Pine River (Waushara County)
28th Court to Poy Sippi
☆ ☆ ☆
An appetite for trying as many Pine Rivers in Wisconsin as I can, and a mild late fall day, led me to this rarely explored river segment. Though offering few standout memories, it has many qualities that typify central Wisconsin streams – cool, clear water, a sandy bottom and a meandering course to keep you alert.
By Denny Caneff
A Miles Paddled contributor
(And fellow guerilla paddler whose nom-de-bateau is Marie Francoise)
November 9, 2020
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
This segment of the Pine is bookended by dams, meaning flows will be fairly steady. It will be navigable under normal precipitation conditions, possibly dicey in a prolonged dry spell.
28th Court, just off Waushara County Highway H, Pine River, Wisconsin
Poy Sippi Community Park, Poy Sippi, Wisconsin
Total Time: ≈2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 4.5
Eagles, deer and muskrats. (It was late fall, so not many birds around.)
Two good options for a non-motorized shuttle: return to the put-in entirely on County Road H, or cross the river over the dam at Poy Sippi and walk or bike back to the put-in via Liberty Street, Beech Nut Road, 30th Avenue and Badger Road.
This Pine River has all the hallmarks of a central Wisconsin groundwater-fed stream: the water is clear and cold, the bottom mostly sandy. It is a sinewy river, winding in tight curves back and forth.
It’s hard to say where the Pine’s headwaters are. There are a number of small tributaries adding their flows to it between Wild Rose and Saxeville. Parts of those tributaries fall within the Wisconsin DNR’s Pine River Fishery Area. That these are high-quality trout fisheries tells you something about the water quality of the Pine itself.
Records of previous paddling excursions of the Pine of Waushara County are scant. In his self-published “Small River Canoe Adventures of Wisconsin” (long out of print, written in the late 1990s), Frank Piraino found his way down the Pine from Apache Road to Waushara County Road A, noting a few footbridges and deadfalls in this stretch. He did not recommend paddling from Saxeville to Pine River, but did recommend going from Poy Sippi to Lake Poygan. This would be a combination of winding river and broad, slow marsh, topped off with a trip over the open water of Lake Poygan to the takeout on its west shore, about two miles north of where the Pine enters the lake. If you do this piece, hope for a southerly wind!
The segment I’m about to describe was done in 1989 by Rick Kark, he of 309 Wisconsin rivers fame. What I have learned from Frank’s and Rick’s writings of these obscure Wisconsin streams applies to this segment of this Pine River: things are generally better on our rivers – water quality is better, obstacles are fewer, fences are going away, cows are almost totally gone – than when these two intrepid souls navigated them 20 and 30 years ago.
This river is very reminiscent of another central Wisconsin stream, the Montello River, featured elsewhere on this site.
I put in on tiny 28th Court, just off County Highway H, east of the settlement of Pine River. Don’t try putting in below the dam at the settlement. I saw no way to easily launch there – no good access, too little water.
This put-in is acceptable, if not great. The grass has been trampled not by other paddlers but by anglers working the riverbank. You are confronted almost immediately by a serious logjam that I was able to cut myself through with a handsaw and some finagling.
That isn’t the last deadfall that you’ll encounter on this segment of the Pine, but it is by far the worst. There are plenty of downed trees and debris, but there always seems to be a passage. A river angel has done some pruning, likely for themselves and other river property owners; there’s plenty of evidence that denizens of the Pine use the river for canoeing, fishing, tubing and stick-chasing for their dogs.
Characteristic of this river are the many dwellings, mostly humble seasonal cabins. Their owners seem like the kind of folks who wouldn’t want to live on a lake and appreciate the riverine environs. The buildings are more exposed (as is the traffic noise from County H) in the fall than they would be in summer.
One owner clearly doesn’t understand the rules of navigable waters in Wisconsin – that you can’t prevent navigation, or if you do, you must provide a means to get around the blockage you created. There’s a footbridge that you can’t get under, but can easily get around. If they protest you are trespassing, remind them that their bridge is illegal. There are at least three other footbridges in this segment – all passable.
The river twists and turns but its current is gentle; you’ll never feel harried in your navigation. It eventually begins to widen and enter a large marshy area. Navigating this marsh could be tricky, especially if there’s been a long dry spell affecting the water level. Follow the current as best you can, then aim your boat toward the left bank of the marsh. In fact, head toward a cluster of white pine trees and a pale green colored house. This is where the main flow seems to be. It doesn’t mean you won’t scrape bottom or scoop some mud with your paddle, however.
Beyond the marsh, the river narrows briefly before widening considerably, due to the effect of the tiny hydroelectric dam at Poy Sippi. The current is pretty much dissipated at this point, as well. Paddling this flowage is not unpleasant. The shore is lined with houses, with some lovely legacy white pines interspersed throughout.
Takeout is on the right bank just above the dam at the community park. Don’t sweat this – you’re 100 yards from the dam and there is no current at that point.
What I liked:
This stream is off the beaten path of paddlers, though you may find landowners active in the river in the summer. Water quality is high and that sandy bottom is sure nicer than shoveling the mud of a stream in southern Wisconsin.
What I didn’t like:
I’m not a big fan of marshes, especially ones where the river gets so spread out you can end up plowing more than paddling. Flowages, even a small one like the one at Poy Sippi, don’t make for exciting paddling either.
If we did this trip again:
I’m not sure I would, because the next segment – from Poy Sippi down to Lake Poygan – beckons. Doing that trip would provide entrée to Wisconsin’s glacial history – you’d be paddling in the shadow of glacial Lake Oshkosh, of which Lake Poygan and associated marshlands are remnants.
I’d be also tempted to try the segment upstream from this one that Frank Piraino wrote up 30 years ago, between Wild Rose and Saxeville.
After spending time on the water, I’m always game to spend time in a local watering hole. I paddled this river in the Covid era so I didn’t have a chance to check out the two taverns in Poy Sippi and can’t provide reviews here. There’s Madell’s Lanes and Bar and Grill, right on the river, and the sketchier looking Bluff Bar and Grill.