure everyone with us) remember to this day.
It’s even funnier now knowing that it was only a two-hour paddle. By his reaction, you would’ve thought he had paddled eight hours or crossed the Atlantic or something.
The put-in at Jordan Park requires a (roughly) 75-foot hike down to the water from the parking lot. There is enough grass to drag your boat if you don’t feel like carrying it. It’s a pretty put-in flanked by a large metal bridge. Upstream from the put-in is a dam that carries water down a gigantic tube from Jordan Pond. There are a lot of fallen rocks to climb about and explore.
It wasn’t until I had hauled my boat down the path and set it in the water that I noticed a couple people putting in upstream by the dam and above some gentle rapids. I had seen the driveway on the north side of the river while shuttling but it looked like it was private. My post-paddle investigation revealed that it looked to be OK to put-in there since I didn’t see any Private or No Trespassing signs. In fact, there was even a garbage can there, indicating that it does get used. That is the only riffly area on the Plover and would be quite a nice entrance to the river for future trips.
This is a great canoe river and a beginner river for sure. The current was swift and there is potentionally a lot to get hung up on but it was all very manageable. There are a lot of down-trees but it’s one of those cases where even if it looks like there isn’t a clear path from a distance – there is. Just follow the current and they’ll open up before your eyes. It’s obvious that some care has been taken to cut blockages and I assume that the local outfitter, Nature Treks, located in a cabin at Iverson is responsible for keeping it clear which is great because there were no portages despite a lot of deadfall.
This stretch of the Plover is a solid two-hour paddle. There are no bridges or other obvious access points until the homestretch so once you’ve put-in, you’re going the distance.
The river feels surprising remote for being located so close to the city of Stevens Point and it’s quite clean, save for the occasional beer can. You’ll no doubt find some fellow paddlers along the way too. It’s not until way late in the paddle before you even hear traffic from the coming Highway 51.
One of the things I remember differently from paddling back in the day is the size of the river. I remember it being very small, almost creek-like which really isn’t the case (being so small myself at the time, you would have thought I would’ve remembered the opposite, but whatever). It’s of the wider variety, like the Yahara River.
Had I not already known that the Plover was a tributary of the Wisconsin, I’m pretty sure I would’ve guessed it. Its characteristics are very similar to its larger counterpart but on a smaller scale. The color of the water is a slight malty-red in the shallows and Lake Eerie-green in the deeper areas. The sandy bottom, grass banks and even the way the trees lay fallen in the river look familiar and much like the Wisconsin, you’ll often encounter huge random banks of sand cutting into the hillside. And though the river is generally shallow as it tapers toward the banks, just like the Wisconsin, it will suddenly get deep without warning.
Despite being near the city, the environs are rather wild, so I still expected to encounter a lot of wildlife but I saw very little variety. A total of one duck was tallied but there were turtles (the size of tires) galore. I literally lost count as they were everywhere.
The take-out at Iverson is great. I chose the beach but you could really take-out anyplace. The parking, however, isn’t ideal. You’ll have to plan your take-out based on comfort and figure out how far you want to drag your boat. I chose the beach so I could paddle under some bridges (and I’m a beach guy). I ended up dragging my boat a ways but put my flashers on in one of the closer No Parking areas to load up.
As mentioned, Iverson Park, the one I often thought of, is one of oldest and largest parks in Stevens Point and it’s remarkable. It’s clear a lot of planning and labor went into manicuring the river to the benefit of the city. Upon it’s entrance under Main Street, the river splits into different directions with rip-rap lining the walls and it winds through the park in different directions under a variety of beautiful stone and metal bridges. In one direction it creates the swimming area (which is also where the beach is located that I took out) on its way to McDill Pond and eventually, about a mile downstream, the Wisconsin River.
Point has really embraced the river where it meets the city, making it a beautiful destination (it reminded me of how the property owners have manicured their properties surrounding the Crystal River in Rural, WI). This is the park I remember so clearly but have never visited before or since. For a city park, it’s a gem.
Also, I noticed (stone or tile) letters embedded in the hillside of the park entrance declaring “City of Wonderful Water”. For being born in Point, I never heard the moniker “City of Wonderful Water” so I had to look that one up. I assumed it was phrase that just never caught on.
It turns out it their tap water was declared “Best in the Nation” one year. I would also like to think that it’s Point’s location, surrounded by beautiful lakes, creeks, the Plover and of course, the Wisconsin River that flows right through it. Iverson park is just one example of their love for the water and I actually thought that was a fitting declaration of the area, it is pretty wonderful.
What we didn’t like:
I can’t think of a single thing. I really enjoyed this paddle.
If we did this trip again:
This was really a paddle down memory lane for me. Taking what I know of rivers and creeks and comparing it to my memory of this river, Iverson and of course, my Dad making that historic jump in the river made this a really interesting and special paddle for me.
It wasn’t quite like tracing the wake of Lewis and Clark but it was cool to relate my knowledge of creeks and rivers to a canoe trip I did as a kid over two decades ago and it sure was fun. And just like my first paddle, I recommend this for first-time paddlers to make some memories of their own.
This section probably deserves more of a three-and-a-half star rating instead of three but since we don’t half-star paddles, I’ll leave it there. It’s really a great entry-level paddle by canoe or kayak.
Miles Paddled Video: