Marshall to Firemen’s Park:
A return trip to mark an anniversary of sorts, this second time around was even prettier and less difficult than the first. Great wildlife, a surprisingly scenic landscape, fantastically fun moving water and a thrilling ride of nonstop rapids for the last two miles – this is the Maunesha from Marshall to Waterloo.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 3, 2016
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I(II)
4′ per mile (except for the last 2 miles, where the river drops 10′ per mile).
If the water is high, we recommend paddling this. So, try catching it after some rain or still early in spring. If you’re nearby, a good visual gauge is any of the bridges in downtown Waterloo where there are rapids. If they’re high enough, everything else will be as well.
Time: Put in at 1:40p. Out at 5:40p.
Total Time: 4h (including 45 minutes of clearing jams + a 30-minute backwaters excursion)
Miles Paddled: 8.25
Alternate Trip Ideas:
Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park (6.75 Miles)
Great blue heron, wood ducks galore, nesting geese, bluejays, kingfisher, sandhill cranes, beaver dams, muskrat, three groundhogs and three deer.
5 miles, easy and direct. Not only is Jefferson County very bicycle-friendly, the world headquarters of Trek is in Waterloo.
A return trip to the river that essentially started me on the whole “who needs guidebooks?” mindset when wondering about where to go paddling each weekend (ironically, this mindset then inspired me to write a guidebook of my own – about places not found in other guidebooks. This should come out in a couple months, about whose publication/release we shall say more when the time comes). So while the manuscript is in the editing phase with the last touches being put on before it goes to the printer, it seemed appropriate to go back to the trip that more or less started things, three years ago, almost to the day.
This time around we started right below the dam in Marshall and added another mile, which was pleasant (though not essential). You’ll have to schlep your gear about 30 yards from the road. There’s an unpaved path that leads to the water but it’s very muddy, ruddy and not approachable unless you have a high-clearance AWD vehicle, and it’s ambiguous whether this is a public right-of-way. The only real advantage to putting-in here is a small rapid about 40’ from the put-in and adding another mile to this otherwise short trip. You’ll see the sights (and in season, hear the sounds) of Little Amerricka to the south as the river meanders underneath Highway 19 twice. Or you can simply skip this and begin the trip at the next two bridges, Koch and Waterloo roads, respectively.
What we liked:
When we first paddled this trip back in April 2013 the river was higher, the current stronger. This time around, the water was lower (but still higher than summer/autumn), the current less pushy. It was a great level, actually, and in retrospect I wish I’d marked a bridge or fixed some kind of visual cue for future reference. Being higher than normal, we could ride/ butt-scoot over a couple down trees that might otherwise pose problems in lower levels. And the rapids towards the end were fantastic!
That said, the 2-3’ drop at the railroad trestle bridge had notably less water flushing through its chute, which made running it a little dodgy. Rather than sliding down diagonally, this was more a boof-esque kerplunk. We both ran it, stayed upright, and then dewatered the boats at the bottom. As we’ve mentioned before, this drop is tricky because there are pylon remnants that you want to avoid but have only very narrow elbowroom to avoid running into. Given the velocity of the current, bumping into one of these can be, um, unpleasant… But it was an adrenaline spike while doing it, and a fist-bumping moment afterwards.
When the river begins to run parallel to Highway 19 you’ll see a large wetlands complex to your right. We first noticed a large beaver dam and then remarked how surprisingly deep the water was upstream of it. To be clear, this is some backwater or feeder stream of the Maunesha, not the river itself. We thought it would be a fun novelty to explore these backwaters. And so we did for about 30 minutes, on water ranging between 1-3’ deep, on a channel only 4-5’ wide, carefully making our way through tree branches like threading a needle. The loop took us to an even bigger beaver dam – right back to the river itself (though one could easily have continued in a different direction to further explore the backwaters). Here as elsewhere we were happily surprised by how pretty the Maunesha is, more so than either of us had remembered from the past. Indeed, there are several small hills (knolls?) reminiscent of Badfish Creek.
Special praise – OK, maybe amazement – must be given to my paddling accomplice, who on this trip who brought with him a battery-operated sawzall to help cut down tree branches and obstructions. A cordless sawzall in a kayak! This has been a daydream of mine for years, never to manifest in real life until now. So much easier than a handsaw. Maunesha, meet the Handyman! Together, we cleared out every clog where otherwise we would have had to portage around, instead paddling through. Alas, these efforts are futile, we know that. When the water lowers, there will be new obstructions exposed. Or the next time the water rises and drags debris down its way, the latter will cluster and create a new obstruction. And so it is, on the river. But still… a sawzall!
What we didn’t like:
There was a lot of litter, especially in the first couple miles. Plastic bottles mainly, your basic tractor tire which probably had rolled down a hill and into the water, plus an old door for good measure. It wasn’t awful but the amount of it was surprising, especially since it’s so early in the year.
If we did this trip again:
Leaving aside my own sentimental reasons for wanting to do this trip again, it really is a fun paddle. The surrounding landscape is quite pretty – more so than I remember it from a few years ago – the current is so much fun, and the wildlife is always diverse. It’s a great length for an afternoon trip, and the shuttle is quick and easy. There will be obstructions here and there but they’re definitely worth putting up with.
