★ ★ ★

Mecan River IV

Dover Avenue to Germania:
Quite possibly the single most boring stretch of the otherwise lively and lovely Mecan River, the only honorary aspects to this trip are the novelty of paddling the Germania Marsh (if you’re into that) and a fun Class I-II rapid at the takeout.

Mecan River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 10, 2016

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater (Quietwater, flatwater, and one Class I-II rapid at the takeout).

Gradient:
2-3′ per mile

Gauge:
n/a

Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable. It’s best not to do this after a hard rain, as the water will lose its clarity.

Put-In:
Dover Avenue, north of Budsin, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
County Road N/Eagle Road, Germania, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:50p.
Total Time: 2h 50m
Miles Paddled: 8.75

Wildlife:
Songbirds, turtles, sandhill cranes, deer, osprey and tundra swans.

Shuttle Information:
6.2 miles. Very easy on a bicycle.


Background:

As part of our ongoing project to complete rivers, this segment of the Mecan was the last to do before we could say that we’d truly paddled the entire river from its source at the Springs to its mouth at the Fox River. This was delayed because, well, it was the least desirable, frankly, having mostly to do with not wanting to do the Germania Marsh. To be sure, there is a time and place to paddle a flatwater marsh, but A) it’s probably our least favorite environment and B) against the wind in summertime is not it.

Not coincidentally, the landscape pretty much flattens out by the township of Budsin (south of Dakota) and will remain that way down to the Fox River. Gone are the lovely glacial hills and steep banks of the upstream sections. Gone too are the riffles and the woodsy corridors, the shaded areas with peat bogs, fens, ferns, natural springs and babbling brooks. You know, all the good stuff. So that’s why we held off doing this trip. But it had to be done, dang bust it. And now we’re glad it no longer ever has to be done again.

Most road bridges spanning the Mecan provide convenient access to the river for paddlers and Dover Avenue is no exception (although there is no designated parking area; just along the road). It may be a stretch to regard this trip as “residential,” as that term hardly applies for the countryside of Marquette County. But there are houses – and not the quaint family cabin tucked in a woodsy nook type one sees upstream, but rather the same humdrum houses one sees on many southern Wisconsin rivers. This is not a big deal, but it’s not what one expects on the otherwise vaunted Mecan River.

For the first three miles the river runs just west of Highway 22 before passing under it as it swings east. You’ll go under three farm bridges, plus County Road E and another at 15th Road. As noted, the landscape is pretty flat here. And atypically open. One of the Mecan River’s charms is its enclosed intimacy, whether in the woods or in a soggy bog. To be fair, there are moments where everything clicks and it’s all truly pretty, but A) those moments are few and far between and B) such as they are, they pale in comparison to the upstream sections of the river. Highway 22 provides a good access point – it’s where our very first trip on the Mecan ended, three years ago – and could justifiably shorten this trip, if one put-in there.

The next four miles are more redeeming, as there’s hardly any development in any direction. Here, it feels like you’re back in Mecan country. The river meanders true to its nature, and there’s a pleasant mix of conifers and deciduous trees. Several islands too will spice things up, offering side channels to take a chance on. There is one low-clearance farm bridge, an attractive truss style in the color of rust. Even in high water, when I paddled this trip, there was plenty of passage without having to portage.

Eventually you’ll come upon the electric fence fish barrier, requiring a portage on river-right. It’s clearly marked, even if the access points for exiting and reentering the river are makeshift. That aspect was a little surprising, since you must portage around the fence. I’d have thought that there’d be a more official or at least more developed area than a weedy, mucky ditch. Alas. One could call it a day here, without the hassle of slogging through the marsh. There’s a dirt road from the north, off Duck Creek Road (not to be confused with Duck Creek Avenue, which is one road north of Duck Creek Road… yeah, ‘cause that’s not confusing). Rumor has it that this dirt road is open only from May 1 to September 30. We don’t know if that’s still the case, since the shuttle was from the south.

