Saturday, November 12, 2011

A common man recounts an uncommon paddle

Jake at the Wolf River launch.
By David Horst

Jake Stachovak was making a point about how you don’t have to be an extraordinary person to accomplish an extraordinary feat.
The video clip playing over his shoulder did an effective job of it.
Stachovak (pronounced Sta-HO-vee-ak) was addressing a crowd of 110 at Mosquito Hill Nature Center near New London on Oct. 14. He was this year’s Charlotte Bates Fenlon Memorial speaker.
Charlotte was a very early volunteer at Mosquito Hill and the first wife of Dr. Charles “Chick” Fenlon, who established an endowment fund to support an educational speaker each year in her memory. Chick, a wonderful guy, died a year ago May. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the committee that picks the speakers, through my day job at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, which also is where the endowment fund is located.
Jake’s video shows him talking about the rigors paddling in the cold early in his 5,740-mile kayak trip around the eastern third of the United States. In the background is his beached 17-foot Kevlar Seda kayak. As Jake is talking away in the foreground, the video shows his boat slip off of shore and drift farther and farther out into the water.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Year's final paddle rich in history

By David Horst

Starting Octoberfest morning with a leisurely paddle seemed like an attractive idea when we planned the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011 schedule over the winter.

It must have looked even better when people threw up the blinds Saturday morning. The 6.4-mile canoe and kayak trip from Appleton's Lutz Park, through the four Appleton navigational locks and to Kimberly's Sunset Point Park, put 119 boats on the water, carrying at least 150 people.
See more photos at

This was the last in a series of eight organized paddle trips this year on the Fox and Lower Wisconsin rivers.

The day started with a heavy fog hanging over the river. Knowing it would burn off by the 9:30 a.m. launch made it all the more beautiful. A few kayaks were in the water when I arrived, colorful ghosties floating between fog and river.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New home working for whoopers

Follow the whooping crane training and migration at You can watch the training from a webcam mounted above the crane pen.

By David Horst

PRINCETON -- Crouching shoulder to shoulder in a shelter made of straw bales and old two-by-fours, we wait to watch the hard work that makes miracles happen.

Five-foot-tall birds – wild birds that had no parents – follow a manmade flying machine one time for the two or three months it needs to reach Florida, and then they fly back to this very spot in spring, unassisted, in a couple of weeks. It can only be described as miraculous.
Pilot Joe Duff leads five of the young whooping cranes.
See more photos.

The birds are 10 whooping cranes, incubated in Maryland and flown in by plane. They spend nights in a well-fenced shelter, waiting to be released for their morning training with ultralight pilot Joe Duff, CEO of the nonprofit Operation Migration. We are maybe 30 yards away in a blind, camera lenses or fixed gazes peeking through an opening formed by the triangular steel lattice of an old antenna tower placed between rows of bales.

It is about 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28. Another beautiful day is breaking. The tight quarters chase away the hint of fall nip in the air. We’re at the White River Marsh, just east of Princeton, the new home of the grand experiment in teaching whooping cranes how to migrate.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Moonlight Paddle -- minus the moon

So we got a little wet at the end of Friday evening's for Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011's Moonlight Paddle from the Bomier Landing in De Pere to the Green Bay Metro Landing. The clouds being what they were, we also didn't see the moon. But we saw lots of lights on boats. Just shy of 60 boats took part, including two full voyageur canoes on loan from the DNR. We had 79 paddlers in all. Lots of them were wearing damp smiles.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trust the turtle

By David Horst 

Never doubt the turtle.

Waiting in the Menasha Lock

The sky hung low with dark clouds as we rolled into Neenah early last Saturday morning. Rain dripped on our truck windshield. Lightning split the sky.

This was a paddling day — the 10th annual Park-to-Park Paddle. At least it was supposed to be.

The forecasters were hedging on the weather. A 30 percent chance of thunderstorms, they said. One front followed by another. It was 7:15 a.m., with the launch scheduled at 9:30. We had to decide soon, and much of the group was leaning toward canceling.

We decided to give it another hour and, as has been our experience, the weather cleared in time for the paddle. I was confident it would go on as planned because I had turned over the turtle.

The turtle had become part of our story early in our series of Fox River paddles last year. Ottawa medicine woman Jackie Redwoman had told us about a turtle figurine she turned over to cause bad weather to pass on either side of our event. Ever since then, we've been taking advantage of the power of the turtle.

