Wisconsin rivers from the road and sometimes kayak

Plover River

By Kayak Bevant area

The Plover River originates in Langlade County, flows through Marathon County at which point it becomes navigable. You can usually kayak-canoe throughout Portage County before entering the Wisconsin River at Whiting. There are three main sections:

  • Bevent to Shantytown Road (8.7 miles)
  • Bentley Road to Jordan Pond (7.6 miles)
  • Jordan Pond to Iverson Park 6.4 miles)

This report is about the Bevant area, but not all 8.7 miles, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

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This will not be a normal story, because, I guess, I’m not a normal guy. I may need therapy! Not only will I convey my experience on a section of the Plover River, but I will also tell the tales of the “Damn old bridge.” They’ll bring a tear to your eye, or you’ll laugh out loud.

There is a wonderful put-in for the Bevant section in Bevant at the Hwy 153 bridge. There is a nice grassy path that leads to the put-in spot, and ample places to park. It is a private property and demands respect. Shortly after the put-in, you will go under the bridge through what one expert, Mike Svob, describes as “a couple of small wavy drops.” I decided to put-in further down, since I was alone, had to return to my SUV, and was unsure I could paddle up those “small wavy drops” to get back to my car. This proved to be a good decision for me.

Having said that, if you are going to take the trip all the way to Shantytown Road heading downstream, and then be met, this is a perfect put-in. Even a rookie like me could easily handle these drops --- my guess is they are fun.

So I put-in to the south, turning off Hwy 153 at the gravel surfaced Pinery Road, then a left on Bevant Dr. to the bridge crossing the river, a very short distance from Pinery. By this route, the put-in would be in your left. It has a pretty nice parking area so you cannot miss it.

Again, a nice place to put-in. Now, here’s why my decision was a good one. On the day that I was on the Plover, which was sunny, in the low 70s, very little wind, the current was movin’ and groovin’. My plan was to first go upstream and then enjoy the ride downstream back to my SUV. I will tell you this was a fight.

But let’s look at where I traveled.

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I put-in where shown, then battled my way against the current upstream about to the line in the upper right, then coasted downstream to about the line at the bottom left of center, near Shawnee Drive. I could tell that was my southern location because I could see the cars on Pinery Rd. which parallels the river fairly closely. Then I battled my way back to the put-in and got out, mission complete.

Again, on the day I was there, the current was moving swiftly, far stronger than what I have encountered thus far on the Wisconsin River. The water level was fairly low in most places, which I am told is normal, but thankfully the water was very clear and I could see through it well enough to weave back and forth most of the time and avoid grounding. But I did go aground I would say maybe five times, pushing off easily back into the water. My experience was to follow what I thought was the strongest current because it seemed the water was most navigable there, having dug a bit deeper. Going back upstream this strategy proved to be a tough slog, but doable.

So let’s take this trip.


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Like I said, a very nice put-in area. In looking at the water out there, you can see it is fairly low. The dark spots are the vegetation at the bottom. The bed was fairly stoney, in some places rocky, otherwise sand and lots of deadfall, some of which can run you aground, especially when the current takes you over there. Again, each time I ran aground I pushed off easily. This was my first time on the Plover. I learned a lot about kayaking on this trip, mostly the hard way, through trial and error. I will remind you my kayak is a Wilderness Pungo 120, though I have been told since by an expert that most kayaks would have a tough time against this current.

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This is a look upstream from the put-in point, looks easy enough.

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I am now heading upstream and am approaching what I guess the pros call “riffles,” meaning in this case a patch of ripples. Ripples, eh! What I learned from these riffles is that the current is more powerful through here. I got through these well enough but I was sweating I will tell you. This would be the first of many upper body strengthening exercises I got on this day!

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I’m not well-versed on wild plant life but I know beauty when I see it. Now for another lesson. When trying to take photography of something while heading upstream against a strong current, hustle on up with the photo because the current is going to twist you around a little bit. Ha, you can tell I am a rookie, eh?

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The water here was fairly placid, and for reasons I am not smart enough to explain, the current seemed to decline quite a bit. I enjoyed paddling through here fairly effortlessly. You can see how wild, secluded, and unspoiled the area is, very peaceful, as “Paddling Central Wisconsin” says, “(The Plover is) for much of its length … a northern Wisconsin experience.” I saw a rather large Bald Headed Eagle flying across overhead but was not fast enough to get a picture of him. What a beauty. It’s mid August, and you can also see a touch of fall color atop one of the trees.

