Sunday, September 12, 2010

Section 7B: Lutz Park to Sunset Point Park

Launch:  Lutz Park, Appleton
Takeout: Sunset Point Park
Distance: 6.4 miles

Google map
We had planned a dramatic finish to the cannon fire of the tall ships in Green Bay. Instead, the end of Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010 is greeted by the oompah of a polka band in Kimberly, but the final group paddle couldn’t have been better.

The first really good forecast of the series of 12 day trips on the Fox River helps to draw 116 participants last Sunday for the paddle from Lutz Park in Appleton to Kimberly’s Sunset Point Park, the site of the village’s centennial celebration.

Sun and upper 70s accompany the paddlers on the trip through the living history of the four hand-operated Appleton locks, now restored to their 19th century glory.

As a bonus, we get a demonstration of another historic bit of technology.

The residual of the high water levels that caused the delay of this and two other segments of the journey reduced the clearance under the railroad bridge downstream of Lawe Street enough to prevent the 28-foot voyageur canoe from passing under.

The center-pivot bridge is designed to swing out of the way of boat traffic, and would have, if not for the whistle of the approaching train. So we sit waiting, part of the group having already slipped under, heads pressed to decks, and others still waiting.

When the engineer passes the rare sight of a river full of boats, paddlers wave and he waves back. The bridge swings open and on we go.

There is some drama as we approach lock four. A kayaker drifts too close to the water inlet to the hydroelectric generator there. The current sweeps him in and knocks him from his boat. The grate over the inlet stops him from going any farther, but the force of the water pins him there.

The call of “man down” brings the Appleton Fire Department and Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department rescue boats and paddle organizers immediately. Three men pull him free. Uninjured and undeterred, he gets back into his kayak on the other side of the lock and finishes the trip.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Segment 7A: Park-to-Park Paddle

Launch: Shattuck Park,  Neenah
Takeout: Lutz Park, Appleton
Distance: 8.5 miles

There’s a t-shirt they sell to kayakers and sailors at the park headquarters for the Apostle Islands in Bayfield. It says: “The lake is in charge.

Mark Hoffman photo
That was the story on Little Lake Butte des Morts for the ninth annual Park-to-Park Paddle. The 30 mph wind gusts sweeping across the lake convince a lot of people that the 4-mile route from our launch at Shattuck Park in downtown Neenah to the early out at Fritse Park in the Town of Menasha is good enough.

Others, determined to complete the full 8.5 miles to Appleton’s Lutz Park, scatter based on their approach to navigation. Some B-line down river to take the shortest path between two windy points. Others head straight into the west wind to get to the lee shore, where land and buildings will block the gusts.

This less pleasant section of the Park-to-Park comes right after the fun part – stuffing more than 100 kayaks and canoes carrying 150-plus people into the Menasha Lock and smiling for photos.
Google map

Our route from Shattuck takes us out the Neenah channel, into Lake Winnebago and around the point of Doty Island and into the Fox – and into the teeth of the wind.

The trip through downtown Menasha collapses the eras. Paper mills, a smattering of surviving retail and riverside retirement condos stand side by side. Then it’s through the lock and out into Little Lake Butte des Morts. Don’t be deceived by the “little” in its name. It can harness the wind with the biggest of them.

Directing the arriving traffic that morning, I could see trouble coming. A lot of the vehicles were packing small river boats. They’re made for going with the current and bouncing off rocks, not for tracking through a crosswind. The result was a lot of tuckered paddlers.

A few of them get wet. I heard stories of at least five boats capsizing.

Thanks to the certified instructors from Northeast Wisconsin Paddlers and patrol boats from the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department and Appleton Fire Department, everyone gets help quickly and no one is injured.

Despite all of the misfortunes I describe here, this was a good time, certainly for me and I think for most.

You can find out why from another t-shirt: “A bad day on the water is better than a good day at work.”