★ ★

Neenah Creek I

County Road EE to Oxford:
This was a personal curiosity that is more quixotic than practical, this upper stretch of Neenah Creek is uniquely beautiful but way too problematic for paddlers.

Neenah Creek

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

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Class I

Gradient:
7′ per mile

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Windsor (Yahara River): ht/ft: 1.5 | cfs: 40
Gauge note: This is a correlative gauge.

Current Levels:
Windsor (Yahara River): ht/ft: 1.04 | cfs: 16.3

Recommended Levels:
After a hard rain (though it’s hard to recommend this trip in the first place).

Put-In:
Trail off County Road EE/Fern Drive, Oxford, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.79142, -89.60988
Take-Out:
Public boat launch, Neenah Lake, Oxford, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.78525, -89.57593

Time: Put in at 9:50a. Out at 12:15p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 3.5

Wildlife:
Trout, wood ducks, mergansers, great blue heron and sandhill cranes.

Shuttle Information:
2.3 miles.


Background:

Neenah Creek is one of the better secrets in south-central Wisconsin, a stream on which I personally have spent much time while writing a guidebook. If you’ve ever taken the interstate up north via Wausau, you’ve crossed over Neenah Creek – there’s even a highway sign denoting it. Ever wonder about it? Well, we have!

Overview:
It begins north of Oxford, Wisconsin, on the Adams-Marquette county line, in a hilly woods setting reminiscent of the Mecan River environs, and eventually feeds the Fox River between Portage and Packwaukee. Theoretically, all of the creek can be paddled but some segments are totally impractical. This trip is one of them, unfortunately. While always narrow and usually shallow until the last 10 miles or so, Neenah Creek here is exceptionally so – too much in fact for paddlers.

Exacerbating those conditions is how many downed trees there are (I stopped counting how many times I had to get out of my boat to portage after ten, even though I did leave the stream more cleaned up and cleared out than when I’d encountered). However, this stretch of Neenah Creek is an outstanding Class I trout stream and should be best left to those casting lines than launching boats.

Before I did paddle it, I knew it would almost certainly be a foolish endeavor. Narrow, shallow streams known for fishing that course through woods do not good paddling prospects make. The likelihood of running into deadfall is just too great. If, via the online satellite map you can’t even see the stream through the trees, you can expect obstructions. But I felt like I could afford to take this kind of calculated risk because I was staying at a friend’s cabin only 5 minutes away from the creek. And at only 3.5 miles, it couldn’t be so terrible (that ended up being true but it was still a long 3.5 miles!)

This wooded section is extremely pretty and has a truly exotic feel to it, despite the occasional cabin. You’ll be surrounded by tall hillsides in a setting that feels a little like a canyon since the creek is so narrow. The water is crystal clear, the bottom a mix of sand and gravel. There are half a dozen little drops and ledges, nothing higher than Class I (unless the creek was high from rain), all a lot of fun.

In the first mile there’s a seemingly random railroad bridge that comes out of nowhere and looks colossal. (Also, it was built in 1910.) This is quickly followed by the only bridge on this blip of a trip. These are the only two landmarks to speak of. Eventually the stream will widen where the effects of the dam impoundment can be felt. There are two take-out options – one on the west bank, where I chose, and another on the other side of the pond, off County Road A.

What we liked:
The environment is stunningly attractive: rugged and wild-feeling, with little to no development; crystal clear water, lots of riffles and little drops, boulders, steep banks of moss and sand, towering pine trees – classic central Wisconsin. I had expected as much from knowing the area. What I hadn’t anticipated were the several rapids, almost all at ledges (some natural, some intentionally designed by places rocks in the water). These added a lot of fun to the trip.

It’s a short trip and most of it distracted/delayed by the many portages but it’s quite beautiful.

What we didn’t like:
To begin with, there’s a bit of a schlep through the woods, under and over trees, and down a steepish hillside to wherever you want to launch off the banks. This wasn’t a big deal in the least but I feel obliged to mention it.

I didn’t like how shallow the creek was or how many sets of down trees there were but I’d anticipated as such. I cleared out a fair amount of obstructions, but not all. And those I did clear have probably been replaced by others. I did this in part because I always feel obliged to, and also since it didn’t seem totally unreasonable that other paddlers would benefit from this. But to make this trip even worth considering, you’d need to catch it right after rain; otherwise, it will be too shallow and cause you to walk your boat as often as paddling it.

The main thing I didn’t like and that I was not expecting, was how absurdly shallow the dam(n) impoundment was – literally a few inches. I took photos to prove it. Eventually it gets deep and dark like you’d expect of a lake, but it took a good hundred yards of slow schlepping through sand and shallow water until the creek/lake was deep enough just to sit in my boat and paddle water. I have grown to loathe these fake lakes and their unnatural masquerades for the sake of “shorefront” property and motor boat leisure, particularly when the dam that causes these perversions serves no purpose beyond what can only be likened to a boob job; they don’t produce hydroelectric energy and they don’t prevent floods. They’re just cosmetic artifices mimicking the real deal. And literally mucking up everything as a result.

If we did this trip again:
Probably not. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for it. If you’re up in the area already, don’t mind a little inconvenience and can catch this after a hard rain, then you might want to give this little lark a try.

Below the dam is where Neenah Creek starts for the sake of paddling, specifically at Chauncey Street (aka County Road I). There are three trips I recommend (all featured in detail in the guidebook):

1. Chauncey Street/County Road I to County Road A
2. County Road P to Muskrat Road/5th Court
3. Muskrat Road/5th Court to County Road CX

There’s little to desire between County Road A and P on account of the torturous meandering. And while there are 4.5 miles from CX to the Fox River, (and who doesn’t like a confluence?) obstructions are numerous, as is development (houses, yards, farms).

***************
Related Information:
Neenah Creek II: Oxford to County Road A
Map: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Photo Gallery:

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