★ ★ ★ ★

Wedges Creek II

County Road B to Rouse Road:
An extraordinary gem of a stream quietly tucked away in the paddling playground of the Black River Falls area, Wedges offers a little bit of everything: clear water, occasional riffles, a handful of light rapids, small boulder gardens, towering pines, sandbars, attractive rock outcrops, splendid solitude, and various access points to tailor a trip to preferred lengths. Like most streams in this part of the state, catching it with enough water to avoid scraping/walking will be tricky, but it’s oh so worth the wait!

Wedges Creek

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: May 5, 2019

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I(II)

Gradient:
8′ per mile

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Neillsville (Black River): ht/ft: 4.82 | cfs: 785
East Fork Black River: ht/ft: 894.30 | cfs: 169

Current Levels:
Neillsville (Black River): ht/ft: 3.55 | cfs: -999999

Visual Gauge:
Wedges Creek Visual Gauge 1 | Wedges Creek Visual Gauge 2
There are two visual gauge options for Wedges. The first is located on the upstream side of Middle Road. Ideally, you don’t even want to see the rock sitting in the middle of the creek. If just the tip is exposed, you’ll be in good shape. If it looks like this, you’ll scrape quite a bit but it’ll still be doable. Less than the photo, put on your walking shoes. On this return trip the rock was all but entirely submerged. The second visual gauge is located on the downstream pylon of the County Road B bridge. It was approximately at the 0.5′ line on this trip.

Recommended Levels:
We recommend this level, although anything lower than 1′ on County Road B will mean scraping in the very beginning.

Put-In:
County Road B, Neillsville, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.57352, -90.72323
Take-Out:
Rouse Road, Columbia, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.49459, -90.69612

Time: Put in at 12:20p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 3h 10m
Miles Paddled: 7.75

Wildlife:
Bitterns, turkey, hawks, bald eagles, wood ducks, sandhill cranes and green heron.

Shuttle:
8.3 miles, most of it dirt roads, doable on bikes, but not ideal.


Background:

Ever since we first paddled Wedges Creek, back in 2015, we’ve wanted to return to it. It was love at first sight (site?). At the time, we were flying by the seat of our pants, knowing precious little about Wedges, having never been there or done any recon. But Rick Kark had done it (of course!) and loved it. In his compendium, West Central Wisconsin Rivers and Streams, he describes two sections of Wedges: from Middle Road to the Black River confluence and then, upstream, from Highway 10 to Middle Road. We began our trip in 2015 at Middle Road and then tacked on a few miles on the big ole Black River for good measure (and some fun rapids). But what about upstream of Middle Road? It had been an itch in need of some quality scratching for years now.

We were up in the area anyway, having paddled a new (to us) segment of the Black River’s East Fork the day before. I (Timothy) sometimes go up to the Black River Falls area in early May, as it often coincides with at least two out of three great forces: gorgeous weather with the first auspices of spring; decent to plentiful water levels; and my own birthday. It’s a delightful confluence, plus the BRF area is pretty much my favorite part of Wisconsin (42 and still dumb and determined as an ox, thank you very much). A new segment of river in my favorite part of the state? Birthdays don’t get much better than that!

Overview:
Admittedly, the put-in doesn’t inspire much confidence. For starters, it’s unclear where even to put in. If you look at the map you’ll see that immediately to the north is a lake and public park called Snyder County Park. (The lake is merely the result of Wedges Creek being dammed here.) There is a boat launch, but that requires paddling across the pond some 1300′ feet and then portaging around the dam – totally doable, of course, but by no means desirable for lovers of rivers (not to mention paddlers who aren’t super-keen on getting out of their boats to schlep only minutes after beginning a trip).

So, instead we took a look-see via the County Road B bridge. It was all doable, but nothing was ideal. That was, until the wonderful, affable, avuncular home owner on the southwest side of the bridge hollered to us from his balcony and told us we could drive onto his grass, park and leave our cars there, and schlep our boats over his grass to the bridge to launch our boats. What a mensch! You might well wish to seek permission to do this for yourself, but as God as my witness, and before this gentleman meets his maker, he gave us and future paddlers the thumbs-up to ease. If nothing else, you can unload your boat(s) on the downstream side of the bridge, river-right, and then park next to the dam.

