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Canoes: We Noh Nah Sundowner 18’ Kevlar; Old Town Penobscot 16’ Royalex; Coleman 17’ plastic “Spirit 2-1/2”(substituting for Joe’s Spirit II).
Our schedules just would not mesh for an extended remote early spring trip, so a one-day metro paddle was planned close to home. The Fox River in the Appleton area was interesting, and none of us had ever been on it. Lots of scouting and research of the dams and locks revealed that some could be portaged, but others were formidable obstacles. Most of the locks on the Fox are closed, and not all may be walked around. We also found out water levels vary a lot. Last second scouting the afternoon prior confirmed the water levels were ok, but a huge storm that evening had us a little concerned.
We put in just east of Lawe St. and the lock on the south side of the river at about 9:00 am. We had to carry the canoes down a muddy hill, but loading and launching was not too bad. Getting under the first railroad trestle required significant ducking, but we did just barely fit. This trestle was designed to pivot in the center to allow river traffic to pass, and the machinery and massive gears were interesting. We then paddled upstream, ducked under another trestle (built in 1917 according to the plaque) towards the dam. The current was quite brisk making progress difficult in some places. Lawrence University has some beautiful buildings along the north side of the river, but the neatest part is some of the old mills and factories, which have been converted into condos and apartments. Parts of the river flow under and through these buildings. Lots of neat little crannies to explore, but the boys were convinced the boogieman dwelt there, so we did not go in very far.
We turned around and the current carried us back downstream. We got to the area of the College Ave bridge easily. Here we paddled to the end of a canal along the south shore, and did a 100 yard carry-over, getting around the last (first?) Appleton dam and Lock #4. Both sides were rather steep, with quite a bit of rock riprap to climb, and careful handling of the canoes by several of us working together was needed.
The weather was beautiful, and about this time the sunscreen came out. We enjoyed seeing many varieties of ducks, and looking at some of the big expensive riverfront homes. We also saw a turkey fly clear across the river, and saw several deer. Seeing this wildlife is common at home in rural Waupaca County, but was somewhat unexpected in the middle of the Fox Valley. Paddling under the Hwy 441 bridge rather than driving over it at 70 mph allowed a new perspective! We stuck to the north shore, and got buzzed twice by the lone ski boat anywhere near us all day, who thought coming close to 3 canoes was fun. He had a lot of river to drive on, but we must have been on the section he needed. We rode out the wake ok, and continued on towards the Cedars Lock in Little Chute, arriving at about 12:30.
We hauled the canoes up the rock riprap, and made sandwiches while waiting for Greg’s wife. She ferried one of us back to the truck – thanks a lot, Kris! Our scouting indicated the 10 locks in the next five miles to be a large logistical problem, so we drove around them to the eastern edge of the 1000 Islands area east of Kaukauna. We carried the canoes down a paved switch backed trail to a fishing pier, and launched from there.
This section of the Fox is wider and slower, and not quite as interesting. As we neared the Rapide Croche lock, southwest of Wrightstown, a mature eagle flew over quite low. We paddled right up to the lock gates, and hoisted the canoes up more large riprap. An easy carry of 100 – 150 yards, and we found an open spot in the brush to get back down to the river. A beautiful swan was in the water to greet us, and the eagle was overhead and landed in the nest right in front of us. How cool!
It did not take long to reach Wrightstown and the county park boat landing. We arrived ten minutes before our 4:30 pick-up. Again, thanks, Kris! Everybody was tired and thirsty, but we all agreed that our first metro canoe journey was a pretty neat experience.
We see the Fox as a convenient close to home alternative, which needs further exploration. It probably will not replace the wilderness tripping, which we all love, but sure beats sitting at home because time does not allow a bigger trip. This whole area could easily be opened up to canoeing with some simple portage accesses and trails around the locks and dams. Planning is underway to re-open some or all of the locks, but this will cater more to powerboat traffic. Hopefully the planners and politicians will not forget about those of us who paddle!
The section we canoed looks as though the water elevation changes by about 125 feet, with another 75’ change from the mouth of the river to Lake Winnebago. As we talked about this, we are in awe of how the early explorers fought their way up this river – no locks, no dams, no Kevlar canoes, etc. They must have been a hardy breed!
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