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Here I am approaching what appears to be a very old bridge. The current flowing under this bridge and perhaps 30 yards beyond would prove to be the “death of me.” In fact, as you’ll see, this bridge and I went face to face several times, and I now call it that “Damn old bridge.”

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I tried at least 10 times to get through these “riffles” to the other side of the bridge, which seemed quite calm. I never made it. I tried going through the center, to the right, to the left, I backed up and tried to power my way through. The best I did was make it to where I could almost reach one of the steel beams holding up the bridge, but I could not quite make it and back I went, backwards and sideways.

I finally surrendered, got out of my kayak, and walked in the water under the bridge to the other side. As an aside, I was never in danger of tipping over, but was not always in control either! I just rode it out until my paddling would have some effect.

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Walking my kayak to the bridge and then under it was no small feat. Here you see a shot of the rocks on the bottom. I had to weave my way through this, trying to a find a path where I could get a steady footing. Fortunately, the rocks were not slippery. But between dragging the kayak, weaving my way through the rocks, and contending with the current, it was quite an experience, just had to be a bit careful walking through the rock. While the water was fairly shallow, in a few places it was above my knees and I am 6 ft. tall. I think it went above my knees where those lovely “riffles” were !

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This is a look from the other side. It doesn’t seem like much, but I can tell you that I used every muscle I had as I unsuccessfully tried to power my way through. At times I was not moving an inch while paddling as hard as I could, other times I would maybe gain an inch, and then swoop back. I don’t think I was doing anything incorrectly, as I came at this sweetheart from every angle I could find. My closest approach was to go through the center, but I just could not get close enough to the beams in the bridge to grab one and pull my way through.
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Note bene: I would later learn that I should not have become so frustrated. First of all, the Plover is a tough river to paddle upstream. Second, if you look at the bridge from the backside, you can see that a “wide” river changes into a “narrow river” as it squeezes through the bridge. That’s what causes the tremendous force. A seasoned kayaker told me I never had a chance to get through that, as easy as it might seem.
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I was so frustrated by this bridge that I went back the next day and trucked my way through hill and dale to find this damn bridge. I found it and will show you some photography of it as a postscript to this report.

Okay, I’m on the other side and still working my way upstream.

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Once again, beautiful surroundings.

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After a while, I came upon this next set of “riffles.” I guess I must have been tired out, again I tried to power my way through this and was making some very flow headway, but said to myself, “Self, that’s enough, let’s turn around and enjoy the ride back and the scenery.”

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Heading downstream is what has to be called a “cake walk.” I barely had to paddle, only once in a while stick the paddle in to put her on a course I wanted. Beyond that, it was just sit there and relax. Very quiet out here. All you need to watch for is staying in water deep enough on which to float, and avoid hitting any deadfall. As you can see here, there is plenty of it around.

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There’s that miserable bridge as I head downstream. I just shot for the middle of the “V” and cruised right through there with ease and, I might add, a little smile on my face anyway, though I did have a little American vernacular to utter as I went through.

Some scenery shots on the way downstream follow.

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I wondered what that nice cylindrical rock was doing there. Have to get a geologist on that.

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This rock interested me for a number of reasons. Its shape was one. But you could also see shades of water marks on her, reflecting the various depths to which this river could rise and fall, which in turn over the decades must have shaped her.

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My wife is a retired art teacher, and she would say some budding artist ought to try his-her hand at drawing or painting this.

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I tried here to peer into the wilds a bit. Just beautiful to look in there.

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This spot is very close to where I put-in. I had been relaxing so much heading downstream I decided what the heck, let’s go down a bit more and we’ll just have to fight our way back.

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I could hear the traffic on Pinery Rd. which runs parallel to the river here, close by, the first sounds of humanity I heard my whole time out here, so I decided to turn around and make the tough trek back.

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There were a few houses back here. There was a fabulous home on this property, but what caught my attention was the bench the family mounted up the ladder against the tree. I don’t think it was for hunting. I suspect it was to watch and observe wildlife and just enjoy the serenity of it all.

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If you kayak any time at all, you see a lot of this kind of growth. For me, it has a certain beauty. I enjoyed viewing it.

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Here was a sight for sore eyes, arms and shoulders. I had been out here for about 3 hours and did a lot of upstream paddling. I probably went a bit too far past my put-in because I was pooped when I saw this bridge on the way back upstream. But go under that bridge and just a bit off to the right is my put-in and now take-out point. Praise the Lord. I made it. This is the Bevant Dr. bridge.

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As I was pulling into the take-out, I spotted these three women living the life of ease coming downstream. They eventually got closer to me and I talked a bit about what it’s like paddling upstream. There was no question they would have no part of that, apparently having tried it a bit.

