Wisconsin rivers from the road and sometimes from the kayak

Wisconsin River
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Wausau area

Gilbert Park, northeastern Wausau, by Kayak


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Gilbert Park is located in northeast Wausau off 6th Street. Charles Smith Gilbert along with Mr. Neal Brown and Mr. Charles Winton owned a large tract of land in this area, much of which is now known as Forest Park. Mr. Gilbert gave this area known as Gilbert Park to the city so people cold have access to the Wisconsin River. It has a boat launch and parking area, along with nice grassy knolls and some picnic tables.

I had heard a lot of bar talk warning of the strong current and undertow, so as a rookie I was a bit anxious at first. I was lucky in that I had a beautiful day, the current was nice but not a show-stopper going upstream, and I managed to stay aboard so did not worry about undertow!

I remained on the river for about two hours, first heading northward toward Brokaw for the first hour, and then returning to Gilbert Park. While I did not make it upstream very far, perhaps a mile or so, it was great fun for me to be on a wide portion of this grand river. This aerial reflects roughly the area I think I covered, with Gilbert Park at the bottom of the photo.

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This is the southern half of Gilbert Park. The launch and parking areas are out of the photo to the right. Off to the left, here, you can see a small deck from which people like to fish.

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I took this looking upstream shortly after leaving Gilbert Park.

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Heading north, upstream.

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I caught two large birds standing on the sand bar, birds I thought to be cranes.

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Here they are, in all their splendor. I am no bird watcher, but I’m identifying these as Sandhill Cranes because of that bit of red on the heads.

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An attractive inlet. I saw the blockage ahead and decided to stay out. I should have gone in, it was so beautiful. I became enamored with that torn out tree stump to the right.

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I am married to a retired art teacher, and for her, this is a thing of beauty. It’s hard to imagine someone drawing this and replicating it well.

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Told you I became infatuated with this. But look at the heavy-duty timber that once was this tree. Amazing.

Now let me run you through some wonderful closeup shoreline shots. The flora was marvelous.

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The Canadian National Railway runs right along the east side of the Wisconsin River here, and has a bridge to cross. Once again, I should have gone right up there and under it to see what’s what.


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On may way back to Gilbert Park, I spotted this family rolling downstream on their pontoon boat on a fantastic Wisconsin day on a fabulous river.

Upper Wausau, Gilbert Park to downtown Wausau by kayak

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Gilbert Park is located in northeast Wausau off 6th Street. I kayaked between Gilbert Park and the dam below Slough Blvd. crossing the Wisconsin in the heart of Wausau, about 1.6 miles. I first went south with the current all the way to the dam, then paddled upwind and upstream against a pretty good current to Gilbert Park, then crossed over to a beautiful residential area on the west bank near Broken Arrow Drive and Gemini Place, and then back to my launch point. It took me close to three hours, and I was pooped.

I am going to take you from the southern point of the trip at the dam in downtown Wausau north to Gilbert Park and then into an inlet on which some beautiful homes are located on the west side of the river.

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This is the backside of the Wausau Hydro Dam. The power plant is on the right. I am under a bridge just south of the Slough Bridge connecting Wausau’s east and west sides. This was as far as I could go.

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This is the front side of Wausau Hydro Dam operated by Wausau Public Service Corp. She has two different configurations. The dam creates a 304-acre impoundment or lake upstream. I believe the left side is known as a gravity dam. The other side uses swivel weighted gates that lift up, open and allow the water through at the bottom.

Now we’ll turn around and chug and chug upstream the Wisconsin River.

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The bridge to the rear is the Slough Bridge, Hwy 51, and the near bridge is the Falls Bridge, Hwy 52. The Slough Bridge comes into town one way while the Falls bridge heads out of town one way.

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This next scene is a park I did not know existed. This is Big Bull Falls Park, and it looks really neat. It is just on the north side of the Falls Bridge abutting the bridge, and just south of Baker Stewart Island Park.

