It was a perfect morning as we pulled into Cable Wayside Landing on the Namekagon River in Cable, Wisconsin. The plan was for me and two other Rangers to paddle the stretch of the Namekagon River from Cable Wayside to Larsen Landing. As a National Park Service Ranger with the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, it is important to know the entire river to help visitors plan their trips. This was the remaining stretch that in six years as a Ranger I had yet to paddle. We knew summer was winding down and the river was getting low, especially up north, but we decided to paddle this stretch anyway. Little did I know what a wonderful day was ahead.
Paddling away from Cable Wayside it became evident quickly that this stretch of river was very shallow and I was thankful we were in kayaks and not a loaded down canoe. Being the least stubborn of the three of us, I quickly got out of my kayak and dragged it over the rocks. I was shocked at how cold the water was. Somehow my partners managed to wiggle their way through these shallow stretches. The river continued to be shallow with occasional walking (for me) to Leonard Schoolhouse Road Bridge. After passing under this low bridge the water levels were better all the way to Larsen Landing, minus a few shallow stretches near Seeley.
Even with the inconvenience of shallow water, the beauty and repeated encounters with wildlife on the river made every cold footstep dragging my kayak worthwhile. We frequently encountered one of my favorite fish, the redhorse sucker. Often unappreciated, healthy redhorse sucker populations indicate a clean and healthy river. After watching a school of twenty redhorse swim lazily by our canoes we looked up and found ourselves staring a mother deer in the eye as she anxiously watched her fawn drink from the river. They eventually retreated into the woods, but not without an indignant snort from the mother. Our canoe next glided gently over the mysterious and beautiful brown trout. Our least welcoming experience was the kingfisher who shared his angry feelings with us very loudly. Further downstream we dipped our paddles with hushed astonishment as a family of thirteen merganser ducks allowed us to paddle among them for over twenty minutes. We also caught glimpses of osprey, mature bald eagles, immature bald eagles, great blue herons and a green heron.
In addition to the animal life along the river I was struck by the weathered and wise cedar trees keeping watch along the river's edge. I couldn't help but wonder how many anglers, canoeist, and loggers they witnessed travel past in the rivers endless flow. As we paddled through the labyrinth of wild rice fields on Pacwawong Flowage, I felt like a little kid in a corn maze. We spent our lunch break with the sun beating down on us listening to the sound of the river as it surged over the old logging dam at Pacwawong.
Written language cannot adequately describe this stretch of river but words such as magnificent, beautiful, powerful, and breathe taking start to capture the experience. As I think back to this paddle goose bumps cover my arms.
To plan your own paddling journey contact the Namekagon River Visitor Center at 715-635-8346 or visit the trip planning page on our website at http://www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/index.htm.