Yesterday we decided it was time to head back to the Mecan River. We’ve paddled this section from 14th Avenue near Dakota to Germania Marsh a couple of times. We paddled the part below the Marsh once two summers ago and I really like the upstream section better. Both of them are profiled in Mike Svob’s excellent book Paddling Southern Wisconsin. When we go on two person paddling trips, which is most of the time, we try to do something that will involve only one car and that therefore requires a safe bike shuttle route, such that we can drop the boats and a person at the put in and then the other person drives down to the take out and bikes back to the boats. The roads near some rivers don’t lend themselves to this, but the Mecan sure does. We got a bit of a late start since we’ve been spending so many weekends at the farm and that means that we often don’t get to the farmers’ market which meant that we were going to have a meat shortage and not enough peppers and possibly a cheese curd emergency. Anyway, by the time we’d driven up to Marquette County and completed all that monkey business with the bike, it was 2 p.m. before we got on the river. It was really overcast though the forecast promised clearing and we did eventually have blue skies. The water of the Mecan is clear and cold but dark with tannins from the marshes that drain into it. The vegetation just over an hour north of Madison is also noticeably different. Tamarack trees and birch trees are more common as are pine trees though there are still many oak trees. The river really has some tight turns at the beginning which makes it a bigger challenge to do in a 14 or 15 foot kayak or in a 17 foot canoe than it does in the 11 foot recreational kayaks, but somehow we paddled the longer kayaks anyway.
While there are a few houses along the river, it often feels really remote. In late August, there were many types of ripe berries (edibility unknown and probably not recommended), Joe-Pye Weed, a couple of types of goldenrod and creamy gentians. We also saw lots of cedar waxwings and several species of turtles. We heard cranes faintly before we reached the electric fish barrier which is designed to keep carp out of the more pristine trout streams. The portage around the dam went as smoothly as it ever has. The mosquitoes were bad. The grass there is sharp. It’s pretty clear that a lot of people take out there and don’t continue on to the marsh. There is good reason for that. The water in the marsh can be very shallow and one needs to pick a route carefully. If the water is low, it turns out to be a dirty exercise in frustration. Fortunately, yesterday the water was high enough that we encountered few problems, one osprey, a few herons and many, many sandhill cranes. We never really tire of seeing either turtles or cranes. The mosquitoes were also pretty nasty at the Germania Marsh takeout. The view of the marsh is pretty at any time of day and I always feel like we should spend some time walking the trails there, but we’re always really ready to go and find something to eat or to get home. After a quick change of clothes and the bike retrieval mission, we headed over to the Mecan River Outfitters to eat at their restaurant. We’ve never rented boats from them because we don’t have a need for boat rentals, but on occasion we’ve received some advice about water levels. We’ve also never stayed at their lodge, though I think I’d like to some time either for paddling or cross-country skiing. Even though I haven’t had a use for many of their services, I’m glad they are there. We had a pretty nice, though not really out of the ordinary dinner there and then we made the tired trip home.