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Right after passing Big Falls Park, I hooked a right to the east toward downtown and passed under this walkway that connects Big Falls Park and Baker Stewart Island Park, the large island to the north of the Big Falls Park.

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Shortly thereafter you pass under a second walkway bridge, which once served as a railway bridge, also connecting the two parks.

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I have a soft spot in my heart for these old rails bridges, so had to shoot her underside up close.

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As soon as you pass under this railway bridge you come upon two more dams, small dams.

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Both these dams control the water flow that goes through the Wausau Whitewater Kayak area. They can be used to shut the Kayak run dry, and then they can let the Mighty Wisconsin loose and kayakers come out and get some very good training and experience. I went out one day to watch the troops working the whitewater through here, and I can tell you they are braver than me! The story which a large group of photos is at “Wausau Whitewater --- not the toughest or the longest, but great for training.” I grabbed one to show you what it can be like when they let the water through the gates.


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The lad is coming down the initial drop, the biggest on the course, and believe me, they fight their way through, and then they fight their way back up!


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As you head upstream a bit from these two small dams, you get a nice look at a Wausau landmark, the Dudley Building and then offices to the right.

Up until now, I have been on the eastern side of Barker Stewart Island. Now for some views from the western side.

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Another view of Big Bull Falls Park after heading upstream a bit.

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I was hoping to find the river course to the Pacific while entering this cove, but soon found it was a dead end! Pretty nonetheless.

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On the upper northwest side of Barker Stewart Island is another old rail bridge, which I believe is used as a foot walkway. So one can walk from the east side over a walkway over the island and off to the west side. I apologize but I get infatuated with these kinds of bridges, so a couple more shots as I passed under.

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To me, these old bridges are magnificent structures.

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Underneath, you can see she is a little battle weary.

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I am now back to the east side of the river, not exactly sure where, but there is a bike and walking path along the river from downtown just about to Gilbert’s Park to the north. As I was fighting upstream against the current and the wind, I sure would have liked to get out and take a rest on this bench, which was clearly waiting for me. What a great scene.

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This is where I put-in originally, near the Waste Water Treatment Plant on North River Drive, not too far from the baseball stadium. This is the most fantastic put in point I have been at. This was fabulous. It can be used by disabled people as well.

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At the end of E. Wausau Ave, after passing by the Athletic Park Stadium headed toward the river, is a new location for the Divepoint Scuba Paddle and Adventure Center, a second shop after their one in Stevens Point. There was a bunch of kayakers out on the river nearby who I believe were testing equipment along with Divepoint members. There is an island closer to the eastern bank of the river --- if you look at the map shown early on, it is just above, north of the put-in point. The kayakers are on the east side of this island. I followed them.

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The current was moving along to the south, but these kayakers seemed very interested in the tall grass area on the bank and their kayaks were holding absolutely still in the water, which I thought curious given the current.

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Being nosey, I paddled on over there and hung there for a bit myself. It is a beautiful scene, and my guess is the area is a hangout or little sanctuary for birds. I saw a few Orioles but could not move fast enough to get photos of them.

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I soon caught up with them as they were sightseeing. This shot gives you an idea of how nice it can be on the Wisconsin River even if you are close to the City of Wausau.

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Well, there we are, Gilbert Park on the east bank, a good put-in point for kayaks and other boats.

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I thought this would be the end of my trip, and intended to mosey on back to my put-in point nearby. But I paddled over to the west side and could see lots of wonderful homes through the vegetation. Then, to my surprise, I found an entry to an inlet that took me quite close to the homes.

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You’re looking to the east, but I am rounding the corner to the left that would take me into the inlet. You are going to see the homes, but more fun you’ll see the multiple walking bridges strung across the inlet to get to the other side, the side on the Wisconsin River.

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If you were to look closely, you could see three such bridges in this shot. I went under them all.

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That’s the end of the line. I thought long and hard about trying to float under that bridge, through that tube, but decided against it. It would be just my luck to get stuck in there! And anyway, it was nice to stroll back through the area and out.

