Oxford to County Road A:
With steady, reliable flows, water that’s cold and clear as gin on the rocks, a sinewy stretch through a marshy area, some tight turns and occasional obstacles of the wooden variety to keep you awake, this section on Neenah Creek makes for a challenging (although some might say rewarding) but appealing flatwater paddling option located in central Wisconsin.
By Denny Caneff
A Miles Paddled contributor
(And fellow guerilla paddler whose nom-de-bateau is Marie Francoise)
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: July 9, 2021
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
7.5′ per mile
There’s no reliable proxy gauge on a nearby stream. This being a groundwater-fed stream, levels should be reliably good outside of severe drought conditions.
Time: Put in at 11:45a. Out at 3:00p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 6
Typical for northern Wisconsin: ducks, mergansers, kingfishers, great blue herons, muskrats and the ubiquitous whitetail deer.
Very doable with bicycles. On a test paddle in November 2020, I walked the shuttle. From the takeout, go west on County A, then north on 2nd Avenue, to County I east (which is Chauncy Street).
In my mind, there had to be another attractive central Wisconsin stream other than the well-traveled Mecan River and the Tomorrow/Waupaca River. Could this section of Neenah Creek join those esteemed ranks?
I’d crossed Neenah Creek a million times on I-39 and had no idea it existed until I didn’t take the interstate one day on one of my frequent runs between Coloma (my girlfriend’s lake cottage location) and Madison, using instead the county roads that parallel the interstate.
I determined it looked navigable and appealing starting at the village of Oxford and I was right – it met both of those critical criteria. I was accompanied this day by long-time cold-water resource afficionado Stu Grimstad and my usual boat mate, whose “nom du bateau” is Marie Francoise.
The thing that struck me immediately as I contemplated Neenah Creek from the bridge at Chauncey Street is how beautifully clear the water is. Cold, too, even in the heat of summer.
The put-in is sub-optimal. You’ll see what appears to be a lumpy asphalt stairway to the creek. It’s actually a spillway designed to slow down runoff flowing from the road into the creek. Don’t use that. There’s a steep and potentially muddy path leading straight down to the creek. Luckily there’s an array of stones at the bank that facilitate entry into your boat.
Tight turns and a fairly swift (but not crazily swift) current greet you at the outset. Get ready for regular encounters with downed trees and debris. It’s clear that local river angels are keeping things open below Fox Road, but the piece upstream of that road crossing may be more than they want to manage.
Our group of three was not daunted by these obstacles, abetted to some extent by the lead paddler (me) wielding my handsaw on occasion. There are a few spots you need to hand-over-hand yourself through the debris, but those didn’t require (at least for us) leaving our boats.
There’s a narrow culvert to deal with, and below that, a nasty cluster of four or five big basswood trees blocking the creek. Here you’ll have to portage on the left bank – and it’s rather unpleasant. We encountered nettles and tall reed-canary grass. Be advised to avoid a small slough that looks like water but is actually knee-deep mud. Stay tight to the bank until you get to the stream again.
After that jam, you’ll encounter two or three more climb-overs, but that’s it. Soon you’ll hear the unmistakable rush of water: it’s a small rock weir placed just on the downstream side of the bridge at Fox Road. Don’t worry – its bark is way worse than its non-bite and provides a fun little boost.
You now enter the marshy segment of Neenah Creek: the meanders stretch out, the trees are supplanted by high marsh grasses, and the only thing on the horizon are the occasional janky looking deer stands. There are a few false turns in this segment; don’t be fooled, just follow the current. What’s lovely about this stretch is that you feel really “out there” as there are few signs or sounds of civilization.
The reemergence of trees signal that you’re approaching the takeout. Nothing will block your way and you’ll welcome the modest navigational moves required to pass through here, after that run through the marsh.
The takeout, like the put-in, leaves much to be desired. The only option is downstream of the bridge on river-left. The water is 3-4′ deep here, leaving little to stand on. Cooperation and solidarity with your fellow paddlers will pay off here. (If you’re alone, you’ll still be fine.)
What we liked:
The absolutely pristine water, the puzzles to solve in getting through the deadfalls in the upper reach. (We acknowledge that people may not put those encounters into the “liked” category.) It’s a sweet stream that’s accessible, easy to knock out in a day (coming from Madison) and challenging enough to keep you on your toes.
What we didn’t like:
I’m not a huge fan of paddling through marshes and this segment delivers about an hours worth of grassy marsh. Both the put-in and the takeout are not ideal but they don’t discount the possibility of a nice paddle.
If we did this trip again:
YES, we would do it again but maybe with a cordless Sawzall which would come in handy. If taking on deadfall is not your idea of an enjoyable paddle, I have paddled the segment from County Road P to Grouse Drive. There’s lots of marsh, which I’m not fond of, but there’s definitely not Sawzall-work or portages required.
Neenah Creek I: County Road EE to Oxford