Date Paddled: July 19th, 2015
Put-in: Marshall Dam (access below)
Take-out: Fireman's Park
Distance: 8.3 Miles
Time: 6 hours (4 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 2.2' per mile until the third bridge, then 18' per mile in Waterloo
Water Level: Beaver Dam River @ Beaver Dam 320 CFS or 841.5' above sea level
A good put-in and start to the trip below the dam at Marshall. Right off the bat, there is a minor ledge you’ll get to paddle over which foreshadows that this is not a lazy river. Stay right of the island, but cross the rapids on the far left so you don’t get hung up on the concrete debris (0:05 in the video).
The first mile of the trip is pretty open and mostly flanked by farmland. Not too exotic. You’ll paddle by the amusement park “Little Amerricka” to start the trip (and will be able to hear it the roller coaster screams for two miles). If you paddle upstream on Spring Creek, you can actually see the park train pass over the Spring Creek dam (0:39 in the video).
Shortly after Spring Creek, you’ll encounter the first of eight log jams. I’ve meticulously marked these on the map with details of how severe they are for reference. I only had to get out of my boat once for a portage, but this is only because I’m very experienced at this. I’m able to get under and over logs that most cannot. I suspect your typical paddler doing this section will have to do 4-5 portages and 3-4 annoying squeakers. On top of this there were numerous “hat lifters”, “pokers”, “shovers” and “strainers” that added to the stress on an already fast, deep and dirty river. So that was the downside of the trip. One of the more interesting log jam adventures was when we encountered a large jam buried under gorgeous grape vines. It was unassailable. …unless you were willing to hop over two logs maybe a foot above water. It made for an interesting picture (see below).
Aside from the log jams, dirty muddy water and occasional trash in the water this was actually a pretty cool paddle. Good current with many frequent riffles. Pretty much from the second Hwy 19 bridge for 3 for the next three miles, is mostly a woodland paddle. The trees really enclose the river giving it a cozy and mysterious feel (you might not need your sunscreen for this trip).
After the 8th and final log jam (marked on the map), the river opens up where the old flowage used to be. Here is an interesting picture of what the old Waterloo dam and flowage used to look like. I really liked this section as it was very peaceful and scenic with the green rolling hills in the background. The highlight was getting to see a 1-2′ beaver dam (and the owner furiously swimming away from us). This was easy to get over and hopefully we didn’t cause too much damage (2:13 in the video). There is a bar nearby called The Dock, that may be a good alternate access to avoid the jams, but still be able to run the Waterloo rapids. Call (920) 478-9787 for access options.
You’ll see a lot of bridges on this trip including many road bridges and scenic pedestrian bridges, but the coolest are three massive railroad bridges. Very historic, majestic and high up. The third of which has a problem though. The wooden pylons are mostly sealed shut by log jams with just one open chute on the far left. This is an impressive drop of 3-4 feet and made very tricky as the open pylons can trap your kayak and turn it sideways unless you go down it PERFECTLY straight. I made it through no problem, but my paddling companion paddled over a stick which acted like a spring and shoved the nose of the kayak behind a pylon on the right trapping the kayak in the fast current. It was an adventure getting unstuck. Needless to say I do recommend just portaging this instead (left bank). Hopefully in the future this can be properly cleared out.
After that nasty chute is the good part. A 2.5 mile paddle with mostly rapids through scenic Waterloo. While you still need to dodge obstacles in fast water, there are no major log jams for the rest of the trip. This was actually one of the better light whitewater experiences I’ve ever had and was a lot of fun. If the trip had been just Waterloo, it would have been five stars. Most of the many rapids are safe class 1’s, but there are say two class 2’s to be mindful of.
One is where the old dam used to be and requires some quick turning in bouncy water (funnest rapids of the trip 3:24 in the video). The second of which is just prior to the Madison Street bridge (it seemed pretty safe at these water levels 5:26 in the video). With the bridge right there, it is easy to scout these rapids ahead of time to know if you’ll have enough water (most days in the summer you won’t). Shortly after the dam, you’ll see odd pylon concrete stumps which you should stay well away from. The very fast current wraps around them and could pin your boat sideways.
The scenery in Waterloo is very cool. You’ll see some unique architecture and bridges at times, but mostly you’ll be paddling under a dense canopy of trees (very cool with rapids and rocks). Even the towering malt factory (and its mysterious effluent seeping into the river) add an exotic touch to this stretch.
Take-out was at Fireman’s Park which is a nice park, but was more difficult than expected because the parking wasn’t obvious (the no-parking signs were) and the banks were steeper than anticipated.