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Once I got everything strapped in I headed home to Wausau up PInery Rd. to Hwy 153. There was quite a bit of logging going on as you can see.

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When I got home, I showered up, grabbed a brewski, and sat out on the front porch in Wausau, like I had been to another world and back. I felt good, except that damn bridge really bothered me. After all, the current defeated me. I vowed I would go back the next day and try to find that damn bridge and see what the issue was there. That will be in my postscript below.
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Postscript: That damn bridge, August 18, 2013

The next day I went to Google Earth to see how I was going to get into that bridge. Boy oh boy, did this turn into a “life and death” excursion!

I found two routes in, neither easy, but one infinitely more easy than the other. But there’s more to the story, so stay tuned.

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Okay, so here we are. You see the arrow pointing to the damn bridge.

Both properties are private. The one to the south of the river is closest, and a family lives there. The one to the north is owned by a family in South Carolina which rents out the land for farming. I tried the one to the south first. No one home. So I went up to the other one having to go around and up to Hwy 153 and then east a bit. I drove down a road until it ended. Fortunately, there was a home there and the owner was there. He explained the property I wanted to go through was not his, but that he did not think anyone was there. He said there was sort of a road cut out to the bridge. You can see that on the Google Earth. He urged me to try it.

So, I said okay I’ll try it. Well, I made a few mistakes. First, Google Earth satellite images are not current. There was much more corn being grown out there than appears on this photo. Second, “sort of a road” was really an exaggeration for much of the trip in and out. My SUV was mowing down grass as high as the hood. Third, I recommend against going into this kind of wilderness in shorts and bedroom slippers. You cannot even believe the beating my legs took. How stupid I was --- my problem was I just shot out of the house to get here without thinking it through. Finally, it would have been nice if I would have been accompanied by someone. There was no cell signal here and I’m telling you I was out there, alone. Thankfully, my SUV was new, but it was an Acura, not a Jeep, so I did not know whether it would take this ride sitting down. At least I knew I had enough gas.

So here I went. I wish I would have taken more photos, but I was so focused on finding the damn bridge, even though I had my camera, I did not take photos to show you what I walked through. I will only tell you my bare legs took a beating from all the prickly things in the wilds.

I drove in most of the way.


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Here’s how I entered, heading west. Not a bad road at all, I thought. This will be a piece of cake. Shortly thereafter, the road disappeared on me and ahead of me was an open field that had a fairly good decline, to the left was the corn and the forested area, so I had to forge my own road through that. I stayed close to the corn but you cannot stay too close because sometimes there’s a ditch there. The road I was building was quite bumpy, and I had to go very, very slowly along the corn.

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Glory be, some sort of road reappeared, but this photo lies. The grass in the middle was often above my hood. But note how I am now in an area where it’s me, the corn and the trees. The “quality” of the road worsened as I went on. As I went in there, I could see my Google Earth view was worthless. There was much more corn here than the view shows. I figured I had to stay between the corn and the trees as the trees lined he shoreline of the river. That forced me to turn to the east way down there as I was still stuck between corn and trees.

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This gives you an idea. I came west along the tree line in the background of the photo, then turned south and was still surrounded by corn.

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If you look at the Google Earth view you can see I should have been in open fields by now. In retrospect, I believe the corn was growing all the way to the west and south, always hugging the tree line. The red lines show the route I think I took. I was finally allowed to turn to the east, which I figured would take me toward the bridge sooner or later. Meanwhile, through here there was almost no sign of a road. I was building a new one.

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Then there was a small break in the trees and holy mackerel, there was that stupid bridge. My sick sense on direction was correct. I was quite proud of myself. Man was I close. So I kept heading east for a bit, but the forested area just got thicker and thicker. So without knowing where I was in terms of the idiot bridge, I stopped, parked under some evergreens, and decided to forge my way through on foot, in my shorts and slippers!

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This photo lies. Walking through that grass was easy, but under the forest canopy, I’m telling you there was every kind of thing you can imagine on the ground, including some kind of berry that resembles blueberries, but as prickly as prickly can be, tearing holes in my bare legs at will. I had some difficulty with my bearings, but correctly headed south toward the river and came up on it. After sinking in the mud with one slipper on one foot, I took off the slippers and walked into the water. I could see the current, did not want to fool with it anymore, so I tried to hang on to long branches of trees to get out far enough to see if I could find the damn bridge. The branches kept breaking, but I finally got out there far enough to see there was no bridge. Where is that stupid bridge?