I was not so confident the evening before. The forecast said thunderstorms and higher-percentage numbers were reaching earlier and earlier into the morning. About then, I went out to our barn for evening chores and found a little turtle garden decoration standing solidly on its feet. Horrified, I quickly turned the turtle on its back and went inside to email the other event organizers that all would be OK.

The clouds broke as the paddlers began to arrive. The dark skies had not scared them off, apparently, as 195 people registered.

We launched in 140 craft, most worthy and some too small for the task. The predicted 15 mph winds also failed to show. We moved out into Lake Winnebago without resistance. A couple of novices had to be taken back to shore, but not for any fault of the wind or water.

Going through downtown Menasha, we passed a group on shore that I have to assume was having a Park-to-Park Paddle party.

We gathered at the Menasha Lock turning basin. There, Jake Stachovak, the veteran of a 5,700-mile kayak trip around the eastern third of the United States, and Bob Kriese, a skilled paddler from Waupaca, gave us a rolling demonstration.

Jake did his usual trick of standing up in his cockpit, but then decided to up the degree of difficulty. He put his hands on either side of the cockpit opening and pushed up into a handstand — for about the next five seconds.

But the real highlight of this trip is seeing canoes and kayaks of many colors jammed into the Menasha lock. Spectators and well-wishers leaned over the railings awaiting our arrival.

Once through the lock, we headed out into Little Lake Butte des Morts. It was worlds apart from last year's experience. A strong northwest wind last year made for a miserable crossing for many, and sent some paddlers into the water. This year, there was a mere whisper of a breeze.

Our last stretch of the Fox, from Stroebe Island to Appleton's Lutz Park, was a showcase of impressive homes and landscaping ingenuity on the steep slopes.

As we glided under the walking bridge at Lutz, the trip, like the summer, seemed to pass too quickly.

After landing, I took the shuttle bus back to Shattuck to retrieve the truck. As we hefted the boats onto the roof, a bolt of lightning crackled.

Nice timing, Mr. Turtle.

Two trips remain for Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011: 
Aug. 12: Moonlight Paddle, Bomier Landing in De Pere to Green Bay Metro Marina. 
Sept. 24: Appleton Locks Paddle, Lutz Park in Appleton to Sunset Point Park in Kimberly. Details at

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Park-to-Park Paddle

There was lightning before we launched and lightning as we loaded our boats afterwards, but the weather held for the 10th annual Park-to-Park Paddle from Shattuck Park in Neenah to Lutz Park in Appleton, 8.5 miles. A total of 195 paddlers in 140 boats took part despite the early morning's threatening skies over Neenah. See photos at Email me your own photos of the event.

Menasha Lock

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Heritage paddlers go with the flow

By David Horst 

MUSCODA – The Wisconsin River is a powerful force on an average day. When the participants in Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011 returned to the big river June 25-26, the days were not average.

Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddlers approach
the Mississippi River. 
See more photos
High flows and high water submerged many of the sandbars. That made for straighter paddling and fewer beaching hazards to avoid, but it also swallowed up the sandbar we had planned to camp on.

Online stream gauges report the river’s flow at various locations. For our paddle two weeks earlier, the gauge at out takeout at Muscoda read about 8,000 cubic feet per second, close to average for that section of the river. On this weekend, the gauge for what was now our launch point would reach 22,000 cfs. 

Imagine filling your two-car garage with water to the top of the doors … five times. That’s about what was passing through the 1,000-foot-wide channel every second.

We consulted with several people in the area on whether to cancel the trip. We decided to go with the flow, with one revision. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wisconsin River paddles bring
bluffs, sandbars and current

John Behnke paddling in the voyageur.
See more photos
By David Horst

SPRING GREEN, Wis. -- After spending two weekends paddling the Lower Wisconsin River, I’m struck by what’s there, and more by what’s not.
What’s there can be summed up as bluffs, sandbars and current. Canoe, kayak and three hearty stand-up board paddlers taking part in Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011 were treated to large doses of all three.

We traveled from the Town of Mazomanie landing on Dane County Y to Peck’s Landing in Spring Green on June 11, and then on to the Riverside Park landing in Muscoda (pronounced Mus-go-day) on June 12, a weekend jaunt of 40 miles.

I left my kayak at home and went aboard the 28-foot voyageur canoe Fox of the River, along with longtime paddling buddy John Behnke of Green Bay. It was a challenge navigating the deeper channels between the ever-shifting sandbars for Jerry Disterhaft (alias French fur trader Jean Paul) of Princeton in the bow, who signaled back to Glen “Jacques” Gorsuch of Neshkoro, who guided our course from the stern.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Parents keep eagle eye during banding

By David Horst
View a slideshow

SHIOCTON — Webcam transmissions of an eagle's nest in Decorah, Iowa, have riveted tens of thousands of viewers this spring, but one Shiocton-area couple is unimpressed.

