Neenah Creek – South Branch
Date Paddled: October 19th, 2014
Put-in: Mason Lake Dam
Take-out: Big Slough Public Boat Access
Distance: 4.63 miles
Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Gradient: 2.3' per Mile
Water Level: Fox River @ Pardeeville 7.96'
A pleasant wetland paddle that is rich in waterfowl, but could use a bit more current to liven things up.
Access is located just below the Lake Mason Dam and Flowage in Briggsville. There is a boat ramp just north of the dam which serves the lake, but you can drop off your kayak here and drag it down the grassy embankment to put in below the dam. Parking is not really permitted by the boat landing, but there are signs that indicate you can park in the fire station parking lot a block to the north, which is very manageable. One sign indicated there is a fee to use the boat landing, but technically, you will not be using it, so you should be okay. No facilities, but there is a nearby gas station.
I know of no livery services for this creek (wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a livery for Neenah Creek and the Upper Fox though). Pretty easy peasy bike shuttle though. Some hills, but low traffic. Just 2.6 miles.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
Because the headwaters are largely spring-fed, I suspect this is a fairly consistent creek and is probably never too low to paddle (although it does get too high after a lot of rain). For my trip, I had plenty of padding and really, the only (very minor) shallow spots were actually on the bigger Neenah Creek. Current starts average, but gradually slows down until the confluence with Neenah Creek (which isn’t super speedy either). Big Slough (well, the small section I did) has no current. Gradient for the trip is a mere 2.3′ per mile, so for some this might be boring.
Substrate and Water Quality:
Decent water clarity but not fantastic. Substrate is mostly sand with some mud.
This is a fantastic stretch for seeing waterfowl. Saw more cranes here than on all my other paddles combined. There were also a lot of ducks, geese, egrets and herons. I suspect this is a popular nesting area in the spring.
You probably haven’t heard of this creek before, so I’ll try to orient you geographically. You have the Fox River to the east, flowing north from Portage. You have the main branch of Neenah Creek flowing north to south…then east…then north once it joins the Fox River. Neenah Creek is a big creek and has three main branches. The main branch comes from the north at Oxford. The main south branch is called Big Slough. The “West Branch” starts out as Big Spring Creek, then morphs into the Lake Mason flowage, and then finally gets renamed as the “South Branch of Neenah Creek” before emptying into the main branch of Neenah Creek. Why they didn’t call this the west branch of Neenah Creek, or just keep the name of Big Spring Creek, I don’t know. Confused yet? Don’t worry…it all makes sense on the map.
Trip starts off nicely enough below the Lake Mason dam as a pleasant float through the town of Briggsville. Here you’ll have the best current for the trip, whereas the remainder of the trip will be very slow. The creek opens up into a wetland area with grassy banks and nice vistas of the surrounding valley. The creek gets quite wide (for a creek) and this is a by-product of the shallow gradient. The highlights of the creek are the lack of development, sheer number of waterfowl and diversity (would make a great spring trip) and the decent water clarity.
The creek narrows by the 3rd Ave bridge and this is one of the better sections on the trip. Soon after, you’ll get to the mouth and join Neenah Creek. Neenah (well, the main branch) is a nice (and probably superior) prospect in its own right, with better water quality and a tad better current. It is quite different compared to the far upstream section I did earlier this year by Oxford though, as that was much faster and more diverse.
For taking out, the next access location on Neenah Creek will be Muskrat Road, which is a good access area for paddlers. I wanted to save that for a future trip, so turned off onto Big Slough and used the public landing there for an earlier take-out.
Hazards and Log Jams:
None. Certainly a suitable paddle for bigger boats, canoes and families.
There is a public boat landing on Big Slough that is a good launch, has good parking and I didn’t see any fees. No facilities present though.
Not too much to rant about as much of this trip is undeveloped and has few homes and people. One major gripe would be with the Briggsville dam, which is quite large for a smaller creek. Big Spring Creek (upstream of Lake Mason) is a nice class 1 trout stream, but then turns into evil Lake Mason, which is a big, boring, weedy, stumpy mess. If the dam were removed, I suspect a very nice creek would be found hiding underneath the flowage. This “Atlantean” creek would go for 2.5-3 miles and fall at a nice 6′ per mile and would probably be a great paddle and fishing stream.
Alternative Paddle Trips:
You can, of course, paddle more of Neenah Creek, which I review here.
I actually like Big Slough (by the mouth is boring though) and have also reviewed this stretch.
Probably a future trip will be to explore upstream of Briggsville, which is a combination of Lake Mason and Big Spring Creek. Big Spring Creek looks like a micro-paddle (my small kayak would barely fit), but looks clean and with some fun ledges. My plan (probably for 2015) will be to put in at Hwy G where the creek actually seems pretty open because of a recent dam removal. Past 3rd Ave there are probably log jams, but this is a short stretch before it opens up into to Lake Mason. Then I could take out at one of the Lake Mason landings (a deceptively large lake which would be the low-light of the paddle).
MapZoom out for more alternate routes.
View Neenah Creek - South Branch in a larger map