The creek will be very shallow at first, and you might expect to get hung up and scrape. But it’ll get better – we promise! Don’t let the shallows give you a false impression that there’s not enough water. On the downstream side of the bridge there’s a spray-painted gauge to determine water levels. The water line was approximately at the half-foot stage when we did this trip; shallow but doable. Generally speaking, Wedges is blessed with the same root beer-hued water as its neighboring streams in Jackson/Clark Counties.

In the first half-mile the creek flows in straightaways through an attractively wooded mini-canyon, past a charming footbridge, a set of power lines, and then Highway 10. On the downstream side of the Highway 10 bridge, river-left, is the first sandstone outcrop (if Kark put-in here, then by all means check it out to see if it’s preferable to County B). Shortly below Highway 10 the creek will begin meandering. There’s hardly any development within eyesight along this trip, but one of the very few exceptions is a set of buildings atop the right bank at a left-hand bend. Closer to the water is a quaint icehouse-looking structure surrounded by modest sandstone outcrops. Moving on downstream, the landscape becomes increasingly appealing, with woodsy pines, soft patches of grass, clusters of even softer green moss, all the while feeling like you’re paddling through a hidden kingdom of a micro-canyon. It’s not Halls Creek by any means, but it’s pretty reminiscent in many stretches. Similarly, it’s not as ridiculously aesthetic as Robinson Creek, but when the sun catches the colors just right and dapples this and burnishes that – the greens, coppers, and creams – the effect is no less magnificent. And, like Morrison Creek, there’s virtually no development anywhere, leaving the environs to feel wild and wonderful.

There are several straightaways in Wedges, with only a handful of twists, zigs, and zags around unknowable bends. We had to portage twice around non-negotiable deadfall between County B and Middle Road (and then once more, closer to the take-out). Otherwise, even when it looked like an obstruction barred safe passage, there was a way through or around. Since there are so few landmarks along this trip, it’s difficult to point out individualities. But approximately 2-3 miles downstream from the put-in a sandstone cliff some 40-50′ high appears on the right, preceded by lovely rock chunks and shelves carved off the bank like slices of Easter ham, also on the right. Swift riffles sweep you along the sandstone cliff, which dazzles in a mixed palette of creams, greens, grays and burgundy blush.

Subtly at first, you’ll start noticing the occasional boulder in the middle of the streambed. And then two or three together. And then a cluster more. Etc. As you might expect, the current picks up its pace around these places as well. (Or, if the creek is shallow, you’ll be getting hung up here and taking your boat for a walk. But however shallow the creek might be, it’s continually getting fed by springs and little rivulets all over the place, from both banks. Right after a decent rain, some of these likely would be impressive cataracts.) Foreshadowed by a lively boulder garden, a very attractive A-frame house with a wrap-around deck anyone would envy appears on the left. (If you’re reading this and own/rent this piece of paradise, please do let us know! There couldn’t be a finer place to savor one’s coffee in the morning!)

Following the house, Wedges is fed by a major tributary called Fivemile Creek, on river-right. (For those seeking to be super-fringe, Fivemile Creek looks downright paddleable in its own right.) Immediately downstream is Middle Road. Our tell-tale visual gauge – a rock in the middle of the creek on the upstream side of the bridge – should be found here. Can’t see it? Great! You see it right away and a whole lot of it at that? Crap!

I have no idea how Middle Road got its name. Was it someone whose surname was “Middle”? A logger from a bygone day perhaps, Old Man Middle? Or does it denote something geographical, i.e., in the middle of… somewhere. Kind of feels like the middle of nowhere – but in the best, most remote sense. Whether by accident or design, the road is pretty close to the middle of Wedges in between the dam at Snyder County Park and the Black River confluence. I mention this because the whole feel and flow of the creek changes at Middle Road. Upstream of it, there’s a delightful mini-canyon with lots of exposed sandstone outcrops and only a couple little riffles. Downstream from Middle Road, however, the mini-canyon is gone, the landscape flattens and widens, but the creek itself tumbles over bedrock. It’s not for nothing that Kark called this the rapids section. It’s not a whitewater stream by any reputable measure, but it does offer oodles of fun splashy spots!

What’s peculiar and counterintuitive is that, on this trip at least, we found the upstream portion – from County B to Middle Road – to be shallower than the downstream part – from Middle to Rouse. Why would it be shallower where the gradient is more modest? Shouldn’t it be shallower where the gradient is steeper? Nonetheless, we had no low-water issues in the final couple miles to Rouse Road. It was all a rollicking fun time!