I walked back to the west a bit but again the forest thickened up on me and there were no signs of paths. In the mean time, my legs are taking a beating and I said, yet again, okay, defeated by this stinking bridge, I’m getting out of here. It took me a bit to find the car and out of there I went. I had fallen a couple times in the brush and I could feel my arms starting to itch like there was no tomorrow. By the time I got back to the car, my skin was starting to pink up and break out. It’s been a long time since Boy Scouts, but I figured poison ivy for sure. My arms itched, almost a stinging itch, all the way out.

I started to head for home, head hanging low and battle damaged. Then I said no, I’m not taking this any more, I’m going back to the guy’s house on the south side to see if he’s home, and if he’s not, I’ll take my chances and figure out how to get in there by myself and hope I don’t get shot!

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The Google Earth map shows two paths to the bridge, but one was now occupied by a bunch of cows who did not like my presence at all.

When I got to the house, praise the Lord, a new car was there and the owner was just walking through the door after finishing his day at the plant. I said, “You ain’t gonna believe this.” He laughed, and replied, “Oh yes I will.” Anyway, I explained my dilemma. He said the bridge once was a crossing between a single farmland on both sides of the river. Years ago he bought five acres on the south side and the other owner kept everything on the north side. He walked me over to the west side of the house and showed my a road he and his truck had carved out which would go directly north for a short way, and directly east for a short way right to the bridge. Wow! Pay dirt, and he told me to enjoy myself.

Oh yes, I explained what I thought was the poison ivy issue, he looked at it, and said it was not poison ivy, that it was something on the tips of various vegetations in the woods that causes the itching etc. He said it would go away fairly quickly. He was right. It was gone by the time I got home. What a great guy.

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The road was more visible than is shown in this photo, but this is heading north directly to the river.

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This is the road that turned to the east to the bridge. This view is from the area of the bridge looking to the west.

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By golly, there she is people, that damn, stupid, idiot bridge. I almost could not believe my eyes. Perseverance does pay off I guess, even if I am battle scarred.

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Have you ever seen such a stupid bridge? Ha! So now the question arises, can I walk on her to try to get some photos of that damn current below? Well, I’ve come this far, so here I go. Here are some photos of the current.

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As I and my kayak approached the bridge while on the Plover, this was the left side. Every time I tried to get up this side the current would take me to the shore, turn the boat and send me downstream a bit.

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Here’s the current on the right side as I approached the bridge. I don’t think I ever made it through much of this. You can see how shallow it is and believe it or not, for my kayak, this current was impenetrable, at least by me.

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Here was the center. After trying the left and right a few times, I decided to back away, build up a head of steam, and figured I could drive right through this and at least get to the bridge and grab one of those steel girders. I almost made it once. All the other times, she just laughed at me and pushed me back. On occasion, I was in the middle, paddling as hard as I could paddle, heading straight for the bridge, and not moving one single centimeter. Once my strength started to give, back she pushed me. Argh.

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This looks through a hole in bridge to the water below. To the right of this hole, upstream, the water is very calm. Yet beneath the bridge you can see the water is starting to roil. And as it moves just a few more feet downstream, it roils even more. As I mentioned earlier, I would later learn that I should not have become so frustrated. First of all, the Plover is a tough river to paddle upstream. Second, if you look at the bridge from the backside, you can see that a “wide” river changes into a “narrow river” as it squeezes through the bridge. That’s what causes the tremendous force. A seasoned kayaker told me I never had a chance to get through that.

The gentleman who allowed me to use his property to study this bridge said when the water is high, like in early spring, the water has been as high as to within a foot of the bottom of the bridge, and in fact forms two rivers through here.

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While standing on the bridge, I looked across to the north side, and sure enough, there is a rudimentary path to the bridge from that side. I surely never found it and that locks my jaws to this day.

That said, victory at last.

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Oh yes, but the damn bridge had to give me one final kick in the butt before I left. After shooting the photo of the path across the way, my right leg stepped on a weak plank which broke and my leg fell through. Fortunately my left leg was on the cross panels and held, but more damage to the old leg, right on the knee I had broken ten years ago. At that time, it required heavy duty surgery to put my knee cap back together. Thankfully, just cuts, bruises, and a lot of “vernacular” coming out of my mouth. This damn bridge got me one last time.

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Back to my car, get me out of here, and take me home. When I got home, I showered up again, got a brewski and sat out front. I admit I had to laugh at myself, but frankly, I was pleased with myself for having found the old damn bridge. I felt like I had just finished one of my combat air reconnaissance missions over Laos!