Onion River II
County Road A to County Road V
☆ ☆ ☆
A paddling reconnaissance to determine if the “official” Onion River trip (from County Road V to Rochester Park at the Sheboygan River confluence) could/should be extended by putting in further upstream. This short segment has a couple favorable novelties, but none so compelling as to argue in favor of doing so unless one simply is curious or wants to be on the water for a longer outing.
October 11, 2016
3′ per mile
This is the lowest recommended level. Doable, but barely. Consult the visual gauge on the downstream side of the Ourtown Road bridge. If the boulder on the right looks like this or you don’t see it at all – the Onion is runnable. If the water is notably lower, don’t bother.
County Road A, west of Oostburg, Wisconsin
County Road V, south of Ourtown and Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 10:40a. Out at 12:00p.
Total Time: 1h 20m
Miles Paddled: 5.25
Wood ducks, several deer (including two sleeping right along the banks), turkey and great blue herons galore.
4.2 miles. Perfectly bicycle-adequate, mostly along Highway 32.
About a week or so prior to this trip, I paddled the Onion River from County Road V to Rochester Park at the Sheboygan River confluence with my pal the Kayak Guru, since we both were up in the area for the first weekend in October. By a total and totally improbable coincidence, Barry also had paddled the County Road V to Rochester Park section only a few days before we did – neither one of us having any clue whatsoever that we were doing or had done so, which, forgive me for putting too fine a point on this, but is rather remarkable since A) we had never talked about the Onion River before and B) live nowhere near this otherwise obscure stream. Anyway, with our initial curiosity about the Onion whetted by having begun at County Road V, it’s only natural to wonder about the many, many miles of river upstream from there, especially since it’s a relatively short trip from County Road V to the Sheboygan River.
Far be it for me to mince words, but there are more layers of the Onion to caramelize. Paddlers who are concerned about the rapscallion put-in at County Road V (whether it’s considered trespassing or not) can spring on over to the next bridge upstream, which is County Road OO. First off, the bridge itself is very appealing, with tapered concrete columns in a way that transportation departments no longer bother with (as though safety and aesthetics were somehow mutually exclusive). On the upstream side of the bridge river-left is a short, very accessible path — practically a ramp, you might say – right to the water that is totally public. It’s good for what vidalias!
As for other put-in/take-out spots, allow me to leek another secret: there is no access at the next bridge upstream, which is Highway 32. Instead, you’d have to put in at County Road A, which is more raw than sweet, kind of stinky and a bit rotted, but doable, from the downstream side of the bridge on river-left or river-right. From County Road A to County Road V are 5.4 miles. Shallot go on?
County Road A to Highway 32: 1.2 miles, very pastoral but uniquely pretty.
Highway 32 to County Road OO: 2 miles, comparable to County Road V to Ourtown Road in that there are intermittent riffles, some small boulders here and there, light development and a couple steep banks with eroded sand/clay.
County Road OO to County Road V: 2.2 miles, the most residential section and essentially flat, none too engaging (but it does have a good put-in spot).
For point of reference, the Onion begins between the towns of Plymouth and (where’s?) Waldo in western Sheboygan County. From there it courses southeast towards Cedar Grove (just east of Random Lake) only then to head in the exact opposite direction, now northeast towards Sheboygan Falls. To be sure, rivers flow in all sorts of uncanny directions, their boundaries sometimes fractal-like in their contours, seemingly unable to make up their minds. But for a river to basically look like a gigantic letter V, that’s very unusual. But that’s what the Onion River does. Indeed, towards that bottom part of the ‘V,’ it flows beneath County Road A twice: south under the western-most bridge and then north under the eastern-most bridge. This mini-trip begins at the latter bridge.
What we liked:
For an absolutely obscure section of an essentially obscure river to have no portages is simply shocking. As Barry soundly mentioned in his trip report, there are no obstructions from County Road V down to the Sheboygan River. Clearly, someone’s taking care of the river here. But for there to be no serious obstructions either upstream was far beyond my wildest expectations. I personally cleaned up a couple scrappy spots here and there for good measure, or karma, but none was terribly formidable.
The short segment from County Road A to Highway 32 is entirely pastoral and initially I was concerned about cattle and fences or wire across the river. There were cattle, you bet, but no fences or wires. Moreover, a few raised banks enhanced what might otherwise have seemed developed and dull. It had a kind of steppes feel to it, somewhat unadorned and deserted but in a highlands way. I found it surprisingly charming.
From Highway 32 to County Road OO the river passes through the prettiest corridor on this trip – one that is entirely comparable to the County Road V to Ourtown Road segment further downstream. Here, you’ll pass through thick, lush woods, a couple tall sandy banks and innumerable riffles. The river was notably lower while on this trip than it was a week or so earlier, as evidenced by much scraping and bumping, even though the gradient here is not as steep as it is downstream.
The bridge at County Road OO is interesting. Hardly historic or even architecturally remarkable, nonetheless it’s stately in a modest way, its uppermost portion featuring an extended row of tapered columns kind of like concrete bobbins. It’s something you hardly ever see anymore, a design no longer replicated in modern standards.
Also of note, there’s good access to the water here on the upstream side of the bridge, river-left. Not only is it a direct, short path from the road (about 10-15’ at best), there’s no ambiguity here about trespassing. Compared to either County Road V or Ourtown Road, where the paths from the road to the river are long and brushy, and the likelihood of being on private property is strong, County Road OO is quite auspicious (the only downside to this is that the short segment from OO to V – 2.2 miles – is entirely developed with houses along the banks and no real riffles to speak of).
What we didn’t like:
Unsurprisingly for an obscure section of an obscure river, access at both the put-in and take-out are spotty at best. The make-do put-in at County Road A especially, while totally doable, is still a bit dodgy. Basically you just have to schlep your boat and gear through tall grass, brush and weeds about 20 yards to wherever is flattest and least muddy. Doing so puts you precariously along the property line and in view of the nearby house/farm, but nobody gave me guff about this, even though I was passed (and waved) by a tractor.
As stated above, the best access to the river is at County Road OO, where alas, the dullest and most developed segment follows. I’d argue that it’s worth the price of admission – or at least the comfort that you’ll not be hassled by harried property owners – but that’s up to you, dear paddler.
Also, compared to the wilder sections of the river from County Road V and especially Ourtown Road, this mini-trip is rather tame. That’s not necessarily something I disliked; but it bears mentioning.
If we did this trip again:
Frankly, this sojourn was a pure exploration and recon mission, less so a trip in its own right. I was curious and had a couple hours at my disposal to scratch that itch. Having done so, there’s simply no reason to do so again. But the next time we paddle the Onion – and it’s definitely a river we’ll revisit in future – we’ll likely begin at County Road OO just because it’s so convenient, even if its beginning is a bit lackluster. From there to Rochester Park makes for a trip just shy of 10 miles, which is just about perfect for most paddlers.