Friday, July 31, 2015

Weather delay shrinks Park-to-Park

After launching from Neenah's Shattuck Park, 75 boats head for Lake Winnebago.

By David Horst

What if you planned a paddling event for 250 people and the tandem of thunder and lightning was the first to arrive?

That was the fate of the 14th annual Park-to-Park Paddle on July 18. The storm was settling down as we started to gather for the launch at Shattuck Park in Neenah, but smart phones showed another storm hitting just before the fastest paddlers would land in Appleton. 
A roomy trip through the Menasha Lock.
See more photos

That’s a rarity for these paddle events, sponsored cooperatively by Northeast Wisconsin Paddlers and the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway. We have experienced uncommonly good weather.

When you are responsible for the safety of group of people, you just don't put them on the water in the lightening with 6-foot sticks in their hands.

The three main organizers -- Jeff Mazanec, Tom Young and me -- conferred and postponed the paddle from Saturday to Sunday. Perhaps a dozen paddlers went out anyway. The rain stopped. The second line of storms never came.

It may have been a misinformed call, but it was the right decision.

Sandhill warrior II

Up on the Sandhill, even the wildlife
does morning yoga. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Whip-or-will calls and paddling Peshtigo Flowage are rare treats

CRIVITZ -- I think the whip-poor-will is a very cool bird. Naturally camouflaged and nocturnal, we don't encounter them much. The few times I've heard them I was thrilled, because their population is in decline.

Renee Dallich of Green Bay pauses to admire
the mirror-calm water after Saturday’s rain.
David Horst photo. See more photos.
It is, however, difficult to be thrilled with a bird that is calling "whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will" enthusiastically and repeatedly at 2 a.m.

That is what you are likely to encounter when you camp at Gov. Tommy Thompson State Park near Crivitz. I was there June 20-21 as part of a two-day kayak trip to the Peshtigo Flowage.

The Pesh brings visions of roiling whitewater to most paddlers. This section of the river is an impoundment -- two pools of slow-moving water formed by hydro dams. We had 18 people for a 10-mile paddle on the Caldron Flowage Saturday and another 18 -- not all of the same 18 -- on High Falls Flowage Sunday.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Paddle starts with Portage

By David Horst

I loaded up my kayak and pointed the truck south toward the headwaters of the Fox River.

That’s the way it is with the Fox. You have to go south to get to the Upper Fox and north for the Lower Fox. Counter­intuitive but driven by gravity, which we know is the law.

The launch point was the Indian Agency House, one of several impressive historic sites in Portage. This is where government Indian agents meted out federal policy. Native Americans might see it more as the scene of the crime.

It is not the very beginning of the Fox, which is off beyond Pardeeville.

About 30 kayaks and a few canoes took part in this second of the North East Wisconsin Paddlers series for this year, this one in partnership with the Fox­Wisconsin Heritage Parkway. The first drew 79 boats for a current­aided sprint down the Wolf River from New London to Hortonville.

We dropped our gear at the Agency House and shuttled the vehicles up County F to the landing at the County O bridge. The route passes the site of John Muir’s boyhood homestead, now a county park.
Driving by I marveled again that the guy who caused the creation of so many of our national parks probably laid down in the grass and looked up at the clouds, right over there.

We dropped vehicles at the landing and hauled the drivers back to the put­-in. Paddle veterans steadied boats and assisted the less experienced, or no longer so flexible, into their boats.

The forecast told us we would see rain, and maybe even thunderstorms. But, as has been the history of nearly all of these paddles, we felt not a drop. This narrow channel of slowly moving water hardly resembles the factory­-lined banks and roaring dam races of the Fox in the Fox Cities.

Slow­-moving marshes, unambitious farm fields or fishing getaways line the channel down (or up) here. Our most numerous companions along the route were not fishermen, but rather turtles. Painted turtles and a few Blanding’s balanced on the ends of sundrenched sticks poking up from the current.

Turtles normally plop into the water as a kayak passes, no matter how unobtrusive you try to be. These amphibian tough guys just stared us down.

Cardinals, orioles and king birds flew in and out of treetop hiding spots along the banks. Two turkey vultures soared overhead, checking out the stragglers at about mile 7.

We ended with the same number of paddlers that launched, no carrion left behind.

One by one, the kayaks of plastic, Fiberglas or wood glided under the wooden substructure of the bridge at County O and turned hard left to the sand and muck landing.

Gear stowed and boats back on car tops, it was time to check out the local preferences for soothing a thirst and restoring spent calories. And to revel in a day on the water.