So a frustrating trip because of the jams, the mishap under the railroad bridge and many other incidents which I won’t mention (it was a jinxed day). But…the river has a lot of potential and hopefully Capitol Water Trails and the Maunesha River Alliance can finish the garbage and log jam cleanup they both started as it so would be worth it. Until then, I do suggest this river…just put in by “The Dock” (ask permission first), portage the railroad bridge and run the 2.5 miles through Waterloo to Fireman’s Park which will be a lot of fun (if you have enough water). If you hear of any further cleanup work on the river, definitely add a comment below.
Below the dam in Marshall is a very nice public launch on the north side of the river. It’s accessible via a hidey dirt road off of Waterloo Road. Do park on the street and drag your boat down to the water as the road is in poor shape and you can get stuck (don’t ask me how I know this). There is a nearby outhouse in Lions park (north of the dam off Hubbell Street).
The take-out is in Fireman’s Park Waterloo just prior to the Hendrick Street bridge. The bridge has no parking signs everywhere which is unfortunate. You can park west of the bridge and south of the river by the local sanitation plant where there is a decent parking lot and local water trail signs mark where you can access the river. The water is deep here for an access with steeper banks, so this isn’t ideal.
I car shuttled, but a bike shuttle should be quite manageable at 4.9 miles with 56′ of climbing and 7′ of descending.
Hazards and Log Jams:
Many. Detailed in the write-up below. I had presumed they had been cleared out based on the reports from Capitolwatertrails.org and the Maunesha River Alliance. But this was not the case. Granted, I just had to portage once myself, but this doesn’t tell the whole story as you’ll find out. I’ve marked the major hazards on the map so locals reading this review will have the information needed to find and clear them out.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
Very important you get this right. Prior to the last railroad bridge (the start of Waterloo), the river is plenty deep and I honestly wouldn’t worry about it getting too shallow. The log jam situation is complicated and I’m not sure what level is best for the log jams honestly (hopper vs ducker argument). After the last railroad bridge and the start of the Waterloo rapids, the river is very thirsty and absolutely gets too shallow to run most summer days. There is no gauge on this river, but I need to give you at least some rough idea of where the river is at and determined the Beaver Dam gauge is the most representative.
We went after a heavy rain (320 CFS), which was doable but maybe a tad pushy with the all the down trees. I suspect 250 to 300 CFS which would be better and would still let you run the Waterloo Rapids. I don’t recommend going higher than 320 CFS. You could go when the River is low and you would have a fine trip…but you would have to walk the rapids in Waterloo (which might be ok for some). Lower water definitely clears up the water quality and shows off some nice boulder gardens which we couldn’t see on our trip.
I only recommend this river to experienced paddlers in agile boats due to the fast current and frequent deadfall.
Many of the usual suspects: a beaver, muskrats, dragonflies, carp, a softshell turtle, ducklings and a great blue heron. There were a lot of wild grapes growing on the banks and also a random apple tree hanging over the water nowhere near civilization which was cool.
Trees were mostly silver maple (the one tree that doesn’t mind getting flooded), but unfortunately silver maples have a tendency to end up as log jams. There were also walnuts, boxelders, willows, red oaks, and white oaks. But the highlight of the trip were the bur oaks (mostly between Waterloo Road and Cherry Road). Very majestic and grand, with one specimen having limbs that nearly spanned the width of the river…a nice contrast to some of the other messy trees along the banks.
Alternative Maunesha River Paddle Trips:
- Elder Lane to Twin Lane Road: 2.8 miles. Probably too many logjams.
- Twin Lane Road to Charles Langer Family park: 6.8 miles. Probably too many logjams.
- Charles Langer Family Park to Lion’s Park/Dam: 1.6 miles. I suspect this is uninteresting flowage paddling. Popular with paddlers though, with multiple park access points.
- Dam/Waterloo Road Wayside to Waterloo Road Bridge: 1.5 miles. A wider and more open section of the river. Two minor log jams (reviewed here).
- Waterloo Road Bridge to Cherry Lane: 1.6 miles. Nice wooded section, but there were two logjams from my trip (reviewed here).
- Cherry Lane to “The Dock”: 2.5 miles. First part has 4 logjams, but then a pleasant paddle though an open section after that (reviewed here).
- “The Dock” to Firemen’s Park: 2.8 miles. A great five start section with a lot of fun rapids through downtown Waterloo. Just be mindful of the railroad bridge (reviewed here).
- Firemen’s Park to Mouth on Crawfish: 5.6 miles. Probably too many logjams to be practical.