Turtle Creek II
O’Riley Road to Sweet-Allyn Park
☆ ☆ ☆
Upstream from the most fun and interesting stretch of Turtle Creek lies a wooly (but not wild) trip on a rather wide and slow stretch. This quiet excursion (aside from some highway noise) is very different than the paddle that winds through downtown Beloit. This one however, is paid off with the ultimate highlight, a date with the Tiffany Stone Arch bridge (and quite the highlight it is).
August 30, 2019
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
Clinton: ht/ft: 4.03 | cfs: 148
This is a very recommendable level. Ideally, paddle this at above 200 cfs.
O’Riley Road, Clinton, Wisconsin
Sweet-Allyn Park, Shopiere, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 11:10p. Out at 1:40p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 9.75
Wildlife: Two heron, Two hawks, geese, fish and turtles, of course.
I’ve paddled Turtle Creek numerous times, but only ever the (wonderful) last leg. It’s taken me and my curiosity this long to expand my horizons because Timothy paddled this section years ago, and then wrote about it in his best-selling guidebook. So why move it to the top of my “must-paddle” list since it’s already been well-documented, I figured. Well, it’s been six years since this trip has been updated, which was the catalyst to finally try my hand at it.
So I set off to “branch out” from the only section of Turtle Creek that I’ve known and loved, but I’ll admit – I also wanted to see that alluring Tiffany Stone Arch Bridge that looms large in southern Wisconsin from the seat of my own kayak – and not just from secondhand pictures.
But… I knew I was pushing it with regards to water levels. I wouldn’t normally paddle it with levels contrary to Timothy’s own recorded and recommended levels (200 cfs, minimum). But I also follow a lot of social groups and noticed some folks had paddled it lower or at similar levels to these, just the two weekends prior (at 150 and 130 cfs levels, respectively). Therefore, I knew it was possible and I’m glad I finally expanded my Turtle territory by checking out this unknown section (to me) because the water levels were fine, and I was finally able to see that gorgeous bridge with my own two eyes.
The put-in at O’Riley is easy, with a wide and accommodating gravel landing. There are no facilities but plenty of parking in the roundabout.
After launching, there’s a few gentle bends leading to the S. O’Riley Road bridge where low grassland banks begin just downstream. Then the creek opens up a bit until you find an interesting house in a clear opening. Well, it’s not that the house is interesting, but the unique arched bridge that frames the property from the creek. After a short straightaway, the creek gets really wide, almost lake-like for a stretch. Long weeds will carry you downstream, but not the kind you’d normally get hung up on. Even in these low conditions – they were quite forgiving. The banks are low and soon Little Turtle Creek appears on river-left. For an instance, the creek gets more creek-like and narrow, until growing increasingly wider and stubbornly staying that way. The width is exaggerated (sometimes, exasperating) in the wide bends.
After catching up with the two kind souls who gave me a ride to the put-in (more on that in “What We Liked”), I passed a couple small islands and stirred up a gaggle (that’s correct, right?) of geese – or at least a half-V of geese. After a very long stretch of open water, the creek hardly narrows again prior to South Carvers Rock Road, where there’s some fun riffles. There was a tight approach amidst the riffles and swift current towards a hanging branch that required some maneuvering to stay on the inside of a mini-island so as not to get swept into the strainer. It does offer some minor excitement on an otherwise plain paddle. After the riffles, there was some canopy to duck but that’s it, because it was now onto the next straightaway…
For quite awhile you’ll continue straight, surrounded by unremarkable tree-lined banks. Occasionally, an island would interrupt and a weedy surface would appear, but again, nothing to get hung up on. The creek gets even wider and there’s barely a current on the approach to the Highway 140 bridge. This sounds like a complaint but it’s not. Up to this point, though it’s been wide, it was a pleasant section. And best yet, even at its widest, the water levels were fine.
On my way to the 140 bridge (which offers another nice access point on river-right) I had a really cool experience, where suddenly fish were swimming in schools along both sides of my kayak which is something I’ve never seen before. Usually they go the other way. I believe they were carp by the size of them but whatever they were, that’s not something I’ve ever seen any fish do, especially carp.
After Highway 140, the banks get scraggily-er. There’s a cute little meander after the bridge which offers some welcome excitement, and then a cut bank on river-right for visual entertainment but that’s will be about it for awhile. And this is the case for a long stretch (with only a powerline and some lillypad arrangements to break up the monotony – so yeah, now I’m reaching). Following that, there’s a lot more deadfall and brush along the banks, but the creek is plenty wide at this point and one doesn’t need to worry about it from a safety perspective. There were also a couple of massive lillypad beds, one that was basically its own county. Here, I encountered some fishermen who were surprised I had paddled this far from upstream (even though it wasn’t all that far).
The water was incredibly clear – not crystal clear – as there was a slight haze, but clear enough to see clams scattered everywhere along the bottom of the creek. I enjoyed fish-watching, as well as spotting numerous (giant) turtles just hanging out below the surface. Quite fitting, right? The floor of the creek is mostly a sand and rock mixture with those forgiving weeds cropping up from time to time.