A stone's throw from their back door, they have the same show playing live.

High up in a misshapen white pine, a pair of eagles is raising two healthy eaglets. The couple sets up lawn chairs and cranks up the tunes to sit and watch.

Eagles have nested in the tree for at least eight years. In the three years the family has lived there, the nest has produced one, three and two eaglets. They asked that their names and exact location not be used to prevent getting more visitors than they already do.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back on the water, back in time

By David Horst 

We are back together, back on the water and back in time. 
Paddlers enter the difficult part of the Portage Canal.
Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011 launched here June 5, the successor of our adventure last year called Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010. The intent of both is to get people to experience and appreciate the rivers and to support the effort to have them designated as the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway by the National Park Service.
The first thing you’ll notice is we’ve added a river to our paddles. In fact, the first canoe and kayak paddle of the season included both the Fox and the Wisconsin. It had a lot of variety overall.
Portage is teaming with history. We were there during Portage Canal Days to honor the crossing between the rivers by Jacques Marquette and Jean Nicolet in 1673. We started on the Fox and finished on the Wisconsin.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ultra crane experience moving closer

By David Horst 

Photo courtesy of
Fox Cities residents soon will have less than an hour’s drive to watch big white birds following ultralight aircraft.

The Whooping Crane Recovery Team, which has been teaching captive-raised crane babies how to migrate to Florida from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin since 2001, is not seeing the desired nesting success when the birds return to Necedah and is looking to give them a new summer home.

And the winner is … the White River Marsh Wildlife Area just west of Berlin in Green Lake County. 

It’s a 40-mile ride from Appleton, compared to the 100 miles to Necedah. Joe Duff, CEO of Operation Migration, the nonprofit that supplies the expertise, air power and parade of support vehicles for the crane training and fall migration, says his team has a memorandum of understanding in hand for use of the state land from the Department of Natural Resources and only a little red tape – such as verifying adequate insurance coverage – remains.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tornado carries off hay farm's future

By David Horst

Delores and Russell Miller and what's left of their barn.
Russell Miller has been outfoxing Mother Nature for years.

It's part of the job description for a farmer who sells hay. When he cuts his alfalfa, he's betting against nature that he can put together four straight dry days to be able to claim: "Hay for sale. Not rained on. No mold."

On April 10, Russell and his wife Delores beat nature in a big way, though they willingly admit it was luck or divine intervention.

At 6:30 p.m. that warm and pleasant Sunday, the Millers were enjoying an ice cream at Charlie's Drive-In in Hortonville. An hour later, they were watching a lifetime of farming be wiped out in seconds.

When a tornado decided to drop out of the evening sky over Dale, it chose their farm as its victim. It took the top off of their 40-by-143-foot barn, spread 300 bales of last year's hay to the wind and tossed hay wagons and pickup trucks around like Tonka trucks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Popular paddling event portages over to Wisconsin River


For immediate release
For more information contact:
Jeff Mazanec
David Horst

Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2011 kicks off June 5 during Portage Canal Days with a canoe and kayak outing that starts in the Fox River and ends in the Wisconsin River.

The sequel to the successful Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010 will reprise three of last year’s most popular outings and add five trips on the Wisconsin River. Details are available at

The Canal Days paddle starts at the historic Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters on State 33. Paddlers will travel about a mile on the Fox to the Indian Agency House, another historic site. Unlike when Marquette and Joliet made this crossing in 1673, participants will be able to paddle, with several short portages, through the Portage Canal and learn about restoration efforts.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wet, windy, cold counting

Who showed better sense, the crane counters or the cranes?

It was 30 degrees F, windy and drizzly Saturday for the International Crane Foundation's annual Midwest Sandhill Crane Count. We were in place at 5:30 a.m. The cranes slept in.

Drizzle turned to rain. We all heard cranes, but they stayed sheltered in the wetlands. Outagamie County count coordinator Jess Miller said most counters saw three or four cranes during their two-hour watch. Not many took to the skies.

In my counting spot near the sand hill we call home, nothing much happened until close to 7 a.m. Instead of flying in as they have done in other years, the cranes just walked into the farm field from the woods, and they didn't stray far from the cover.

