Sunday, July 18, 2010

Segment 6: Omro to Terrell Island

Launch: Miller Park, Omro
Far point: Enter Terrell Island area via fish barrier
Takeout: Return to Yost Road landing
Distance: 6.5 miles

Raindrops beat fiercely on the truck windshield and bright bolts of lightning split the sky as we shuttled our vehicles for the Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010 segment from Omro to Terrell Island in Lake Butte des Morts.

Despite the prediction of all-day scattered thunderstorms, 45 kayak and canoe paddlers turn out at Fred C. Miller Park in Omro for a day of fun on the water. But it looks like one of the persistently bad forecasts that have dogged our weekend paddles all summer is actually going to prove to be correct. We delay the launch for about 45 minutes, but sunburn replaces lightning as the trip hazard. There are happy faces behind the paddles when we take off from Omro, led as always by the 28-foot voyageur canoe.

We definitely have entered the recreational section of the Fox River. We have to make way for a pontoon boat or bass slayer more frequently. Still, herons, egrets, an eagle and osprey are our companions.

Downstream of Omro, the Fox gradually opens up a marshy mouth into Lake Butte des Morts. This is the convergence of the Fox and the Wolf rivers. Once a barely passable bog of reeds and wild rice, artificially high water levels and boat traffic have opened up the shallow lake.

Terrell Island is an experiment by the Department of Natural Resources in turning back the clock for a corner of the lake by enclosing the area with a two-mile-long rock breakwater. It is intended to block out the boat wakes and turbid water of the lake to allow native vegetation to return, followed by native fish and mammals. We circle around its full length and land at the Butte des Morts Conservation Club headquarters.

The Terrell’s Island experiment has worked – too well in the case of one species, according to DNR biologist Art Techlow III, who gives the paddlers a natural history lesson. American white pelicans have returned in force. The experiment has also brought in common terns, egrets and various waterfowl. The DNR counted 13 nesting pelican pairs within the impoundment in 2005. By 2006, the number rose to 44, then 420 in 2007, 695 in 2008, 1,101 in 2009 and 1,068 overwhelming the little islands this spring.

Pelican guano has denuded the islands. That’s one of the unexpected consequences of experiments with nature on this scale, Techlow says. The DNR plans to shave down the islands to promote semi-aquatic vegetation and discourage pelicans.

After Techlow’s presentation, 10 paddlers pile into the voyageur and start paddling east. Not far out, they raise the big boat’s sail and let the wind push them all the way across Lake Butte des Morts. What a sight as this historic replica of Marquette and Joliet’s time sails under U.S. 41, painting a contrast between the journey and just getting there.