Beaver Dam River I
Mud Lake Road to County Road G
A quick trip, rich in potential but poor in payoff, this is the last handful of miles of the Beaver Dam River before its confluence with the Crawfish in a sucker-punched part of the state, where glaciers of yesteryear left muddy marshes for today.
October 25, 2014
Milford: ht/ft: 2.9 | cfs: 500
Gauge note: There is an official gauge for the river in Beaver Dam but it’s a good 25 miles upstream of this trip, plus it’s below a dam and thus, does not accurately correlate levels downstream. The Crawfish gage in Milford is a better comparison.
This is a very recommendable level.
Mud Lake Road, Reeseville, Wisconsin
County Road G, (on the Crawfish River) Portland, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:30p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6
Geese and ducks, plus one frog.
By accident I had heard of a state natural area called Waterloo Quartzite Outcrops earlier this year. I love rock outcrops and who doesn’t like quartz? Moreover, I knew this area was mostly marshy, so the SNA caught my attention for simple incongruity: quartz outcrops in a flat marsh, a quartz-outcrop state natural area that is in the middle of two forks of a river like an island within an island. This, I had to check out!
What we liked:
Things were looking very promising in the beginning. The sun was shining all radiant bliss, plus the forecast was for the mid-60s on this late October day. To get to the put-in you take Mud Lake Road, (off of County Road G) which eventually becomes a rugged unpaved road, leading you along the top of an attractive ridge into a large swath of public land. I could see the river glistening in the sun down below and I was starting to feel pretty pumped.
There are two lanes (for lack of a better term) you can choose to get to the water, both left-hand turns. Don’t take the first one; it’s chained up so you’d have to walk and schlep your gear a good hundred yards to the river. Plus, once at the river, there’s no great place to put-in. Take the second left-hand “lane” but know that the path down to the river is rutted out, rock-strewn and totally impassable for low-clearance vehicles (such as mine). If your vehicle can handle the off-road, rollicking nature, then you should put in here. If you can’t get down there, then you should put in at the first “lane” simply because it offers an extension of the pretty environment and adjacent to the highlight of this trip: Waterloo Quartzite Outcrops state natural area. Take all of this with a grain of salt because it’s missing the point – which is that I don’t really recommend this trip in the first place. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The ridge on your right is indeed pretty, as is the quartzite island state natural area on your left. But it’s a little underwhelming, to be honest. To begin with, if you put-in at the first “lane,” half the island is upstream of you. So what? Well, the bridge across the river to the quartzite island is impassably low, screened off and seems almost like some kind of dam. Paddling through it is not even an option but if it were, it would be dangerous. So if you want to see the north-facing tip of the island you’d have to portage around this bridge; not a deal-breaker in its own right but not a fun way to begin a trip either. If you put-in at the second “lane” you’d have both to paddle upstream to get to the island, portage around the bridge, paddle upstream again, turn back around, then portage the bridge a second time. All for something that’s pretty dull in the first place. Why bother?
Yet this island (and it is followed by another less “quartzy” island) is the only compelling reasons to come out here in the first place. In other words, there is no compelling reason to come out here! You can’t really discern or appreciate much of either island from the water but only the first one is accessible by dry land. Sure, there are a handful of quartz outcrops here and there and the island does rise about 40’ from the floodplain to its “summit” but it’s all rather so-so. The only trail is that same developed “lane” and anywhere else on the island requires bush whacking. Once you walk to the other side of the island (a very short walk) you are bombarded with “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Huh? Out here? Seriously? On an unadorned boring island in between two branches of the boring Beaver Dam River? You gotta be kidding me!
Again, why bother?
What we didn’t like:
I hate to blame a whimsical weather issue on a river, since it’s hardly the river’s fault but I’m gonna go with it anyway (and I think you’ll understand why). Wind. It was a hideous 20-mph wind dead against me the whole friggin’ way. Granted, some days are less windy than others but this area is prone to high winds since the land is low and marshy. Most wind is out of the southwest, which alas, is exactly the direction the river heads in this trip. I’ve read about this elsewhere too, so it wasn’t an isolated, random occurrence on the day I was out there.
Next, it’s just dull, unless you like flat marshes. Adding to the platitude is this not insignificant detail: there is nowhere to get out and pee, since there is no dry land on which to stand. I got pitilessly desperate (OK, maybe laughably desperate) and had to improvise a rather pathetic solution wherein I rammed up against the sturdiest clod of cattail-like pond weeds I could find, dug my paddle into the water to act as a crutch, backed out of the cockpit and leaned sideways to heed nature’s call. Not at all pleasant and certainly not preferable. Why not stand up in the boat? For one, it isn’t sturdy and I sure as hell was not about to fall into the water in late October, no matter how blissfully sunny it was. For another, it’s wise to take the age-old advice of never peeing into the wind…
Then, apparently the Beaver Dam River is deep, as there were three motorboats out there – one setting up several dozen muskrat traps. I talked to the dude (totally a nice guy) and was about to inquire what he did with the muskrats he’d catch… until I realized I really didn’t want to know the answer. What was that? Did you just hear banjo music? Let’s see… so far we have a pretty dull landscape, strong winds and now motorboats. Awesome.
Last, if none of this was enough, finding the take-out is a little tricky. For one, you have three options but all are problematic. The easiest one is off a middle-of-nowhere road that doubles as the driving/biking distance for your shuttle, so I ruled that out.
As for your other two you have a dilemma: 1) find a difficult passage into a wide lake to a makeshift take-out on the other side followed by schlepping your boat and gear a good 75 yards up, down and over trees and logs; or 2) find the Crawfish River, turn right and paddle upstream a ¼ mile to a very good take-out on the right before the County Road G bridge (which is what I chose). I liked the adventure idea of sailing across the lake but that required handling to the main road of option 1 which was a killjoy.
But man, if there is one thing I dislike more than paddling against the wind, it’s paddling upstream. Paddling upstream against the wind is just wrong – wrong and merciless. Doing so after a disappointing trip is fun for none but masochists.
If we did this trip again:
Beaver Dam River II: Leipsig to Lowell
Beaver Dam River III: Cotton Mill Park to County Road J
Miles Paddled Video: Cotton Mill Park to County Road J
General: Glacial Heritage Area
Wikipedia: Beaver Dam River