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Just after emerging back into the Wisconsin River, heading south now, I came across a park I did not know was there, called Schofield Park. It has a nice put-in and launch point for kayaks and boats. Plus the greenery was wonderful and there were plenty of park benches and tables.

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Even a place for the troops to play so you can get them out of your hair!

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Across the way was a view of Forest Park Village and to the right, the Ridgeway Building. Forest Park Village used to be a hospital run by nuns, and was built by my wife’s dad’s company, the Wergin Co., owned and run by Gerald Wergin. It is now a condominium. Anyway, to the left there, way up near the top, under all those trees someplace, is my home.

That ends this trip. It’s brewski time.

Isle of Ferns area, Wausau, by kayak

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The Isle of Ferns Park (lower arrow) lies in the middle of the Wisconsin River as she flows through Wausau. The circle highlights the location of the dam. I’ll address the top arrow in a bit. I put in at a nice launch area on Oak Island Park, headed up to the dam on the east side of Isle of Ferns and returned to the south, to the Thomas Street area and back to Oak Island Park. I explored a few nooks and crannies. The river was very calm. It took me about two hours to do this trip.

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I am heading upstream toward the dam on the east side of the Isle. If you look at the satellite photo you can see the bridge about midway up the Isle. That is the Dudley Building in the center of the photo.

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I am heading upstream on the east side of the Isle.

You can’t go too far north before running into two neat things that stop you, the dam and the whitewater track.

First, the dam, which you’ve seen already in the previous clip.

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I now wish to refer you back to the aerial shot shown early on, which is shown here again, and the upper white arrow. It points to the Wausau Whitewater Kayak Course, which is used for training and also various competitions. You’ll note that it is simply a channel jutting off the Wisconsin River above the dam and flows along the east side of what is known as Clarks Island on its own. It meets up with the River just above the Isle of Ferns.

For the course to be active, the dam has to open and channel water forced through the channel. The channel here was modified for this purpose. There is a guard lock up stream just a bit. It has an overflow gate. Those who operate the dam can divert excess flowage from the river to this gate when the kayak course is to be used. Then the dam operators lower the east channel gate and the water flows very briskly down the channel, over rocks and small falls to create a top drawer kayak course. The water used for the kayaks draws away from water for the hydro dam, but only for short period of time. In effect, the hydro dam and the kayak course share the water for a while. This is an example of multiple use of a river resource, one to produce electricity, the other to create an environment for sports entertainment and competition.

This is a no fooling’ around operation for kayakers. Back in June 2009 I observed a competition-training session. I did a story on this,
“Wausau Whitewater --- not the toughest or the longest, but great for training.” You might wish to view that article. Here are just four photos:

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This is the first falls, and the largest. This guy is on his way down the falls.

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She’s down the falls into the rapids and now the fight begins.

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And another in the fight.

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This is my favorite. This young man had come down the falls, through the rapids, and flipped over, where he was completely upside down and under water. Through his training, he uprighted himself and you can see by the look on his face how hard he is working to stay that way! Great fun to watch ---- he has more guts than me! As an aside, there were lifeguards in kayaks all around and they watched him very closely.

Back to my trip. I approached the southern end of the kayak course. I’ll tell you the water was flowing out of the course at a pretty good clip, and I admit I was being pretty careful to avoid its full force, but even from a distance I had to fight it a bit.

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I took a shot upstream and you can see the end of the course and some kayakers in it.

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A closer view of the south end of the kayak course. They were holding a competition on this day.

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I’m a rookie and a chicken. I didn’t even want to cross the remnants of the rapids, but I did. I worked pretty hard to cross. I think the proper action for me was to go with the flow, not cut across it. Oh well...

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I turned around and headed downstream. The Big Falls Blues Fest was going on at the Isle, and I was sure I could find a way in there to get some photos, so I spotted this potential entry and headed in.

