Monday, July 7, 2014

History revealed in what the saw sees

By David Horst

The great thing about history is it doesn't just live in books. Sometimes, history is just hanging there on the wall.

Setting out from Newport Park.
See more photos.
In the best of the essays in his must-have classic work "A Sand County Almanac," pioneer environmentalist Aldo Leopold tells the story of he and wife Estella sawing through a large, old oak tree. He uses that event to frame the natural history that was happening as the tree was putting on the growth rings they are transecting with the two-man crosscut saw.

As we paddled down the Wisconsin River on June 21 as part of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle series, I was describing the essay to fellow paddler Daren Barrett in more detail than you would expect to be tolerated by someone who easily could accelerate away from me. Barrett was unfamiliar with Leopold and how his environmental legacy was tied so closely to Wisconsin history, but was genuinely inquisitive about it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Downed trees slow progress

By David Horst

See more photos
We were facing one of our bigger challenges when we launched 36 boats one by one into the pool below the Germania Dam on the Mecan River north of Princeton.

The Mecan (pronounced MI-can) is a narrow trout stream through the wooded central Wisconsin countryside. It makes for beautiful scenery. But the erosion force of the river current, plus time, equals downed trees across the channel. In our case, that was true in quite a few places.

I was the first to arrive and had some time to commune with the Germania Marsh. The expansive 2,500-acre wetland is held in place by the simple, 55-year-old steel and concrete dam. An osprey joined me, hovering on fluttering wings, looking for breakfast.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Year's first paddles, in a word, pleasant

Paddling the Kickapoo required that we be attentive for fallen trees.
See more photos.

By David Horst

WYALUSING -- Thinking about the first weekend of paddling for this year’s Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle series, I keep coming back to a word … pleasant.

The people, the paddling, the pace. The scenery, the socializing. The weather and the music — all pleasant.

The people numbered more than 30 kayakers and canoeists. Most were from the Fox Valley, but a few from the Milwaukee area.

The paddling Saturday, May 17, included the last stretch of the Wisconsin River and a short piece of the Mississippi — Bridgeport to Wyalusing — for a total of eight miles. Thanks to high water, the pace was 3 mph when we weren’t paddling, twice that when we helped.

The scenery was towering bluffs, overflowing banks, lots of turkey vultures and bald eagles — seven of them. On one island in a channel of the Wisconsin, we watched two mature eagles and one immature flit half-hidden from one perch to another.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Heritage Paddles head upstream

By David Horst

When you call yourself Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle, you are pretty much limited to paddling the Fox and the Wisconsin rivers.

When we started doing these kayak and canoe trips back in 2010 -- then actually called the Fox River Heritage Paddles -- we were just talking about doing all but the most difficult portions of the upper and lower Fox over nine weekends In one paddling season. And that would be that.

The paddles caught on and we had a pretty good time, so the series continued.

The "we" here is a small group of total volunteers, including me, with little else in common, other than middle age and enjoyment of each other’s company.

Entering our fifth year, we didn't have much new water to cover as the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle, until we conceived of a loophole.

This year's paddles are billed as "A Tribute to Tributaries." We will venture upstream a bit to the Kickapoo, Mecan and even Green Bay's East River. All flow into the Wisconsin or Fox.