Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Park-to-Park portage
just a bump in the trail

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

See more photos
A helping attitude and a small strip of carpeting made all the difference.

July 4th weekend — two weeks before the Park-to-Park Paddle, the state’s largest day paddle event that has drawn as many as 350 kayaks and canoes — we read that a gate on the Menasha Lock was broken, then fixed, then broken again.

The Park-to-Park takes those hundreds of paddlers through the Menasha Lock. In fact, the iconic image of the P2P is hundreds of colorful boats packed into the lock.

Do we shift the launch to below the lock, or do we portage around the lock? As one of the organizers of the event, I initially favored sacrificing the length of the paddle to avoid what I expected to be the pandemonium of 200-plus paddlers trying to scale the rocky shores on the Menasha Lock basin.

But a few factors changed my mind.


First, the Fox River Navigational System Authority had installed a long dock just up river of the lock.

Next, the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway had designated LF-3 — the fourth in a series of landings on the Lower Fox — on a channel just downstream of the lock.

Finally, the good people at Valley Marine Mart on Water Street in Menasha agreed to let us use their boat ramp.

As Jeff Mazanec, founder of the 13-year-old event, said, the portage wouldn’t be much different than people hauling their boats from their cars to the launch.

We would be willing to sacrifice some participation to retain the diversity of our usual route from Shattuck Park in Neenah, out onto Lake Winnebago, through downtown Menasha, past the lock, along the length of Little Lake Butte des Morts and down the Fox River to Lutz Park in Appleton. It’s 8.5 miles in all.

The funny thing is, the portage didn’t scare that many folks away.

Shattuck Park bustled with boaters early Saturday morning. More than 225 paddlers would take part, with another 18 doing an out-and-back trip from Lutz in two large voyageur canoes.

The start featured a dedication and ribbon cutting for the new accessible canoe and kayak launch at Shattuck, the first in a series planned by the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway on the Fox and lower Wisconsin rivers. It’s sure to be popular with able-bodied paddlers as well.  It was made possible by grants from, appropriately enough, the Frank C. Shattuck Community Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (where I work my day job) and the Fox Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The launch went well. Normally, we try to keep the group together to start when nearly everyone is in the water. To string out the portages, this time we told people to go when ready.

Rollers on Lake Winnebago gave inexperienced paddlers a little bit of a challenging ride, encouraging more people than usual to divert through a shortcut channel.

I’ll take a moment to mention that a few paddlers decided to celebrate the summery day by removing their lifejackets, a move that is both dumb and a violation of provisions they agreed to in the release form they all signed. Check the bottom of any news story about a kayaker drowning, and it probably will say the victim was not wearing a lifejacket. Those paddlers are not welcome to return for the 14th annual P2P unless they change their ways.

At the lock, boats formed an orderly line at the dock and volunteers helped lift both paddlers and their rides up and on their way for the 120 paces over the small bridge a the lock and what could charitably be called a beach on the other side.

Those who chose the Valley Marine Mart landing, glided up the ramp onto a strip of old carpeting to separate the concrete from their plastic hulls. Here at the longer portage, a volunteer waited with a minivan and canoe hauler. Others just paired up with another paddler to double-carry their boats down a grassy slope behind the lock tenders house to LF3.

Complaints were at a minimum. People laboring under the weight of the boats would stop, regain their grip and energy, and carry on.

Rather than pandemonium, we had a shared challenge, and overcame it through the kindness of others.

Should we portage every year, I sarcastically asked a few of the people hefting kayaks.

While it was all fun and camaraderie, they’d rather pose for the iconic photo in the lock again next year.


  • Aug. 16, East River Paddle, Manderly Lane to the Green Bay Metro Marina, 7 miles.
  • Sept. 27, Appleton Locks Paddle, Lutz Park, Appleton, to Sunset Park, Kimberly, 6 miles.

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