We were looking for an adventure that day, the three of us girls. Our husbands were watching the kids and we had three kayaks on loan. “There are a lot of outfitters running the Kinni nowadays,” said Katie, “so it’s not as quiet as it used to be. Or we could try out the Rush River. I’ve never paddled it before but I’ve heard that you can.” Erica and I nodded in agreement and the next thing you know, we were unloading our kayaks on the edge of the Rush River, or at least we should have been. Here’s what really happened.
To begin, though we knew that the Rush River is located in western Wisconsin and flows more or less from Baldwin down to Maiden Rock, we didn’t actually know where to get on or off the water. We wasted approximately 30 thirty minutes searching for information on-line about the Rush, which is considered a Class II trout stream. We didn’t find any mileage information but we did learn that the stream is better suited for tubing and kayaking than canoeing because it’s so shallow. We wasted an additional 45 minutes picking up the kayaks before hitting the road for a scenic drive down to Maiden Rock, where we left Katie’s truck at the intended “take-out” point. By the time we drove back along the same scenic route to the place where we planned to “put-in,” another hour and a half was gone.
Finally we were ready to unload the kayaks from my truck and head down to the river, but before we could, we met a couple of locals who ever so kindly suggested that our intended route along the Rush would be longer than we expected. (Actually, these two fellows called us “mud ducks” and gaffawed loudly, but we pretended that they had our best interests at heart.) So, we spent another hour or so moving the take-out truck, scouting out a new put-in location and chatting with folks at a roadside bar before we finally settled on a route, parked the truck and unloaded the boats. We hit the water at last at 4pm.
Perhaps the journey was made sweeter by the fact that it took us so long to begin, but by the end of the day, we all agreed that our Rush River adventure had been a smashing success. The river winds through wooded ravines with limestone bluffs and was the perfect combination of gentle water and small rapids with just enough snags and fallen trees to keep us entertained. During our three hours on the water, we saw four people fly-fishing but no other paddlers. We came so close to a pair of immature bald eagles that we practically had to duck, and saw many other birds as well, including a kingfisher and a trio of killdeer. We watched a family of raccoons scurry along the river bank and smiled when a deer peeked out of the woods.
Unfortunately, we also passed a few locations along the Rush where the natural vegetation along the river bank had been removed, causing the bank to crumble and erode. In one particularly bad example, a farmer had cleared out the streambank buffer and planted corn all the way to the edge of the river. The bare soil along the tall bank was deeply undercut and corn was floating in the water where the edge continued to crumble. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have rules and recommendations regarding native vegetation along rivers, lake and streams, but the implementation and enforcement of these rules usually falls to the counties. In Minnesota, farm fields located within areas that have been designated as shoreline districts are required to have a buffer strip of permanent vegetation that is 50 feet wide along all lakes, rivers, and streams, unless the areas are part of a resource management system plan. Locally in Washington County, our Watershed Districts have stream and lake buffer rules for new development and also offer cost-share incentive grants to help landowners restore native vegetation in already developed area.
The sun was starting to set as my friends and I finally reached our take-out point on the Rush River that day. We lugged the kayaks up to Katie’s truck and drove back through the country to pick up my truck as well. Along the way, we ran into the two fellows who’d given us advice earlier in the day, laughed about their needless warnings and joined them for a beer at the roadside bar where we’d later stopped to ask for directions. Our Rush River ramble ended with a stop in Ellsworth for cheese curds and greasy bar food, which we devoured with delight. “So,” we said as we ate our food, “which stretch of the Rush should we kayak the next time?”
If you would like to explore the Rush River yourself, we found the best information on the local Trout Unlimited website at www.kiaptuwish.org/rush-river.