Immediately below Middle Road is a handsome rusty truss bridge, either an old railroad bridge or the former Middle Road bridge. Below it are several stretches of gorgeous Class I rapids (Class II in higher water). The boulders get bigger, the landscape just wild and inviting. Next, a long snowmobile bridge appears, along with more riffles and light rapids. Indeed, the fun hardly stops. A lovely glimpse of gorgeous sandstone awaits just downstream on river-right. I remembered this from our first trip on Wedges. But something I missed then that I was downright giddy to find this time around was a natural spring just bubbling from below a pile of rocks. The magic of this never gets old for me. The notion of underground tunnels of water coursing through hills – elevated land, as though in daft defiance of gravity, shooting up like a bubbler – simply makes me feel like a marveled kid.

But that sobers up some after the next nasty downed tree cluster that will require portaging around. So too will a rogue gang of storm clouds suddenly appearing and dumping rain on us for about ten minutes – or, just long enough to reach the take-out, and then promptly stop and get sunny again. So it goes. Whether you wish to take out at Rouse Road will be up to you. We did so for the sake of time and doing something different. It’s not difficult to detect the road from the river, and as long as you leave your vehicle(s) in an obvious, conspicuous spot, you’ll have no difficulty. For us, we took out at a convenient gravel bar which extended from the right bank. There was a feint footpath there that led to the road, for fishing or other ad hoc paddlers.

What we liked:
Um, everything. Indeed, if you could combine the holy trinity of Jackson County tributaries – Halls, Morrison, and Robinson Creeks, or as we like to joke, the “Triple Crown Creekness” – then Wedges gives you a sample taste of them all. Sometimes it’ll feel more like Robinson, other times more Morrison-esque. Maybe it’s because Wedges is technically in Clark County that it offers more of a pastiche. Maybe we’re just full of beans. No matter, Wedges is just wonderful in its own right.

What we didn’t like:
There are minor quibbles, to be sure. The ambiguous confusion at where precisely to put-in at County B plus the impossibly shallow, rocky section right there doesn’t inspire much confidence; nobody wants to begin a trip scratching and butt-scooting right off the bat. And, given the choice between having to portage around deadfall or not having deadfall to portage around, who’s going to vote for getting out? Nobody. But it’s (almost always) a basic given when paddling, especially lesser known streams so early in the season. Entropy happens, and trees rarely ever fall backwards, away from the water. Finally, to be fair, we understand that not everyone would feel comfortable taking out in the middle of nowhere (Rouse Road), whether that’s driving the muddy, rutted dirt road itself, leaving a vehicle there, or finding that exact spot from the water (since there’s no conventional landmark, like a bridge).

But these are minor quibbles indeed.

If we did this trip again:
In the interest of time, since it was a Sunday and we all had stuff to do and real life to get back to in Madison sooner than later, we took out two miles upstream of the Wedges’ confluence at the Black River. Next time we’ll take out right at the confluence, via Opelt Road on river-left, for a perfect, tidy ten-mile trip and not worry about which Wedge to paddle. Or be really greedy, continue on the Black for only two additional miles, and take out at the Black River Lodge Resort at the top of Lake Arbutus. Wedges is such a wonderful, undersung stream, we’d come back any old time and do everything over again. It’s a real gem.

For the record, the great white Kark surmises the distance between Highway 10 and Highway 95 (on the Black River) for a full run of Wedges Creek to be “about an 8 mile trip.” That’s close, but, in baseball terms, only gets to the warning track of precision. Thanks to your pal and mine, Google Maps, the actual distance is 11 miles. Furthermore, we’d argue against putting-in at Highway 10 as well as taking-out at Highway 95. County Road B is only a third of a mile upstream of Highway 10 and an easier, safer location to leave a vehicle and launch a boat. As for Highway 95, there’s a pro and con to reconcile. It’s only a mile of paddling on the big water of the Black River, which includes passing the ruins of an Easter Island-esque dam structure plus a set of fun Class I rapids preceding the bridge. There’s an easy access on the downstream side of the Highway 95 bridge, river-left, which conveniently leads to Resewood Avenue, immediately south of Highway 95 (so you’re not actually getting out onto the busy highway itself). But immediately downstream from here are the Red Granite Rapids of the Black River, a gorgeous and engaging half-mile run of Class II. Why would you get out just before such beautiful fun?

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Related Information:
Wedges Creek I: Middle Road to Riviera Avenue
Camp: Black River State Forest
Good People: Friends of the Black River

Photo Gallery:

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