★ ★ ★

Badfish Creek III

Sunrise Road to Old Stone Road:
A short segment upstream of our preferred trip on the Badfish, the creek here is painfully straight and channelized. While it’s certainly not without its charms, (especially the first two miles) ultimately it does not live up to downstream reputation.

Badfish Creek

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: January 19, 2015

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles

Approximately 6.5′ per mile. 10′ per mile between Sunrise Road and Highway 138.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Cooksville: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: n/a – ice

Current Levels:
Cooksville: ht/ft: 5.00 | cfs: 89.7

Recommended Levels:
The official USGS gage is not currently functioning due to icy conditions. I’m not sure why since the Badfish wasn’t frozen over. Nonetheless, there is a visual gage at Sunrise Road right next to the put-in on the upstream side river-left. It read “72.” Seventy-two what I’m not sure – certainly not inches, as that would have meant 6′. The creek was shallow at this level but still runnable.

Sunrise Road, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.9281, -89.32907
Old Stone Road
GPS: 42.88009, -89.2761

Time: Put in at 1:35p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 1h 55m
Miles Paddled: 5.75

Five muskrats, ducks, geese, hawks, cardinals and bluejays.

Shuttle Information:
6.2 miles. Bicycling it is no big deal, though there are a couple hills. However, this is a wholly unjustified violation of golden rule #2: your shuttle mileage should not be longer than the paddling mileage (unless the stream is so wonderfully undeveloped that there is no more direct route). What’s golden rule #1, you’re wondering? The time on the water should at least equal if not be longer than the time it takes to drive there forth and back.

A (personally) unexplored section of our beloved Badfish Creek, curiosity had gotten the better of me and I had to check out the woolly unknowns upstream. I took consultation from pioneer Andy Hoernemann’s “first descent” of the creek. I had no desire to portage around a low-head dam onto snowy banks and try to re-enter in wintertime, so I skipped the Rutland-Dunn Townline Road bridge, starting instead at picturesque Sunrise Road.

Years ago I’d paddled the Old Stone to Old Stage stretch, which in theory would be great since the whole area is a protected wildlife area with easy access and public parking. Trouble is, it’s clogged with deadfall, at least the last time I paddled it. And considering that for years now there’s been a portage-necessary tree in the creek only 25 yards upstream of Old Stage, I can only deduce that this section is still a tangled mess. Thus, it was I elected Sunrise to Old Stone, a short 5.7-mile segment, perfect for a January afternoon.

What we liked:
On the upstream side of the Sunrise Road bridge on river-left, rocks have been strategically placed to help safely enter a boat (clearly, others do this section, too). The setting here is intimate and pretty: woodsy with a couple gentle hills. In fact, it called to mind the better stretches of the creek downstream by Highway 58 in Cooksville. The water is clear, the current excellent. Indeed, the gradient of the creek between Sunrise Road and Highway 138 is a considerable 10 feet per mile. As such, this entire section is riffly and quite fun (at higher levels these riffles seem to wash out). Even though the creek is channelized (and until Old Stage Road), the swift current and pretty banks make this section quite enjoyable. There are downed trees to dodge and duck under but in a kayak you should have no difficulty. It’ll be trickier in a canoe.

Approaching the Highway 138 bridge, I saw a yellow canoe lodged on the bank. This first section is only 1.4 miles but it’s fast and fun. Unfortunately, things slow down and begin getting dull and redundant after Highway 138. There are moments where your attention is gladly caught on something interesting, be it a random row of pine trees or an old retaining wall built way back when.

What we didn’t like:
Below Highway 138 the riffles peter out. The creek is still straight and thus inspires no curiosity about what’s ahead. What’s ahead? You’re looking at it – that’s what’s ahead. And that’s why channelized streams do not paddling streams make.

