★ ★ ★

Scuppernong River

Highway 106 to County Road D:
A birder’s paradise and paddler’s quagmire, this section of the Scuppernong is part of the Glacial Heritage Area and might be of interest to silent sport enthusiasts. Well, except when a jon boat comes roaring through looking for duck blinds. Though technically a river, this is a marsh-like paddle (a pretty one if you catch it reflecting the dead trees, banks and wildlife like we did), but channelization has made the beginning of the route mundane at best. If you power through, you’ll receive the small payout of wetland and flooded forest in deep shades of chartreuse and brown.

Scuppernong RiverRating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 4, 2019

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: 

n/a (not much)

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Bark River (Rome): ht/ft: 1.93 | cfs: 66
Gauge note: This is a correlative gauge and has very little correlation to the river, but we’re jotting it down anyway.

Current Levels:
Bark River (Rome): ht/ft: 1.94 | cfs: 43.9

Recommended Levels:
We recommend these levels. We’ve heard that this can get too low to paddle so we won’t speculate but despite the nearby Bark River running at low levels, this had plenty of water. Considering the heavy jon boat use for hunting purposes, it’s probably paddleable more often than not.

Highway 106, Palmyra, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.90021, -88.62555
County Road D, Princes Point Wildlife Area, Whitewater, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.89432, -88.7011

Time: Put in at 10:40a. Out at 12:40p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 5.25

Great blue herons, tree swallows, wood ducks, mallards, sterna hirundo, (probably) carp, turtles and frogs.

Shuttle Information:
We car shuttled, but the bike shuttle wouldn’t be all that bad except for County Road D which is kind of busy – and which you’re on for a little longer than you’d probably want to be. You’d have to hug the shoulder until finally getting onto the meandering and hilly backroads. Sidenote: On the drive to the Scuppernong from Madison, I couldn’t help but notice the 36-acre Franciscan Preserve campus in Jefferson. This estate suddenly reveals itself out of nowhere in the midst of farm fields at a 4-way stop. It’s haunting and beautiful, and coincidentally has a haunted history, as well as a connection to the Kennedy family which I found really interesting after digging into it. It’s for lease, but Miles Paddled will not be moving their offices there anytime soon.

Two of us who never paddled together before shared this trip, and we thought it would be kind of interesting to change things up a bit and separate our thoughts since we came and left with different perspectives on this paddle. Consider it our first (Dynamic?) duo report. And by the way, we’re well aware that there are way more words than needed to be written here for a paddle weighing in at just over five miles. But that’s how we’re rolling on this one.

BARRY: The day before this trip, I paddled with a Miles Paddled contributor as part of an impromptu Badfish Creek flotilla, a guy that for years I knew via email and social, but only recently met him in person at Canoecopia this year. How do you follow that up? Well, you paddle with another contributor you’ve emailed for years and only met weeks earlier but never paddled with.

Enter Trevor, who has contributed a few trip reports to Miles Paddled. Obligations prevented him from joining us on the Saturday Badfish paddle, but the paddling Gods aligned for a Sunday outing. Then suddenly, we had to figure where to go since water levels were low all around, giving us limited options.

By coincidence, Trevor suggested, of all places, the Scuppernong because he had spent time fishing the area when he was younger. My ears perked up at the idea and I was surprised/not surprised by this suggestion. Surprised, because I already had this on my list to do, and in fact, had been there to paddle it once. And not surprised, because, well, Trevor seems to enjoy paddling obscure places.

Now, it turned out we were thinking of different areas of this short river, but he entertained my return to this specific section. Years ago, I planned on paddling this section based on a random blog post I read about it, and then by finding it highlighted as an official trail on an old Glacial Trails Map (which has since been updated). But when I showed up, a storm rolled in (and it didn’t seem all that appealing to be honest). So instead of a lackluster paddle and potentially being struck down by lightning on my shitty Cannondale, I bagged on it.

So anyway, to return with a guy who I’ve always appreciated for paddling places others wouldn’t want to because they might suck (the tail-end of Koshkonong), I knew I was aligned with the right company for this adventure and was excited to do it.