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No luck here. Blocked by what are known as “downfalls,” which are tress that have fallen into the water. The most dangerous ones are the ones that are completely submerged and you do not see until your bottom hits them.

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I ventured into another cove, looking for the “Northwest Passage,” and slipped through but end up again at a dead end.

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By now I think I’m getting a little lost, but I would learn that this is called Picnic Island. There were people on their bikes here and a family having a picnic at the shoreline. Beautiful place.

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As this inlet had such an official bridge connecting areas, I was sure this would take me into the Blues Fest. The debris in the water looked a little forbidding, but I managed to get through it and headed inward.

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Since I now approached yet a second official looking bridge, I was sure I was going to enter an area where the whole Blues Fest would open up for me. So forward I went.

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Wrong again! While this is indeed a magnificent scene, it also was a dead end. I had to turn around and head out. A short distance from where I was, however, was a pontoon boat with some super people aboard who had parked as close to the fest as you could --- they had enough elevation they could see the fest --- I could only see the tops of the tents --- they were having their brewskis and enjoying the music.

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I emerged from all this and was faced downstream the Wisconsin River looking at the Thomas Street Bridge. Just off to the left, I knew of a very shallow area, a sand bar, high enough that people pull up their motor boats and rest them on the sand bar while the kids jump off and go swimming. The area is pretty large for this kind of fun, but I was not in the mood to go aground. Unfortunately, and unusually , there were no boats at the sand bar, so I did not know where it was. Therefore I had to take a long route around to be sure to avoid it.

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Here’s a photo I took of this sand bar in August 2008. Great fun, eh? Just off to the right, on the “mainland, is Oak Isle Park. Here’s a shot of it.

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This is a sprawling park with lots to do, lots of bike paths, walking paths, picnic areas, and benches on which to relax and just watch the river go by. I put in at Oak Isla from whence I came.

Lake Wausau by kayak

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We continue to head south through Wausau and to her south side.

Lake Wausau is formed by the Wisconsin River meeting the Wausau dam, located close to the city center.

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Having served in the USAF with the Navy, I call this a view of me headed out, the BOA, or Broad Ocean Area! In the center is Big Mosinee Mountain. I had a little chop, which was fun for a rookie.

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I call this my summer cottage. She’s on Lake Wausau with a nice place to berth.

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And my cottage is in a nice neighborhood, which I find uplifting.

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Drifting around one of the islands by the Wausau Country Club.

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Plain old marsh grass looks so different from a kayak.

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Can’t explain it, but sitting in the old kayak one notices and takes pleasure in things that are normally just ho-hum.

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As I am a rookie at this point, I had a hard time positioning myself to get even this shot of the wonderful Yellow Water Lilies. Next time I’ll get in there and shoot some close-ups.

I had a little fun with Mosinee Hill. It is part of a trio of ridges-hills-mountains that have a very similar history and composition: Rib Mountain, the more famous of the three with the Granite Park Ski Area, Mosinee Hill just to its south, which technically is Mosinee Hill Upper and Lower, and Hardwood Hill to the west. They form sort of a crescent with the Nine Mile Swamp area in between.

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I must confess that I was not exactly sure where Mosinee Hill was until this trip on Lake Wausau. There she is, the Upper part, straight ahead.

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Of course, I found this exciting so I headed straight toward her. It turns out that when you approach Wausau from the south on I-39, you see Mosinee Hill Upper first, and often think she is Rib Mountain, only to find out that Rib Mountain is a couple miles north yet. While on the highway, the easiest way to distinguish is by noting the differences in antenna configurations. Note what you have on top of Mosinee Hill.

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This is Rib Mountain from Lake Wausau. From Lake Wausau, the differences are also distinguishable by the differences in hill-mountain configuration, Mosinee looking more like a hill, Rib Mountain more like a long ridge. But you can also see the Rib Mountain antenna configurations are more plentiful and they look different.

That’s your kayak tour of the Wisconsin River in the area of Wausau.