The number of farm bridges is and is not shocking. The creek here wouldn’t be channelized in the first place were it not for the sake of agriculture (and in this case the Madison Metropolitan Sewer District) but there are at least a dozen of these bridges in this 5.7-mile trip! I don’t think the Kickapoo even has that many per capita. As Andy had noted, many of these bridges are newer. Lord knows I myself don’t know a thing about bridge construction but I was quite surprised by how much these newer bridges resembled actual road bridges. True, some are wooden but many (I think most, actually) are concrete. Isn’t that rather expensive? I mean, even if you have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and your brother owns a concrete factory, it stills costs a lot of money and time to construct a modern bridge.

Whatever, I digress. The point is, the amount of farm bridges that look like road bridges is disorienting because after a while, you start seeing each one as the possible take-out bridge (which itself is nondescript and hardly distinguishable from any of the farm bridges). Needless to say, you do not want to miss your take-out bridge. (Been there, done that – twice – it sucks!)

You could/should mark the take-out bridge with a string or surveyor’s tape or whatever and just settle the matter that way. Or you can differentiate the farm bridges from the road bridges this way: only the road bridges have that telltale sign saying “Badfish Creek.” On this trip there are only three road bridges between put-in and take-out – Highway 138, County Road A and Lake Kegonsa Road – all of which have their own “Badfish Creek” signs, not to mention cars and trucks driving on them. The traffic’s pretty light out there in the tobacco fields.

In between Highway 138 and Lake Kegonsa Road are two non-negotiable obstructions, one a fugly logjam, the other, a more recent fallen tree. The first has been there for a while it seems, based on the worn footpath where paddlers have portaged. The other is trickier and required climbing onto the tree and pulling my boat over it – not at all fun in winter.

Also, in between County Road A and Lake Kegonsa Road the water was extremely shallow, anxiously close to not being able even to butt-scoot. Another thing not fun in winter: walking your boat through shallows!

Oh yeah and the “chemical aroma” of the creek is pretty pungent in these parts. You get used to after a 10 minutes or so but it is on the strong side.

Notable mention… Did you know that Madison has a racetrack for cars? Well, it doesn’t. But Oregon does and calls it the “Madison International Speedway.” I don’t know about the “international” part but it does bill itself as “Wisconsin’s fastest ½ mile.” Which of course begs asking, “Where’s Wisconsin’s fastest full mile” and/or “Why build only a half-mile track?” Or do I have that all wrong and the conventional course is a quarter-mile, so that a half-mile is something to be reckoned with?

I passed the speedway during my bike shuttle and while I couldn’t see the actual track from the road I had to reason that a half-mile track must be twice the size of a track and field track since it takes 4 laps around one of those to make a mile. So I looked it up. Apparently, all but one of Wisconsin’s courses are less than a mile, and most under half a mile. It’s called “short track racing,” which is where stockcar racing got rolling in the first place. The only mile-long course (since you’re dying to know) is at the state fairgrounds in West Allis. Short track stockcars does sound pretty cool, but it makes me think of pancakes. Anyway, it’s a weird juxtaposition of speed lust and contest(osterone) next to the silent sport of paddling flatwater.

If we did this trip again:
It’s unlikely. I’d do the Sunrise Road to Highway 138 segment anytime but I’m not going to drive 30 minutes to paddle 1.4 miles. Besides, taking out at Highway 138 poses a serious problem: parking a vehicle. I don’t know how wise it would be to leave a car at the bridge, since Highway 138 has a lot of traffic. Furthermore, lashing on or taking off a boat would be rather impractical or just unsafe. You could, I suppose, park your car at Flint Road and then walk along the highway with your boat but it’s nearly a half-mile schlep with semis whirring past you at 60mph. It’s a pity, too, because going all the way down to County Road A is nearly 3 miles of platitudinous paddling.

Let us restate emphatically that if you want to paddle Badfish Creek (and why wouldn’t you?), just do the Old Stage Road to Casey Road segment; it’s simply the very best of the Badfish.

Related Information:
Badfish Creek Overview: Badfish Creek Paddle Guide
Badfish Creek I: Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek II: Old Stone Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek IV: County Road B to Sunrise Road
Good People: Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed

Photo Gallery:

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