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Maunesha River IV: County Road TT to Canal Road
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Wikipedia: Maunesha River
Alternate Trip Report: Shorter Paddle (6.75 Miles)
Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
April 21, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆
One of the best paddling experiences of my life! Old railroad bridges, even older oak trees, forest settings, open marsh, doldrum hillsides, a number of exhilarating ledges and a thrilling coast the final mile in Class I-II standing waves into downtown Waterloo.
Time: Not recorded
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 6.75
A herd of deer, including fawns running like rockets across a marsh that actually leapt across the river, some big fish, a couple different hawks (including one that got mugged and then heckled by a cacophony of crows), some sandhill cranes, geese (including a nest with ginormous eggs) and a turtle.
What we liked:
Where to begin? Within a hundred yards of the put-in we happened upon a beautiful and humongous oak tree probably as old as the state of Wisconsin itself. After that, the river hugs the hillside of a small but handsome drumlin for a while. In fact, steep banks flank most of this segment, some as high as 20-feet running beside the river. Occasionally the landscape opens up to sprawling pastureland, clean and pleasing to the eye. Not until Waterloo will you encounter a house but for one or two next to barns.
There is a small marshy area around the 5-mile mark and there are three ledges that can be run (more on those below). The last mile of the trip (and the only time you will hear cars) is like icing on a cake. The river is swift and riffly the whole way down, with Class I-II rapids in a couple spots (…depending on water volume – the water was still high when we did it – the butt of a repeated bad joke considering that the date of the day before was 4/20) and a short run of fun standing waves in between the two bridges downtown. Speaking of downtown, Waterloo is unexpectedly handsome and offers several very pleasant riverside views of rough-hewn buildings and bridges. We didn’t see an actual boat launch at the take-out but it could have existed under all the high water. Nevertheless, Fireman Park is pretty and a nice place to end a great trip.
As for the drops, the first is river-right through a small clearing in deadfall that otherwise straddles the river. I would like to immodestly dub this drop “Tim’s Trim,” as it is only runnable because I climbed onto the damn logjam, inched out onto a thin limb, (hovering five feet above the drop where the water is running quite fast and frothy) wrapped my legs around whatever branches I could like a possum’s tail and handsawed off the two limbs that stabbed into the river and blocked passage. Of course you don’t have to run this and shouldn’t if you don’t think you’re up for it.
The second drop is definitely the most difficult and potentially dangerous. Underneath a huge old railroad bridge (seriously, the pilings must be about 40-feet high) is a 2-3-foot ledge. Deadfall and logjams block passage through all the pilings but for one narrow slot, roughly 3.5-feet wide toward river-left. What’s a little tricky here is there are some old piling remains just below and just above the water surface, so you must be able to line up perfectly straight and run the drop straight as an arrow. I did it in part because I felt like I had to, for myself, as part of the continual process of coming to terms with whitewater, both its successes and its lessons in failing. I had a spray skirt, the right type of clothing and a crossover kayak. Plus I had a friend there too, incase a mishap occurred. I managed it clean and true and felt like a million bucks after it. But don’t do it unless you are confident and safe.
The third drop is toward the end, where it looks like a bridge (or a dam) had been removed some time ago. The drop is only about a foot high but there are nasty concrete chunks strewn about to keep a wide berth of. I recommend running the slot all the way to river-left as it seemed the most unobstructed route. There is a slot all the way to the right that looked splashier and maybe more challenging for some but it didn’t appeal to me or my friend. Caution is prudent but it’s an easy ledge to run. I highly recommend that you scout this before you even put in at the beginning because it’s a little difficult to get out in this section and even more so to get back into your boat. The current is strong and swift and the banks are high and not easily accessible. It can be safely done (we got out to scout where to run the drop) but we both agreed that we should have first scouted it during the shuttle. It’s very conspicuous, off the main road into town (Highway 19) behind what looks to have once been a former Burger King.
What we didn’t like:
You will need to portage around logjams at least twice and this is not counting the three drops further downstream, which you may want to portage also. There is some deadfall that can be paddled through, under, or over but there are approximately two, a mile downstream of the put-in that were awkward and shaky. They required precise boat control and the ability to a) dodge tree limbs quickly, with a fair amount of flexibility and b) turn your boat on the dime with a power stroke, lest you get pinned or snagged.
So I do not recommend this trip for beginners or kayaks much longer than 11-feet in length. Even though the Maunesha is classified as a river, it behooves a paddler to have an agile creek boat or something akin. As my friend and I delighted in saying several times, (when not remarking about how high the river was) “numerous maneuvers” were required. (I still maintain that Numerous Maneuvers would make a fine name for an acid jazz album.) In lower water some of these spots would probably be easier and less potentially dangerous.
The Maunesha is mostly muddy (there were some exceptions to this, where the water was clear and lined by a sandy bottom and yes, we also said “sandy bottom” a lot). We did spot a couple of clams here and there, all of them meaty and big as a man’s fist. The put-in was fine but by no means great with roadside parking and a mostly mucky access to the water.
If we did this trip again:
I will for sure but I’ll look for a better put-in. Due to the recent flood watches and warnings, the river was very (say it with me) high, so neither below the dam at Marshall nor the next two bridges (one on Highway 19, the other on Koch Road) were terribly feasible options. I look forward to exploring the segment further downstream of Fireman Park to the confluence with the Crawfish River, as a couple miles of it runs through a state wildlife area.