This all made for a delightful, silent-sport kind of paddle. It’s just easygoing and kind of a calming experience with enough current to just float and observe. Well, except there was “the din” – the noise of East Creek Road, which hugs the creek for most of the way. It sounded especially busier and louder after Highway 140, or it was at least much more noticeable to my ears. The sound can be a bit much at times depending whose hot-rodding where and does detract from that silent-sport angle, just a bit.
There’s a couple more little islands before a very (and there’s no other way to put this) long-ass straightaway that seems to continue forever. The creek never gets narrower – insistent on keeping its wide birth. Then finally, the steel truss bridge at South Smith Road comes into view, which is pretty in its own right but it kind of blocks the view of what you really want to see – the Tiffany Stone Arch bridge, just beyond. (This is all ironic because we love us some truss).
The Arch bridge is stunning as it immediately commands attention with its height, width, makeup, and of course architecture. It’s just really pretty. As Miles Paddled staff historian Bauer pointed out in his guidebook, “At 387′ long and about 70′ tall, it comprises five arches and is one of only a few like it in the whole world. It’s also the single oldest stone-arch bridge in Wisconsin, and it’s truly magnificent”. It is, indeed.
Unfortunately for me, the sky had suddenly turned white after an entire trip that held beautiful blue and sometimes cloud-striped skies (see the pics below), so I had to turn around for a better and less-stark photo opp. Regardless, as mentioned I wasn’t there for the pictures – though I got a lot of them. It was just so breathtaking, especially for a bridge. There’s a few riffles just below the arches but they are short lived – as is paddling beneath this wonderful bridge because it’s soon back to the flatwater again. Just like that, the highlight of the trip is just a short-lived memory.
Soon, residences nestled into the woods appear on creek-left, and then there’s one at the end of a straightaway sitting upon a picturesque hillside framed by giant weeping willows. After that left-bend you’re on the homestretch to the take-out amidst a few mild riffles. Once you spot a house on river-left just behind the last little island, you’ll immediately paddle towards the shore on creek-right where the take-out is at Sweet-Allyn Park.
What we liked:
I’ll start with what I loved about this trip, and right where I began my day. Amongst strangers. While unloading and then locking up my bike at Sweet-Allyn park before heading up to the put-in, two women pulled up in pickup trucks with boats in the back. I made small talk with Meri, and it turned out we were all hesitantly attempting the same section (she had been questioning the water levels too, and was as nervous as I). Just before her and her friend Pam left, they put their shuttle-truck in reverse and offered me a ride (since we were afterall, going to the same place).
I was a bit hesitant to accept. I have my own ritual and cadence to paddles – and I had/always have a bunch of gear that seems to slow the process down (making videos, etc). So I never expect or care to put people out for my own benefit. But… they were totally willing to accommodate another boat in the back of Pam’s truck, so I took them up on it. I mean, I didn’t have to bike-shuttle on my terrible excuse for a bike, so that already made this a great beginning.
Best yet, while in the truck on our way to the put-in, we made small talk and I mentioned I had a blog. Meri immediately questioned if it was Miles Paddled. Even better than that, she lifted Timothy’s guidebook from her lap – their inspiration for paddling this – where she had her notes and destinations jotted down. How cool is that!? We talked “shop” all the way to the put-in. It was only when I pointed out that I needed to film this-and-that that we parted ways. But, it was cool to cross paths once again further down the creek and then via social afterwards (I left some business cards/stickers on their windshield. Also, we all agreed it a good paddle – despite the low levels).
This whole encounter delighted me beyond belief. A random ride from strangers who weren’t all that random – just sharing the love of paddling and helping each other out. It warmed my heart and made for such a happy encounter. I mean, they didn’t have to go out of their way and hold up their own plans to tie up my boat in the back of their truck. It was above and beyond. And yes, I do love that it saved me from that long 45-minute bike-shuttle.
As for the paddle, of course the Tiffany Arch bridge is stunning and hands-down the highlight. It’s so unique and looms large in the midst of nowhere – it’s impossible not to love. Even if it were just a normal bridge it’d be amazing considering its location. But no, this is a piece of architecture that defines that specific middle-of-nowhere.
Lastly, the access points are easy and excellent, specifically the take-out at Sweet-Allyn which is the more manicured of the two and it offers facilities (it is a County Park, afterall).
What we didn’t like:
The monotony of the straightaways can be daunting. I guess I didn’t realize just how many straight sections this segment held. It almost feels like you’re working your way through all those straightaways just to earn the right to see the bridge. Ironically, this is a bridge that you could also see much easier by just driving to S. Smith Road and parking at the lot at Turtle Creek Parkway. Though there’s a huge difference between looking at a bridge like this and paddling beneath it, because if you’re just looking at it, you’ll be yearning to paddle below it. That said, you could just put-in there, and then head down to the best of the Turtle.
