Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Prodigal Rat...

With the sun shining, water flowing, and flowers flowering, it's tough to find the ambition to sit at a keyboard and compose. Hence my recent hiatus from rat missives. I am weak when it comes to spring...there, I've said it. But knowing my duty to my readers, I've dragged myself off the water and the ol' desktop to share with you all a bit of interesting history. One of the finest river rats in Wisconsin, retired newspaper publisher George Rogers, sent it along. It's about an area in central Wisconsin that the River Alliance featured in its last newsletter, Wisconsin Rivers , the Portage County Drainage District. Don't worry...the story is better than the name. Here you go:

"The Isherwood story was a good one. A book could be written about the Buena Vista Marsh and the Portage County Drainage District. It started out as a big wetland -- part marsh and part tamarack bog, I think, with trout streams running through it.

Early in the 20th century Bradley Polytechnic Institute of Peoria, Ill. (now Bradley University) bought it. Bradley had drained a swamp in Indiana, sold it to farmers and made a lot of money, and decided to do the same here. They drained it and sold the land but it wasn't a farming bonanza. The soil wasn't as rich as it looked. It was peat, and sometimes it caught fire and burned all winter. Dams were put in the drainage ditches (mostly straightened trout streams) to control the water level. Some landowners wanted the level higher, some lower. At one point there was a big Kentucky bluegrass seed industry on the marsh but it collapsed after World War II when they found it was cheaper to import it from Denmark. Kentucky bluegrass isn't native to the U.S., it's a northern European plant.

While it lasted on the marsh, it was good for prairie chickens. The marsh is still Wisconsin's best prairie chicken stronghold. Over the years, there have been arguments with the DNR as to whether the ditches are navigable waters or artificial waterways. They reached some sort of compromise. Controversies continue, as you can tell from Justin's article. The ditches still have trout, although they're straight and unnatural looking. It's like fishing on a sidewalk. Currently, cranberry growing is on the increase on the marsh. Its impact on trout and prairie chickens is uncertain."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

River Rat: Travel Advisor....

Vacations are something river rats like myself excel in...we enjoy our leisure time, as we're sure you do yourselves. But "these tough economic times" quote (or possibly just paraphrase) a respected River Alliance leader...make jetting to Napa for wine and cheese or caravaning to Disneyland with your ratlets a difficult proposition (some might even say an impossibility). So, what's a leisure seeking rat to do? Well...head to their local river, of course. According to this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, that--and camping--is exactly what many of your fellow Wisconsinites are doing.

Given this, I rattled some cages (and burrows) here at River Rat Central and asked our dedicated servants of rivers to pass along their favorite "staycation" info site links for your summer planning. They happily obliged, if only to get my dirty, wet paws off their desktops.

The Wisconsin DNR's Surface Water Viewer, an interactive G.I.S. map, lets you search for and zero in on your favorite navigable waters, while also coming upon some you might not have thought, or known, about. And even if you don't find a new pristine paddling place, it sure is fun to play around with.

After you've purused the bevy of paddle friendly running waters Wisconsin has to offer, surf over to or and find out what your fellow water voyageurs have to say about your select stream. You'll also get an idea of the current conditions and maybe--just maybe--a post-paddle watering hole recommendation. And if there isn't one there, feel free to leave one. With the variety of watering holes available in the land of deer and cheese, sometimes it's good to have a map.

Whitewater adventure more your speed than a leisurely paddle-in-hand toodle? American Whitewater will give you up to the day reports on the status of your favorite rapids, and maybe turn you on to some new ones.

Of course, there are many great options for combining a paddle with an over-night (or week's) camping. The DNR's site will also give you the scoop in state campgrounds, natural areas, and navigable waters. Just don't forget to get your state parks sticker.

Now, just so you don't think I'm all about paddling and not interested in the anglers amongst my readers, there's also a load of good links for you rod and tackle lovers. Fly Fishing WI is a real one stop shop for fly fishing information, detailing stream conditions, fishing regulations, and even fly friendly writers.

Need something to read while you dangle your line in the water? Then check out Improved Trout Waters of Wisconsin. Full of detailed maps, it's a must for you trout anglers out there.

Don't forget to go to DNR's fishing page, where you can get more info on conditions and even buy your license online.

So, there you have should be all set to fill you summer activities. I'm glad I could help. And if you have more suggestions for your fellow River Rats, leave them in the comments section below. I'm a bright rat, but I'm certainly not infallable (close...but not quite).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Does this mean I should stop calling the Bark River the People's River?

The River Rat caught wind of some fan mail that arrived at River Alliance offices last week and as a blog-besotted communist rodent, I just had to post it for all you river lovers to enjoy:

After reading an article about the Delafield, WI dam removal; I wonder what gives this ulta-liberal [sic] organization of communist Madison a say in what goes on here?

The authority you bring is not knowledge, but your assertion of what looks best in your eyes, not how it affects others.

Please…get a real job and focus on raising a God-loving family and not this type of foolishness. Stop being a busy-body and acting as though you have some type of authority.

This is what makes me sick when we all know this poor women didn’t contact your organization, you guy’s [sic] pressured her!

Thanks for letting me speak my mind,

Area resident

Dear “area resident”,

Thanks for sharing your mind!

Being the River Rat, I respect folks who are passionate defenders of their home rivers. But I have to ask – did you get as angry when you found out about how the Delafield Common Council recently came within a single vote of approving a motion to seize the private property of one tax-paying resident to benefit the backyard of six others and take on the $700,000 repair bill that came with it ? You might not need to point so far west if you want to get mad about “communists” and “busybodies”.

You ask, too, what gives the River Alliance, or anyone else for that matter, a say in what goes on in your home river? There’s a two-part answer to that very good question. First, though the desk chairs, computers and paperclips of this fine organization are located in Madison, its soul lives in the more than 3000 members that occupy every county of this state and swim, fish, hike, explore and care for just about every foot of river, stream and creek in Wisconsin. Some of them are your fellow neighbors and “area residents”. One of them is the dam owner.

Second, there is this little piece of Wisconsin Constitution called the Public Trust Doctrine. Our founding fathers – bless their busybody little hearts – included language that ensured that the waters of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin and are forever free. That means that every Wisconsinite, whether they be a riparian owner, “area resident”, user of the river or river enthusiast, has the opportunity - or the “authority” if that’s the term you prefer – to have a say in how our public waters are managed. That’s the privilege and the responsibility of living in a place where no can ever put a fence across a flowing river and say “private property: keep out”.

So call it red menace or anything else you like but it ain’t just coming from Madison. People who love rivers are everywhere and are multiplying like, well, rats. That means you can count on them to stir healthy debate about how rivers should be managed all over this state. And the River Alliance will always continue the hard job of supporting river rats and giving those rivers a voice.

Your in-stream comrade,
The River Rat

(P.S. More on the story of the Nemahbin Roller Mill dam soon. A soon as we're done coercing the dam owner to give us more Krispy Kremes)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Damn, that's a good looking fish.

Our good friends over at Milwaukee Riverkeeper posted this sweet little discovery on Pidgeon Creek near the site of the former Seminary Dam which was removed in 2008.
"This picture shows the first confirmed migrating steelhead upstream of the former Pigeon Creek dam at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Milwaukee Riverkeeper was a key player in getting the dam removed, opening up 25 miles of stream to migrating fish like the one shown here."
Nice job to all involved!