Saturday, April 24, 2010

Segment 1: Portage to CTH O

What follows are re-edited versions of columns by freelance nature writer David Horst that originally appeared in The Post-Crescent – the daily newspaper in Appleton, Wis. – during the spring and summer of 2010.

The Journey begins
Three paddle trips, three different faces of the Upper Fox River.
I’ve been involved with a group that planned a series of paddle trips covering most of the Fox, collectively called Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010. After three of the 12 segments, I can tell you, it’s not the Fox River we’re used to up in the Fox Cities.

Launch: Indian Agency House, Portage
Takeout: Landing at CTH O bridge
Distance: 10.7 miles
See larger map

Google map
For the first leg of our journey, we are to depart from Portage, the connecting point – almost – for the Fox and Wisconsin rivers. Forty-seven paddlers turn out to journey the 10.7 miles to the landing at Marquette County Highway O. 

Traveling from Hortonville, rain pelts the windshield of my truck. I’m convinced the forecast for storms and lightening will prove correct and I’m driving an hour and a half for nothing.

But the rains stop in advance of the launch and we see no more than an intermittent drizzle.

The paddlers – couples and older guys and strapping youngsters – unload canoes of Fiberglas and aluminum, plastic kayaks, skin kayaks, wooden kayaks and a stand-up “Yak.” They fill the 16-seat voyageur canoe that leads us throughout these 120 miles of rediscovery.

Up here (up river, though geographically to the south) the Fox River is not all industry and houses that make the Fox Cities tax assessors so happy. In this section, the Fox is a country stream, lined with farm fields and fishing shacks and rarely running more than a couple of feet deep. Crane music accompanies us much of the way.
Mark Hoffman photo
Some among us appoint themselves to trash detail, relieving the river of various bottles and buckets, a duck decoy and a television set, which a kayaker with a flair for the ridiculous bungies to the front of his boat.
At Governor’s Bend Park we face the entirety of the Fox River’s rapids – a little chute that wouldn’t warrant a rating but delivers a little rush of fun. While the lower Fox drops nearly the height of Niagara Falls from Lake Winnebago to Green Bay, its whitewater was harnessed by a system of locks and dams more than a century ago.
We pass under the County O bridge and beach on the muddy bank. From there we get our first presentation on the history that flows with the river – a reading of pioneering environmentalist John Muir’s boyhood remembrances at John Muir Park.

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