After pulling over to the other side and reentering, the river will sprawl into the marsh half a mile downstream. The panoramic is just about 180 degrees. I don’t mean to be so harsh on the marsh, even if it’s just a fake lake (rhymes unintentional). It’s only a mile of paddling anyway… It’s just that it’s so shallow that it’s practically unpaddleable. And if you’re going against the wind, on top of that, well, good luck. And it’s not the kind of shallow where you can just get out and walk your boat. Here, it’s all mucky silt; walking through this would be an exercise (literally) in utter misery.

I have no idea what the level is kept at, but I did this in early June after a solid dose of rain, not during the thirsty drought of August, and still the water was four inches deep at best. Heartbreaking. This was my first time on the marsh, and it’s exceedingly unlikely I’d do it again, so we have no other frame of reference with which to compare our experience. In theory, you could explore the marsh – it’s not that large; you won’t get lost – but this simply was not a possibility in our case.

In the southeastern corner of the marsh lies the dam. It’s inconspicuous due to the tallgrass and cattails, but it’s well marked (and you should just know it’s there anyway). The portage trail is on the left, a gravel path that’s easy to see and access. It’s a short schlep to re-launching below the dam, again following a gravel path (one of the most appreciated signs I’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR, is along the path, stating “Access Restricted to Foot Travel Only.” Leave your hovercraft at home…)

From the dam to the takeout at County Road N (alias, Eagle Road) is less than half a mile, all of it nondescript until the bridge. Under the bridge lies a flue-shaped funnel of Class I-II rapids, certainly the funnest such drop on the Mecan River. It’s not technically demanding – just follow the “^” – but you should expect to get wet, as the waves are surprisingly “lappy.” (OK, that may not be a real word – but don’t you think it should be? If “bony” describes whitewater conditions that are too shallow and rocky to run, then why not coin “lappy” to denote waves that lap your boat – not to mention getting onto your lap? So, there. Lappy. Let it be.)

Anyway, if you don’t want to run the drop, you could take out on the right, above the bridge, although there’s no real path or access there. On the downstream side, also on the right, are rocks that provide a rugged but otherwise doable access to take-out at. Furthermore, one could rerun the drop by tromping through some brush and rocks on the other side of the bridge, river-right.)

What we liked:
It felt good finally to complete this missing link of the Mecan River, although in some ways it felt like a waste of a beautiful day and a day off. For the drive from Madison, it wasn’t worth it. But I did appreciate the four-mile section from Highway 22 to the electric fence fish barrier. It’s pretty there and almost entirely undeveloped. I’m glad to have done the Germania Marsh, since it’s a seminal feature along the Mecan corridor, and it too had its moments – including a large flock of sandhill cranes, not to mention two tundra swans. I loved the rapids at Country Road N/ Eagle Road; it’s such a fun drop to run, plus it’s a good place to surf in as well.

What we didn’t like:
Like most artificial marshes that are nothing more than flooded impoundments of silty backwater created by a dam, the lake effect here is extremely shallow, practically to the point of being unpaddleable. Exacerbating that was trying to scoot my way across this big old mud puddle dead against a 15-mph wind. It sucked. All I could do to amuse myself – which lasted maybe 60 seconds – was to channel the Little Engine That Could within and sing “I think Mecan, I think Mecan…”

Also, it’s worth noting that I did this just after a heavy rain, which totally compromised the water quality, turning an otherwise crystal clear stream with sparkling gravel and luscious arcs of smooth sand into a murky, muddled brown (and yet that spike of high water still did nothing to augment the shallowness of the marsh itself).

If we did this trip again:
No thanks. For the drive and for the far better alternatives even downstream, but definitely upstream, there’s really no compelling rationale to do this trip again. But if others are curious, then I recommend putting in at Highway 22 and skipping the pointless segment from Dover Road. From Highway 22, you could take-out either at the electric fence (to avoid the marsh) or at the dam (to avoid the rapids at County Road N), as long as the roads are open (May 1 to Sept 30). Or you could continue past N to the next bridge, three miles downstream, at County Road J, for a 9-mile trip.

***************
Related Information:
Mecan River Overview: 
Mecan River Paddle Guide
Mecan River I: Dakota to Highway 22
Mecan River II: Germania to Lock Road
Mecan River III: Mecan River Springs to 11th Road
Article: The Mecan River Offers an Appealing Paddling Daytrip
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Mecan River Outfitters

Photo Gallery:

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