If we did this trip again:
This is an easy and interesting paddle if you’ve never done it. Up to Highway 140, the creek is at its most interesting until the last mile or so. The downside is that it’s often repetitive and chocked full of straightaways throughout most of the trip. The upside is that you’re paddling mostly crystal-clear water and the activity (sometimes inactivity) below the surface can be quite interesting.
This section does not trump (God, I hate that word) Turtle creek I for scenery or excitement by any means, but when you’ve done the best, you gotta eventually do the rest. That said, I’d do it again if others were inclined to experience it for themselves. Otherwise, I’d just shoot for the downstream section which is far superior in urban scenery and excitement.
As alluded to above, you could get the best of “all Turtle Creek worlds” by putting-in at South Smith Road to see the bridge and then continue downstream. This adds another mile to Turtle Creek I which makes for a long 12.5 mile day trip – but the last length of the Turtle, depending on when you catch it can be fast, fun and very rewarding (so it may not feel all that long).
Turtle Creek Overview: Turtle Creek Paddle Guide
Turtle Creek I: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Turtle Creek III: Springs Park to School Section Road
Turtle Creek IV: School Section Road to O’Riley Road
Turtle Creek V: Fairfield to Sweet-Allyn Park
Miles Paddled Video: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Good People: Friends of Turtle Creek
Video: Wisconsin Paddles
The shuttle is a longer 10-mile/45-minute bike shuttle since it basically follows the length of the creek. Luckily, I got a free shuttle (who said there are no free rides in life?) By car, it’s a pretty straight shot.
Previous Trip Report:
July 14, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆
A pretty, surprisingly remote and undeveloped creek with great landings, a spectacular and historic railroad bridge and lots of wildlife, including turtles, of course.
Gauge: Clinton: ht/ft: 4.13 | cfs: 195
Time: Put in at 1:00p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Wildlife: A gazillion great blue herons, a great big snapping turtle, lots of kingfishers and dragonflies and a ton of clams.
What we liked:
This was my first time on Turtle Creek, about which I’ve heard a bit about the last few years and I’m quite glad I checked it out. I was concerned about whether there would be enough water on this segment upstream of Sweet-Allyn Park but it was mostly adequate (averaging a foot-deep or so, according to my trusty paddle-dipping measurements).
Why this is called a “creek” and not a river, like so many waterways in Wisconsin, just alludes me. It’s long, wide in parts and quite deep in some sections. The put-in at O’Riley Road was shockingly excellent, with a mowed path leading right to the river, evidence of a popular spot for paddlers. Indeed, a group of kayakers was already at the put-in when I rolled in, which I could hardly believe because a) I didn’t think this segment was much paddled and b) I selected this bridge as a possible put-in, knowing nothing about it or its accessibility to the water, from a map atlas.
The better spot to put-in is on the upstream side of the bridge, river-left. There’s way more room. You can put-in on the downstream side, which is what I did since there was a group of folks before me and it’s doable, just less ideal.
The first third of this trip comprised more great blue heron sightings than I think I’ve ever seen in such a short distance. Just after the first bridge on river-right, one is treated to a long exposed rock wall, about fifty-feet-high that runs parallel to (but set back from) the creek for about half-mile. It’s part of the same geological formations found in the delightful Carver-Roehl County Park, where the tiny Spring Brook runs through before emptying out into Turtle Creek. One of the highlights of this trip is the beautiful Tiffany bridge, a five-arched limestone railroad bridge, under which a small Class I rapid/riffle is found.
Two immortal summertime portraits also stand out. One, a group of high school teens jumping off the Highway 140 bridge into the creek some forty-feet below and two, a few, much younger kids, at Sweet-Allyn park collecting clams from the water. The present-day me in my mid-30s worries about the teens and wonders whether I’ll hear about one of them on the news that night, while later lamenting the certain yet unnecessary deaths that all those clams would surely face once the kids got bored with them or got distracted by food or tossing a football. But I did the same stupid and benign negligent stuff when I was their ages. Besides, pastimes like these are the stuff that summers are made of and I felt wholly sated that they’re still being done. Maybe just collect a bit fewer of the clams next time and maybe wait ’til we got a bit more rain before plunging into the creek from a bridge!
What we didn’t like:
Not the creek’s fault indeed (file this one under a victim of its own success) but there were many groups of people on the water, some kayakers, some canoeists and lots of floaters in tubes and rafts (the latter, in particular, were of course, of the most annoying, heavy metal-blaring, loud-mouthing, cuss words hollerin’, separate beer cooler floatin’, variety).
Also, the water was scraping-low at some points and there were several strings of barbed wire that are indeed a drag (not literally, I hope) but they are easy to spot and maneuver under. Otherwise, there really wasn’t anything to dislike on this trip.
If we did this trip again:
I would but not until paddling some other segments of Turtle Creek. It really is a wonderful gem of a Southern Wisconsin waterway. Just a smidge more water would be nice too.