★ ★

Maunesha River IV

County Road TT to Canal Road:
A sluggish trip upstream and down to the interior of the Deansville Marsh and subsequent mile of the Maunesha River before the lake impoundment caused by the dam in Marshall. This trip is only for rugged enthusiasts who don’t mind portaging and dodging deadfall in near-stagnant water.

Maunesha River

Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 5, 2015

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable for this trip.

County Road TT, Deansville, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.19004, -89.08803
Canal Road, Marshall, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.1817, -89.07767

Time: Put in at 2:40p. Out at 4:40p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 5.25

Sandhill cranes, great blue herons, a bald eagle, tons of turtles, lots of wood ducks, scores of songbirds and two elusive hooded mergansers.

Shuttle Information:
1.3 miles.


This was one of those days were just about nothing goes your way. Originally my plan was to start at Twin Lane Road and paddle one-way to Canal Road, a modest jaunt of 7 miles. I had used Twin Lane Road as the take-out for upstream trips of the Maunesha River before, so I knew it would be shallow and prone to obstructions. I just didn’t know how shallow or clogged it would be. After bottoming out ten feet from putting-in and portaging less than 100 yards from my car, (with nothing in sight ahead but more ugly downed trees and shallow water) I decided to bail, a first for me.

OK, I reasoned, I’ll just regroup and put in at the next bridge downstream, only 1.3 river miles away. Heck, this might even save me time (at least a lot of energy) and I wouldn’t end up looking like Pig-Pen from Peanuts after lots of portaging and sawing off tree limbs. Great idea in theory but each side of the bridge at Greenway Road is marked with “No Trespassing” signs and the presumed associated property owners’ houses are all right there. So that bridge is a non-option.

Not one to be easily stymied, I then drove up the road to the nearest public parking area into the Deansville State Wildlife Area in hopes that I could hike in to the river itself and commando launch. Not so much. After 10 minutes of stomping across a wasteland of down trees, brambles, rocks and thistles only to find a drainage ditch, I gave up trying to find passage to the Maunesha (in retrospect, I now know it’s a 0.4-mile walk to the river from the parking area, still a long schlep to paddle a shallow marsh). I wasn’t about to delve even deeper into a pathless woods with a 50-pound kayak on my shoulder, thank you very much.

So in the end, running out of options, I decided to put in at County Rd TT and paddle upstream (something I am loathe to do) as far into the marsh as I could, or would want to, turn around, paddle down the same way I came, past the put-in and down to the takeout a mile or so later.

What we liked:
At the put-in there is a pleasant woodsy backdrop with a couple rugged cabins on both banks (one a quaint hermitage narrower than the length of the canoe just outside of it). As much as I dislike paddling upstream, the current is so slack it’s none too strenuous – it just feels wrong. Some paddlers probably have no problem about this and don’t think twice about paddling upstream. Call me pampered, but I just find paddling upstream a perversion of the natural order. Who wants to go deliberately against the flow? The flow! It’s like intentionally violating the force in Star Wars. It’s like purposefully undermining the Tao. It’s like running backwards up a hill. It’s like playing catch with your feet. It just ain’t right.

Anyway, the marsh is indeed lovely. It’s nowhere as large or surpassing as Horicon, Necedah, or even Grand Marshes but it’s quite pretty nonetheless and generally undeveloped (you’ll pass a dozen or so drainage ditches gouged into the banks, not to mention the occasional deer stand, but being so close to Madison, it feels like a PG-13 wilderness). The wildlife was quite pleasant here – nothing I haven’t seen before or elsewhere but still much appreciated. There were cranes, great blue herons, a bald eagle, tons of turtles and lots of wood ducks. The choragic chirping of songbirds in surround sound was an especially welcome harbinger of spring!

And this has nothing to do with the river itself but there’s a nearby road called Berlin Road where a section of it courses the perimeter of the wildlife area that is so cool in that rustic, countrified way. It’s unpaved, first of all, and an isthmus-like strip of it is flanked on both sides by water (canals, drainage ditches?). It has the look and feel of somewhere exotic. That such a back-in-time stretch lies still within Dane County, 10 miles away from the Red Lobster and Applebee’s at East Towne Mall is downright charming.

What we didn’t like:
To begin with, the accesses… or lack thereof. What’s the deal with the landowners of Greenway Road? It’s the Maunesha River surrounded by cow country… how many people are really storming the bridge here? It’s so shallow and obstructed, I can’t imagine paddlers or anglers come here often, if ever. It’s not a swimming hole. I don’t get what the hostility is about.

Then there’s the obstructions, oh the obstructions. We at Miles Paddled haven’t worked out an exact ratio of obstructions/portages worth putting up with per trip divided by perks like scenic beauty, cool rock formations, rapids, etc, but I think a modest corollary would be like 2:1. If there’s something truly good, I’d be willing to endure two inconveniences for each individual charm but the trouble one often runs into is when the inconveniences greatly outweigh the good, or worse – when there’s hardly any good because all one can see are the detriments.

For me, this trip had more bad than good. None of it was awful by any stretch. But the payoff was wanting. I paddled 1/3 of the way upstream into the marsh before deciding that I’d had enough. It got to a point where fallen trees were as far the eye could see and since I would be going back down the same way I came up, every portage was double. After four I’d had my fill. Besides, I didn’t know what to expect once I paddled back downstream and past the put-in. For all I knew, there could be more crap to contend with beyond the marsh. Turns out there is, but it was all negotiable – in a kayak at least (earlier in the day I talked to a guy who’d tried canoeing from the takeout upstream the river but could not get through the railroad trestles (there are two), where there’s a bunch of gunky junk – a loose debris of logs and lumber, pond scum, duck weed, no current, etc.) Houses are more prominent below the put-in too. In fact, except for a brief but attractive hill you pass, there’s very little one would describe as attractive in between County Road TT and Canal Road.

If we did this trip again:
If the marsh were more accessible and clear, I’d paddle up and back down it, putting in and taking out at County Road TT, without going downstream to Canal Road. There is a genuine serenity to the marsh landscape and its abandons that invite the admiring paddler, but the cluttered obstructions together with the poor accesses make this more work than it’s worth. For me at least. I’m not at all discouraging folks from checking this out. Just know what to expect beforehand.

Upon reflection, there’s a saying that to a hammer all the world’s a nail, meaning that a hammer really has only one purpose – to strike nails (oh I know that handyman and -woman enthusiasts will protest that a hammer can be used for dozens of purposes but I didn’t invent this expression, so let’s not argue about it). The same can be said about paddlers, right? To a kayaker and canoeist, every stream looks like a potential trip. No matter how daunting, dangerous, or dumb. We can’t help it, it’s how we’re oriented. You cross a bridge and you look out the side to see what the body of water looks like and whether it can be paddled. But not everything should be paddled, even if it can be.

At the risk of offering some varnished rationalization of a trip gone awry, I find it comforting that there remain huge tracts of land and water left to the domain of wings, rodents and mammals, without paddlers, bird-watcher’s with binocs, fishermen with flies or bait and hunters with their rifles. We’re not lacking in navigable public streams and lakes here in Wisconsin. This trip is for the birds, as it should be.

Related Information:
Maunesha River I: Marshall to Firemen’s Park
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Wikipedia: Maunesha River

Photo Gallery:

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