Sunday, August 15, 2010

Segment 9: De Pere to Green Bay

Launch: Bomier Boat Landing, De Pere
Takeout: Green Bay Metro Marina
Distance: 8 miles
See larger map

Google map
Tall ships bring out lots of low boats on what was to be the last segment of the Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010 kayak and canoe trip.

Clear skies and warm temperatures don’t hurt either.

We expected that the reproductions of old wooden sailing ships in Green Bay for the Baylake Bank Tall Ships Festival would make for a good turnout for the victorious conclusion of the series. But because heavy July rains and the resulting high water caused the rescheduling of three earlier segments, the end of the route was not the last of the journey.

It seems like there are boats everywhere at the Bomier Boat Launch in De Pere. A roll call in the De Pere lock tallies 98 paddlers in 74 boats – a record for the lock tender.

The lock is also the setting for a freak mishap. One of the kayakers drifts back against a recessed steel ladder in the interior of the lock. When the tender opens the valves to draw down the lock, the front of the kayak lowers with the water level but the back end – hooked onto the ladder by its rudder – stays up high.

The boat is approaching a 45-degree angle when Bob Kriese of Waupaca, one of the more skilled paddlers in the group, jumps into the water, swims to the ladder and frees rudder from wrung. The boat drops with a splash, but its calm occupant stays upright.

We are quite a sight, as boats of every color spread out down the Fox. As always, their occupants range from teens to 70s. We have in common a love of open water and the camaraderie of those who share it.

As we approach downtown Green Bay, spectators on the bridges turn from the tall ships to the curiosity of the low boats. Kriese and Jake Stachovak, the Portage-to-Portage paddler, entertain them with a show of rolling. Jake stands up in his boat and waves to the crowd.

The tall ships, 12 in all, give us another history lesson. We keep our distance, as the U.S. Coast Guard has required, but paddle slowly through gawking. A blast of cannon fire makes us jump in our boats – not enforcement by the Coast Guard but a show for the people on shore.

We leave the colonial era for the modern powerboat haven at the Green Bay Metro Marina, back on shore and back to the present.    

Segment 8: Wrightstown to De Pere

Launch: Wrightstown Boat Landing
Takeout: Bomier Boat Launch, De Pere
Distance: 11.4 miles
Google map
See larger map

This segment of the Fox River is much further away from the Upper Fox than even the nearly 200 miles that separate them.

The mansions on this stretch of river are a sight to behold. The boathouses would look highfalutin next to homes upriver in the likes of Endeavor or Montello. Sprawling, manicured, limestone-terraced landscaping here costs more than entire homes up there. Though you wonder whether their owners enjoy the river any more.

Our trip starts at the Wrightstown boat landing with a couple of guests. A steamer launch right off the screen from African Queen greets us at the landing, but its travel plan takes it upstream.

Our other guest is Jake Stachovak, the Wausau man whose “Portage to Portage” kayak journey around the eastern United States has made him a celebrity in the silent sport. He paddles along with us – unusual for him – with the current. He is enjoying the company before resuming his one-man, 5,000-plus-mile circular trip from Portage, down the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, into the Gulf, up the Atlantic seaboard, through the canals of New York State, through the Great Lakes and, finally, up the Fox River back toward Portage.

Jake tells of the incredible outpouring of support he’s received on his quest to show people that we’re all linked together and how paddle sports allow you to find adventure in your own town. He encounters kindness again during the Wrightstown-to-De Pere segment.

At our planned lunch stop at the Little Rapids Lock, the shore proved too rocky and steep, so we locked on through and headed for Lost Dauphin Park just downstream, only to find equally unwelcoming conditions. Down a few houses, a homeowner named Tom was weed-whacking his yard.

“How’d you like 37 guests for lunch?” I asked him. After hearing what we were up to, Tom invited us to lunch on his lawn. He and daughter Kate got a kick out of the voyageur and talking with Jake.

Well fed and rested, we climb back into our boats and paddle on to the upscale city of De Pere and the very accommodating Bomier Boat Launch, which is tucked into a neighborhood along the Fox River Trail just south of the downtown bridge.

Segment 9 map