In all, I saw 21 cranes through a rain-blurred spotting scope. That's a better count than in recent years, well worth the damp clothes and frosty fingers.  -- DH

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Eagle-cam now triple the fun

Raptor Resource Project works for the preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks and owls by maintaining nest sites and doing training and education. Check its website at

By David Horst

  It’s been almost a week since the first blessed event and Mom is still waiting for the third of her triplets to be born.
The second child made its entrance two days after the first, but, as of this writing, No. 3 is still holding back. That’s the way it goes in the bird world.
I’m talking about the eagle births in Decorah, Iowa, that have caused an international sensation. More than 150,000 people at a time have been watching a live web cam feed of a pair of eagles sitting on a nest 80 feet up in a cottonwood tree at a fish hatchery since the first eaglet hatched – no foolin’ – April 1.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Eagle-cam shows hatch live

Here's an addictive little website:

It is a live webcam of an eagle nest on a reserve in Decorah, Iowa, where eaglets are hatching. The first hatch happened April 2. A counter shows more than 100,000 viewers typically looking in. Thanks to Glen Gorsuch of Neshkoro for alerting me to this site.

The nest is 80 feet up a tree. It measures 5-6 feet across and weighs 1.5 tons. The webcams were placed by the Raptor Resource Project. Take a look, but plan on spending some time there. - DH

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Crane No. 301 checks in from Florida

By David Horst  
I’ve been thinking a lot about cranes lately.
Crane #301 (at center) in Florida.
Photo courtesy of Harriette Canon
That’s not all that unusual for me, but I have had some triggers that got me going in that direction.
One was the March 3 Fox Valley premiere of “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.” The biographical film on my favorite nature writer, done by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, was terrific. And it featured some great scenes of huge flocks of cranes.
Then, on Monday, I was walking across Houdini Plaza in downtown Appleton and heard a bugling call that has been absent too long through this unending winter. A single sandhill crane – my first of the season – was flying high over College Avenue. Tuesday evening I heard a riotous burst of sandhill enthusiasm flying over the sand hill we call home.
But those were all warm-ups to an email I received from Pat Fisher, the New London bird rehabilitator who thinks about cranes way more than I do.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Film explores Sand County land ethic

By David Horst
The Fox Cities will host a premiere of a movie about a personal hero of mine.
March 3 at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley’s Perry Hall, “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time” will be presented to what is shaping up to be a full house.
The showing of the film about one of the fathers of the conservation movement and the founder of the national wilderness system follows premieres in California, Baraboo – the location of “The Shack,” Leopold’s treasured weekend getaway for his years as a professor at the University of Wisconsin – and the Milwaukee Public Museum.
I’m happy to reveal a glaring conflict of interest in my reporting about this movie. My day job includes staffing the Environmental Stewardship Fund at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, a major sponsor of the premiere here. No apologies for that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Map for De Pere-Green Bay Moonlight Paddle

De Pere-Green Bay Moonlight Paddle - Aug. 12
An unusual evening paddle on a night with a full moon. Meet at 4:30 p.m., shuttle vehicles and launch at De Pere's Bomier Park at 6 p.m. and arrive at Green Bay Metro Marina near the mouth of the Fox River at about 9:30 p.m. 

Park-to-Park map

Map for Park-to-Park Paddle - July  23
Unload at Shattuck Park in downtown Neenah 7-9 a.m. Shuttle buses available back from parking areas near the finish. Safety talk and launch at 9:40 a.m. Arrive at Lutz Park in Appleton about 12:30 p.m. or take out early at Fritse Park in the Town of Menasha. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

At age 15, our Molly's time had come

By David Horst
Molly waits for a butterfly.
Outdoor writers are famous for doing stories about their faithful hunting dogs, particularly when they lose them. 
Our Molly was more of a gatherer than a hunter. She gave the squirrels on the birdfeeders a run for their sunflower seeds in her younger years. More recently, pheasants passing through the yard had less to fear from her than did the tomatoes in the garden. I called her our fruit bat dog for her love of fruit and veggies.
We said good-bye to Molly this past week after more than 15 years of her being a part of our lives. Her legs had betrayed her. She could no longer chase, or even get up on her own. For three long days and longer nights, she struggled to walk with us holding her up and, finally, could not even stand.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010

The complete journal of Fox River Heritage Paddle 2010 with text and historically annotated maps is available for $12 (plus postage) at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton or by emailing

See photos from the journey
The Journey begins
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.

Segment 1: Portage to CTH O – April 24, 2010
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. 
Writer David Horst on the first segment
of Fox River Heritage Paddle 2011.
Photo by Mark Hoffman.
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.
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.