★ ★ ★ ★

Yellow Creek

Bolton Road to Krape Park:
A very satisfying creek with clear water, good flow, pretty hillsides, ridges, a number of quite attractive rock outcrops and an absolutely fascinating public park at the end complete with Art Deco bridges, matching bandshell, a 40’-high (artificial) waterfall and a colorful carousel.

Yellow Creek

By Timothy & Barry
The first ever Miles Paddled co-conspired trip report.

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 19, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Riffles

Gauge:
n/a

Recommended Levels:
While there is no gauge, this was a very recommendable level (whatever it was).

Put-In:
South Bolton Road
Take-Out:
Krape Park, Freeport, Illinois

Time: Put in at 1:10p. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 2h 35m
Miles Paddled: 7.75

Wildlife:
A ton of nesting geese, lotsa wood ducks, redwing black birds, blue jays, cardinals, hawks, a falcon (maybe), box turtles, a dozen deer, a green heron, several great blue herons and a couple kingfishers.


Background:

To commemorate the “odometer moment” of having paddled 1,000 miles, it seemed appropriate that the two of us finally paddle together for the first time. Originally, the plan was to paddle the Tomorrow River in Amherst because how better to celebrate the past by paddling the Tomorrow? Well, that and Central Waters Brewing Company is in Amherst, our favorite state brewery. But high water up in central Wisconsin inspired holding back on that trip until more favorable conditions.

Then we thought, oh hell, let’s just check out Carroll Creek in Illinois (a mere 180 miles South of there). Carroll Creek, a gem in Northern Illinois, is notorious for its finicky water levels which makes for a difficult paddle to plan. Early Spring is usually the opportune time but we heard they only received 1.5” of rain that week so the trek was anything but a sure thing.

We met at the put-in and checked the “visual gauge”. In our previous report from 2013 it was noted that if the water level were an inch lower, it wouldn’t be a recommended endeavor. It was obvious to us as we checked the bridge and walked along the creek that it was more than a couple of inches lower and we were going to do much more walking than paddling if we did indeed, put-in.

So alas, the water level was too low. What’s a paddling Goldilocks supposed to do? Check out Yellow Creek, that’s what. So disappointed but not defeated, we made the trek to the Freeport, Illinois area which wasn’t too far from Mt. Carroll.

For a much later start than when we had planned on, this stretch of the Yellow Creek was pretty much perfect. It was just the right length and it had a little bit of everything we love in a creek: clear water, intimacy and pretty features along the whole way.

What we liked:
The first half of the trip finds you meandering between high banks, typical of the Driftless Area, the soil is rich, black and deeply eroded. In fact, steep, eroded banks are what you’ll find throughout most of the paddle. If not for the muddy banks, you’ll encounter some rock walls that jettison towards you while ridges keep their distance.

We were delightfully surprised by how few trees had fallen into the creek, considering that so many seemed poised to do just that. With a 30’-40’ width, there’s a pleasant feeling of intimacy without the usual risks of clogged logjams. We encountered only one bank-to-bank downed tree, an obstacle that required a portage (or, for one of us, a stubborn but determined paddle-over with cleaning/clearing). It was easy enough to climb on and over or as proven through sheer will, you could ram through it. Portage Count: Barry, 1. Timothy, Zilch. #TimothyWinning.

Never boring or redundant, the surrounding landscape changes from agricultural to rolling hills and tucked away ridges, occasional houses, light riffles, rock walls and attractive rock outcrops. The water was quite clear and never very deep. Mostly sand with little vegetation and those muddy banks to enclose it all.

Add to this, a wide array of wildlife for such a short trip in increasingly developed settings and we just had a blast on this creek that neither of us had known much about, much less been on. We saw a group of 7-8 deer running single file across one ridge. Then later, a group of 5 scattering up a hill. There was very little sight of fish but we’re told by our friend Ben at Mort & Saint’s that there are all sorts of fish, including many a bass. Also of note were some turtles, geese, a couple of heron and wood ducks.

This trip ends in the slightly surreal environs of Krape Park, pronounced Crepe (not “crap” like we really wanted it to sound like). It’s a hodgepodge of ideas for a park (not dissimilar to this mish-mash of a trip report).

It really does have it all; a dream park, a bandshell, numerous water features, Native-American-looking park shelters, a carousel, three uniquely designed bridges from seemingly different eras, a mini-golf course, disc-golf course, a real gold course and an inviting low-head dam that has unfortunately been the cause of some fatalities. The pride of the park is a 40-foot waterfall that stands below a 40-foot american flag. This is how we imagine democracy would build a park. Ten pounds of ideas in a five pound bag.

We took out a few feet before the dam but the preferred take-out for insurance purposes is right before the second white bridge. Parking is accommodating to either location.

Also, Freeport, Illinois, is called “Pretzel City” and the high school mascot is, yes, the pretzel. Maybe not the most menacing name for the football team but we bet they’ve got one hell of a wrestling program.

What we didn’t like:
There’s not much to dislike frankly. The access to the creek at Bolton Road was a little sketchy but by no means the worst put-in either of us has tackled.

And as all put-ins in Illinois tend to be, you’re often towing the line on trespassing. A couple locals, one on a bike and one in a truck, stopped to encourage us (one who offered an alternate put-in just up the road but by then we already had our gear on the ground). Better to have encouragement vs discouragement when walking that fine line of trespassing (which is much clearer anywhere else in these fine United States). Anyway, we made due putting-in under the bridge on the upstream side where the bank was a bit more gradated to the water.

Unfortunately, both upstream from Bolton and downstream from the take-out at Krape Park offer literally few-and-far-between accesses to add to this trip (see below). Also, there could have been fewer houses along the way but that’s a purely esthetic complaint.

If we did this trip again:
We’d gladly do this trip again. It was a real pleasure and a lot of fun. Sure, it wasn’t what we intended for the first time we paddled together (which was way past due) but it’ll surely be the first of many more. We had a great time, on a beautiful day, on a new creek unknown to either of us.

Other trips:
As with so many streams in Illinois, public access is an issue. Where we put-in on Bolton Road seemed pretty out of the way from any potentially cranky landowner. The first bridge upstream from Bolton Road is 6.5 river miles away and access looks dicey, as there is a farmhouse right by the bridge. To do this section you’d want to put-in at the Block Road bridge but note: it’s an 8.7-mile trip from Block Road to Bolton Road which is pretty much its own trip so you’d need the whole day to paddle from Block to Krape Park. Plus, the Block to Bolton segment is reputedly bogged down with logjams in several places.

Downstream from Krape Park dam, the next three bridges are problematic. The first is only a ¼ mile or so from the dam with no parking, so why even bother? The next one is Highway 26 which is a major highway and a non-starter (or ender). The third is Highway 12/Walnut Road, which could be doable but there’s little room to leave a car and there are three houses all right there. Your best bet is the Highway 11 bridge but such a trip would be an all-day-long paddle, not a bad thing in the least but something to plan and be prepared for.

***************
Related Information:
Good People: The Illinois Paddling Council
Video: Swan Song on Yellow Creek (Tom Lindblade)
Video: Winter Paddling on Yellow Creek (Tom Lindblade)
Wikipedia: Yellow Creek (Illinois)

Miles Paddled Video:


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