TREVOR: I look back wistfully at the time I spent on the Scuppernong as a child. It seemed every corner was packed with bass, the shallows held abundant bluegills and the water was clean enough where you might consider a dip midday. That was twenty years ago.

Ten years ago I attempted a few duck hunts on the mighty Scupp, hoping for new adventure combined with childhood nostalgia. What I got was a 4am thrill ride (not the fun kind of thrill) from the jon boats with mud motors ripping past my canoe in the dark. At daylight I found myself on the front lines of a sea and air assault on all of waterfowl kind.

With mixed emotions, Barry – cautious excitement, and myself just cautious, we embarked on the Ernong for a late morning paddle. It was going to be a hot one, but we were prepared, sun-hoody and drinks.

We open this episode at the Highway 106 bridge. The put-in is only slightly confusing, as there’s an “official” Glacial Heritage sign on the upstream left side of the bridge which does provide a way in, but the downstream side has slightly easier access, and an obvious parking area suitable for six cars or so. I’m not sure why the sign is on that other side of the bridge. Maybe nature made the upstream side less convenient over time so folks took advantage of the easier access point despite the ambiguity of whether it’s public land? Whatever the reason, there’s less tall grass (for the tick-minded) to traipse through. Due to lowish water, the muddy bank to the river was a bit of a hindrance, but taking a few moments to recon should provide you with a relatively clean entry spot to launch.

What’s interesting is that the first few miles of river are channelized on a section called Mud Creek – not technically the Scuppernong, though the Scup is just south and as channelized and straight as the Mud until you meet up with it not long after putting-in. Regardless, once you’re on it or within it, the system of channels are less confusing. The whole thing actually looks rather bizarre on Google Maps, and may give you pause as it shows a maze of waterways, some coming to a dead end, some meandering. But the route is usually obvious and only once did we need to make a decision at a fork in the road. Though marsh-like, the water is hardly stagnant so we could always find the current by watching the green algae and weeds give direction downstream.

The paddle starts straight as a few arrows and continues that way along grassy banks and marsh-like stuff. The banks are low-profile, and from the seat of a kayak are too high to see beyond, but it’s obvious you are paddling in an irrigation ditch through fields, flanked by additional channels just doing their own thing. It’s very surreal and unreal because this is not how rivers and creeks are made. It’s kind of an eerie feeling, like a strange version of some Southern delta. This eeriness is quickly replaced by tedium as you paddle from one straight away to another.

The surroundings are generally sparse alternating between lillies, grasses and a whole lot of dead trees. We kept joking about the white space of the marsh-like setting and how seeing a living tree was actually quite a treat. Barry made mention of the fact that it was a good thing he bailed on his trip years earlier because there’s literally no place for cover out here if a storm rolls in. Those dead trees will provide no sense of security or safety.

As the trip progresses, the PPernon starts to feel like a river once more with corners being more natural and wildlife – the avian kind, appearing. Lots of them  – big ones, small ones, and swirling clouds of them around one tree in particular. The river takes a few corners and even more dead trees which did provide a cool visual since they reflected their gnarliness in the calm water. This area can be neat in the early hours of the day. The filtered sunlight and possibility of more prevalent wildlife encounters could lure one out of bed earlier. At 11am, we were just happy for the change of scenery.

At one point in the paddle – like, instantly out of nowhere – two boats came roaring our direction from upstream very quickly. It wasn’t friendly (they wouldn’t exchange a “Hello”) but it was fortuitous because we could see which direction they came from at the exact point on this paddle where there’s a confusing fork in the stream, so to speak (and which I marked on the map). Had we continued due west on another long channel, we’d soon take a river-left channel which is completely the wrong way. Who knows how long it would’ve taken for us to figure out we’d gone the wrong way? Luckily, technology confirmed we needed to adjust our path. (Speaking of which, thanks to Trevor’s App – we learned how many calories we burned – not much, but damn ain’t tech great?)

Nearing the takeout at Princes Point, the area takes on a new flavor; the tastiest flavor of the trip to stick with the metaphor. Side marshes and slack water areas area replaced with flooded forest and bottomland. More often, you must navigate around downed trees and stumps. The high sun combined with the verdant nature of the area combine to create a glowing green atmosphere that allowed Trevor’s normally bright green, white, brown, and black boat to blend in. There was also a very cool visual of dried watermarks on the tree trunks across all the interspersed trees, making a “natural” waterline throughout the woods. If the water were up, it would make for some fun and interesting extra-curricular paddling between the trees.

