Monday, May 21, 2018

Season's first paddle had some on, some in the Waupaca River

The Waupaca River delivers one more class 1 rapids at the end.

By David Horst 

It has to be said. We got some people wet.

The kickoff to the North East Wisconsin Paddlers 2018 Public Paddle series on May 5 was a little more challenging than our usual afternoon outings on a lazy river.

We opened the season with a segment of the Waupaca River from County Q to Brainard's Bridge Park, just upstream of the City of Waupaca. It includes a few sections classified as class 1 rapids, the lowest category in the whitewater rating scale.

Ken plays in the segment's final rapids
The pre-trip description on our website ( warned that this trip was not for novices. As a result, our count was held down to 23 participants -- both when we launched and when we took out. We encouraged people to leave the bent wood and Kevlar kayaks at home and dig up the old plastic beater instead. It was good advice.

My trusty old Perception Carolina took a hard smack from rocks on both sides. The acrylic-covered plastic that it's made of absorbed the punishment without damage. I also got hung up on a rock at one point and trapped by a downed tree at another. But I stayed dry.

It's amazing how quickly your muscle memory can forget a lesson your brain knows so well.

I know that when you get caught on something in the current, you lean downstream into the obstruction. To lean upstream is to invite the river into your cockpit.

But when the fallen tree snagged me, my instinct was to lean away from it to try to get free. One of our NEWP instructors was nearby and shouted a reminder that kept the water on the outside, where it belonged.

There was plenty to talk about on this trip.
Others were less lucky. Either leaning the wrong way or paddling without a sprayskirt to seal them into their boats -- or with one not fully fastened -- the water rushed in, the boat overturned and the American Canoe Association-certified instructors that belong to NEWP were off to help another paddler.

No one was injured among the half-dozen or so kayak flippers. The worst of it was a couple gulps of prime trout stream. They had some experience. They had some people to help them. And they were all wearing PFDs (lifejackets) as we require on all our trips.

Any one of those three factors lacking can spell tragedy.

When someone did go over, others came to calm the paddler, secure and empty the boat and get the paddler back in the boat and on his or her way. Wading to shore and giving up on the trip was not an option we offered.

Portaging around the covered bridge
One of the swirly sections of river was just below a picturesque covered wooden bridge near the end of the trip. With the snow of the April blizzard still releasing the last of its moisture content and a week of heavy rain, the Waupaca was in the record range for flow and depth.

When I scouted the route immediately before the launch, I found 8-10 inches of clearance under the covered bridge and warned everyone we would have to portage around it.

But the Waupaca drains a fairly modest watershed and three hours later, the clearance was j-u-s-t about the height of a head pressed against the deck of a kayak.

The first to arrive at the covered bridge was Tom Young, who with wife Jeanne paddled the lone canoe on this trip. In a rare show of gallantry, he took Jeanne to shore before attempting to run the rapids under the bridge. Though he did suggest she would be valuable as ballast.

Making it through was reason for celebration.
From now on, Tom will be "The Headless Canoeist" in my book. He made it through, but only because of a perfectly timed move in which he threw his weight against the canoe's bottom with just enough force to lower the tip of the bow below the bottom of the bridge.

About half of the kayakers followed his lead. I was watching from the left bank, where I had portaged.

We had one more class 1 rapids, probably the most challenging, immediately before the takeout. A few weary paddlers took out and dragged their boats along shore. Most shot the rapids. One concluded the final class 1 passage without the benefit of his boat.

Afterwards, I heard from formerly soggy participants that they enjoyed the trip anyway. They said they learned an important lesson -- they can flip their kayak, perform a wet exit and get back in to finish a trip.

You probably won't see this stretch of the Waupaca on the club schedule again. It would be challenging for many of those who join our public paddles. But it certainly will be on our personal lists of spring adventures.

See the full list of this season's public paddles at

Friday, May 18, 2018

Back to back

Coming soon: Another story in Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine.
This one tells the story of Howard Greene's journals of canoe trips
taken in the early 1900s with "The Gang." 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gordon featured in magazine story

My story on Gordon Bubolz, conservative businessman and conservationist, is in the current issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine. Check out the list of 10 NE Wisconsin natural areas that we have Gordon to thank for acquiring.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Father’s journals recall camping a century ago

By David Horst,

DE PERE -- Author Martha Greene Phillips is extraordinarily attached to history.

Her father was 79 when she was born. She is just one generation removed from a man who was alive as the Civil War was ending and served in the Spanish-American War.
Martha Greene Phillips

There’s an even stronger connection -- eight leather-bound journals of canoe excursions her father took with a group of friends, his sons and his sons’ friends. She turned the journals into Border Country, the Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916, University of Minnesota Press. The 408-page history includes 366 photos, plus maps and sketches, and fully reproduces six of Howard’s journals, with summaries of the other two.

She described the book and her father’s adventures in a presentation at the North East Wisconsin Paddlers annual meeting Saturday (Jan. 27) at Legends in De Pere. NEWP ( is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing paddle sport education and safety and the sponsor of kayaking instruction and an annual series of public paddles.

Howard Greene