School Section Road to O’Riley Road:
A truly outstanding trip that will win the hearts of newbies and seasoned paddlers alike due to the surrounding scenery and river environment itself, with numerous access points to shorten or lengthen the time on the water – after experiencing this section of the beloved Turtle Creek, you’ll be coming back for more.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 21, 2015
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
3.4′ per mile
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Clinton: ht/ft: 4.79 | cfs: 350
Clinton: ht/ft: 3.99 | cfs: 147
This is an unusually high level for the creek. You should definitely be able to paddle this at 200 cfs and as low as 100 cfs, albeit with some scraping.
Time: Put in at 1:05p. Out at 4:05p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 8.5
Great blue herons, hawks, turkey vultures, songbirds, turtles, water snake, deer, umpteen dragon- and damselflies and fish (up to and including the single-largest monster carp I’ve ever seen caught at my takeout and left to die on the pavement).
6.6 miles. Mostly flat and generally scenic but the stretch of S. O’Riley Road between Creek Road and the water itself is in god-awful shape akin to the craters of the moon.
This trip was a last-minute alternative after my initial plans had fizzled earlier in the morning. I had just paddled the segment of the creek (“creek”!?! the Turtle looks and feels and behaves like a river in every sense, so think of it as a creek in name only) upstream of this one and I knew that the water still was running high from previous rains. My (Timothy’s) very first trip on the Turtle began where this trip would end, so it all seemed like the perfect time to come full circle and do this section, thus completing the Turtle Creek tutorial. And boy, am I glad I did this! I loved this trip and am confident you will too.
For a trip that’s only 8.5 miles, there are three alternative access points (“PITO” spots, as we like to say, or “Put-in/Take-out”), which is generous to the point of spoiled. And while civilization is never far away, it never seems all that close either while you’re on the water. Much of this is due to the Turtle Creek Wildlife Area, a mostly contiguous parcel of land over 1,000 acres large that protects both banks of the creek with the overall feel of undeveloped naturalness (there is a brief interruption around Highway 14, so essentially 75 percent of this trip is enclosed within public land, predominantly sedge meadows and shrubs, hardwood forest and prairie remnants.) I recall seeing only two buildings the entire trip, which is quite remarkable. As such, this is arguably the prettiest section anywhere on Turtle Creek (which is saying something, as it’s an exceptionally pretty stream).
This trip doesn’t have the riffles and rapids downstream, though there are a couple brief winks of playful water (on the plus side, this section is more dependable for water levels since its gradient is more moderate). Neither does it have the rock outcrops or glorious truss bridges as downstream. And (spoiler alert!) you won’t hear jive or smack being bandied back and forth on the basketball courts in urban Beloit. But what this trip does have – and has in greater abundance than anything upstream or downstream – is an unspoiled landscape that doesn’t quit or get monotonous.
What we liked:
The intimate scenery, in a nutshell (or turtle shell). It’s the salient feature and selling point of this section of the creek. Don’t just take my word for it though; as evidenced by the numerous alternative landings at each and every bridge along this trip, lots of folks are paddling these segments.
Indeed, you could easily skip the School Road section, put in at Highway 14 instead and take-out at the next bridge past South O’Riley Road, at South Carvers Rock Road, etc. It’s very paddler-friendly and flexible in a way that few streams are, especially one as little known as Turtle Creek (little known as say compared to the Pecatonica or Sugar Rivers, where there are outfitters).
Uncannily, the bridges neatly dissect this trip in 2-mile sections, which helps you feel oriented and paced. There’s a perfect mix of sun and shade on this trip too, so that when you want nothing more than just to bask in the summery heat and celebrate for the billionth time the simple glory of mere being on the water, this trip will not disappoint. But when perhaps there’s been a touch too much basking there’s a lot of lush tree canopy to provide shady relief. Does this best of both worlds sound too good to be true? Well, it is, good and true.
My favorite section of this trip was from County Road C and East Creek Road, where for two miles the creek sweeps alongside a gentle woodsy ridge, the only notable parcel of raised land. I don’t want to oversell or embellish it; it’s quite modest. But it was more than I’d expected after looking at a topo map and it added a beguiling, exploration-inspiring allure.
Lastly, there is an attractive train trestle just upstream of the preferred takeout. I’ve heard that a train comes through once a day. I missed it by 10 mins or so, since I heard it. But I do think it would be pretty cool to time it just right so as to be passing underneath it or at least in view of it.
There are two places to take out associated with S. O’Riley Road. The first is a parking area off the road and de facto access point to the creek itself. The second is at the actual bridge just downstream. I chose the latter because it’s where I put in during my first trip ever on Turtle Creek (yes, I’m a smidge sentimental like that). Don’t do it, instead, take-out at the upstream access instead. It’s way easier, safer and more convenient. The only reason to consider taking out at the bridge is to pass the mouth of Little Turtle Creek (which actually looks rather paddleable in its own right and is on the to-do list for a future time).
Finally, file this one under “news of the weird.” After paddling, I bike-shuttled back to the car. In the span of time it took to ride my bike 6.6 miles, then drive back to the boat, someone had been at the bridge, fishing and caught the largest monster carp I’ve ever seen – easily 3’ long – and left it on the curb of the bridge (photo below).
I heard somewhere recently that you’re not supposed to release a carp back into the water after it’s been caught. I don’t fish, so I don’t have a good angle on angling (but I can tell you that at the put-in, someone had caught a carp somewhat recently and left it to die and rot in the grass about 30’ south of the bridge. Holy mother of God, was that a horrific stench. The sight of squiggling maggots was pretty disgusting alone.) But the one at the takeout, whew! the thing was downright leviathan (I guess that last part should be in “what we didn’t like”).
What we didn’t like:
The only mentionable here is a small amount of tree debris below East Creek Road. I cleared out some of the nuisance strainers and it should be totally passable without any real concern. But for beginner paddlers, this is the one spot to exercise some caution. Similarly, canoeists will have a harder time with this than kayakers.
If we did this trip again:
I will definitely be doing this again! Next time I’ll do it later in autumn, once the leaves have fallen, to have a better view of the landscape, albeit unadorned, particularly that segment below County Road C.
Turtle Creek Overview: Turtle Creek Paddle Guide
Turtle Creek I: Sweet-Allyn Park to Dickop Street
Turtle Creek II: O’Riley Road to Sweet-Allyn Park
Turtle Creek III: Springs Park to School Section Road
Good People: Friends of Turtle Creek
Video: Wisconsin Paddles