Unlike the 90’s alternative playlist bumping from Trevor’s boat, our trip came to a sudden stop here at the most interesting part of the trip, where the Ong meets the Bark and goes under the bridge at County Road D. The take-out is excellent and well-used with plenty of parking but no facilities.

What we liked:
TREVOR: First and foremost, the company. As a long-time listener, first-time caller, it was great to meet and paddle with the man behind the curtain. 

I also liked the off the beaten path nature of this paddle. As often is the case with these types of journeys, you are left with a kind of… Eh feeling at the route itself. There were lots o’ birds, plenty of aquatic vegetation and some interesting ten-second increments. The forested section is the most interesting part of this paddle and could be easily experienced by paddling upstream from the bridge at County Road D and letting the current take you back to your car.

BARRY: I enjoyed this paddle more than I expected, even though I kept expecting it to be much different. It was unique in that it fell between lake and quiet water paddling, with lots of wildlife. I also enjoyed the visual emptiness which is unusual for most paddles we do, but we did benefit from a beautiful blue and cloud-spotted sky that created some amazing reflections in the water.

The water level, which initially caused some concern, was nothing to worry about since the gauge on the Bark is really not the way to gauge this steam. I read Rick Kark’s guide after the paddle and he said that it gets low – but he didn’t actually paddle the Scuppernong (he paddled upstream on the Bark).

Finally, it was awesome to finally paddle with Trevor, a contributor whom I’d never paddled with before, and whom I’ve enjoyed getting to know via email throughout the years. Best yet, this turned out to be a milestone paddle which put milespaddled.com over the 3000 mile mark. That’s pretty cool. It’s friends, contributors and supporters like him that make this site so fun to do. And it’s so much more fun when we’re all paddling together.

What we didn’t like:
BARRY: I really thought there’d be more canopy because the take-out is quite dense but that’s actually quite deceiving. Looking east, all you see are trees. In fact, I assumed we’d encounter a lot of deadfall. That was until Trevor told me exactly how this river/area is used, which is mostly for hunting. And for hunting in a marsh, they use their big flat boats to scout duck blinds (and why you’ll see saw signs on deadfall because those boats need access to get their duck-call on). 

Also, since Google Maps isn’t alway accurate, and the satellite view for this trip looked especially strange like it was shot from the dark side of the moon, I didn’t really trust what I was seeing, but it is correct. The Scuppernong really is unique in that it’s almost completely channelized. It was wishful thinking that it would be anything different.

Then there were those jon boats. It wasn’t so much the noise and the speed, but the lack of friendliness. The couple boats that slowed down and stared at us couldn’t even reciprocate a grunt, let alone a “Hi”. Are you not from the Midwest? 

Oh, and despite it being mid-summer, everything was dead.

TREVOR: This trip does not start off with a bang. The channelized river is a reminder of the effect human impact and industry has had on areas of our state. Devoid of wildlife or interest, we were left with our conversational skills alone to carry us through. Paddling through farm fields and then low scummy bottom land and marsh hasn’t inspired many poems. It’s not without its charm, but it’s a small, only kind of charming charm.

If we did this trip again:
TREVOR: I don’t know if I would, but I am interested in seeing what the river looks like from Palmyra to our put-in point. Maybe the Bark from Hagedorn Road to County Road D would be interesting as well. If anything, I’d suggest paddling this route from the take-out, against the current through the flooded forest if you do it at all. But if you do that at 4am some weekend in November, I’ll pray for you.

BARRY: I’d do this again. It’s a leisure bird-loving paddle and I’m not even really into birds. I’d certainly love to check it out in higher water so as to wander between the trees near the take-out. When I’m in the area again, I’d also like to check out the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail which is near the beginning of the, er, Uppernong, in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The self-guided trail looks quite interesting. 

Related Information:
Good People: Friends of the Glacial Heritage Area
Jefferson County
Map: Glacial Heritage Area
Map: Jefferson County
Wikipedia: Scuppernong River

Miles Paddled Video:

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