Difficulty II(III)
Length 3.5 Miles
Gauge UNDERWOOD CREEK AT WAUWATOSA, WI
Flow Range 200 - 600 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 8 hours ago 54.1 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 04/02/2019 12:44 am

River Description


MMSD 'remediation' projects have extremely diminished this once very fun run.

They've removed cement channel, laid back the banks, created a slightly-meandered streambed, and emplaced erratic boulders (totally out of character with anything which exists in any natural stream in S.E.Wisconsin) in what they consider to be 'restoring' the river and its floodplain. The most recent project (on the final ~half-mile) was completed by year's end, December 2017, while a similar project had been done a handful of years earlier in the middle stretch of the listed run.) So, only one half-mile stretch still contains ledge/drops (maxing out at about 2'). The rest of the run is flatwater in a cement ditch, or swiftwater in artificial meanders, followed by 'splishy-splash' and class II at moderate-to-high flows, and rock-dodging (or more likely rock-bashing) at low-to-moderate flows.

A story (with photos of early stages of this work) is available at Milwaukee Magazine.



Quick Facts:
Location: Elm Grove/Wauwatosa
Shuttle Length: 4.4 miles (or 6.4 miles, if continuing to include full MenTosa run). (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: VERY flashy city run; Cement ditch with ledge-drops (diminshed as indicated above) for first half, 'restored' meanders and boulder-dodge in the later going.
Drainage area at gauge (midway on run): 18 square miles.

Put-in elevation is approximately 720'.
Take-out elevation is approximately 660'.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 60'.

General Overview

Boaters have been warned on more than one occasion that this is illegal to access this run from within Milwaukee County. The listed put-in for this section is in a Waukesha County, in a park with porta-johns (at least in summer) and a slat-fence enclosure which affords a possible almost-modest (not entirely private) change area (even if/when portajohns are not present). About a mile of uninteresting ditch leads to the first (very minor) sloping pitch at 115th Street. (Alternate put-in could be from the parkway road just west of 115th Street, but this is a surprisingly high-traffic location, so attempting a 'stealth put-in' is not easy there, thus not recommended.)

The water quality in this cement ditch might best be categorized as 'urban sewer'. Flows (on any occasion which has adequate flow to boat) consists of runoff from streets, parking lots, over-fertilized yards, areas where folks have walked their pets (and not picked up the 'waste'), and so on. As a result water is full of such nasties as E.coli, fecal bacteria, oils, heavy metals, and who knows what. Anyone in the water should be wearing a full-body condom, diver's mask and scuba gear (to preclude the possibility of a splash of water entering any facial orifice).

More is the pity, because this stretch contains a few 'hydraulic jumps' (cement-ledge/pourovers) which otherwise offer some quick in-town fun (possible short-boof practice), and potentially a few semi-interesting surfable waves. Landings on the 'jumps' may have sticky-looking hydraulic reversals at some flows. Paddlers may be best to approach with some momentum, landing a 'boof', and immediately employing a strong forward stroke to draw them out of the grips of reversals. (Do not just drift over the drop, or drop over sideways, and do not raise your arms into the air and fail to paddle out of the drop!) That said, if caught by the reversal, DO NOT PANIC! All of these are shallow enough, if you end up caught in them and have to exit your boat, you can stand, grab your boat, and walk to the shore!

With the 'restoration' projects, the final mile (+/-) of the river has been filled with large rocks. At low water this may look like it could make an interesting paddle trip. However, it will be nothing but rock-bashing (boat and body busting) at low flows, and will be little better than class II when flows are high enough to cover the rocks. Additionally, at any slightly elevated flow, this area will be replete with danger of foot-entrapment for anyone out of a boat and in the current.

All of that said, while there may be significant risk to novices who are inexperienced and uneducated in the special concerns present with whitewater, there would be nothing overly dangerous to properly trained, experienced boaters.

Rapid Descriptions

NOTICE!

Class - N/A Mile - -0.1
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If the descriptions (above and below) are not enough to dissuade you from considering this run, you might wish to be further informed . . .

The following quotes (with personal bold/italic emphasis added) are from an article (in the Shepherd Express, a local 'alternative' newsweekly) entitled "Going with the Flow -- How the suburbs are helping close the beaches":

"Tests during rainfalls ... at 15 sites along waterways in Milwaukee County regularly show Ecoli and fecal coliform amounts are thousands of times higher than the EPA standards for beach closings ..."

"... numbers this high are comparable to untreated sewage."

"One study found ... about 15% of fecal coliform found in stormwater runoff is from dogs." (I.E., people who do not pick up after their pets!)

"The highest concentrations of E.coli and fecal coliform have been found in Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa and in the Little Menomonee River"

"people can get sick from water like that, but the illness may be passed off as something else since it isn't that severe."

So . . . take all that for what you wish to make of it!
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Actual Put-in

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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A walk of ~200 meters (660') down a paved path will bring you to a footbridge. Carry under the footbridge, get into you boat, and slide down into the cement ditch.

Some maps label this Deer Creek, while others just label it S.Br.Underwood Creek. Drainage area here is less than 5.5 square miles. Do not panic too much if flow seems a bit 'thin' here -- less than a half-mile downstream flow may nearly triple.

Confluence Deer Creek/Underwood Creek: Drainage area: 16 sq.mi.

Class - I Mile - 0.43
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Immediately after you pass under Bluemound Road you reach a confluence. I've seen some references call one tributary Deer Creek and the other Underwood Creek, while other references just label them Underwood and S.Br.Underwood (that being the opening stretch listed here).

Water trips across a rocky outflow from the left. At times, a bit of minor surfs or play in confluence currents may be possible here. The combined drainage area at this point is about 16 square miles.

117th&Parkway Road: Alternate Put-in

Class - N/A Mile - 1
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To cut off 1 mile of flatwater, you could try to put-in here. However, this parkway tends to be a surprisingly high-traffic area, and lacks the convenience of facilities which the listed put-in has.

Various clumps of evergreens and other brush (notably immediately opposite 117th Street) make a handy marker and provide some cover for your covert operation (stealth put-in). It's a short carry across the grass, behind these trees, down the bank, to find a spot that will hold your boat steady before you slide in.

115th Street Wave

Class - I Mile - 1.148

The 115th Street bridge consists of three cement box culverts. Trees often block one or more of these passages. It is highly recommended (while running shuttle) to carefully check for clear passage before putting in anyplace upstream.

As the creek (cement ditch) heads into 115th Street, the cement bottom has some slope. At some flows, small surfable waves may form in one or more of the openings. If you have the time and presence of mind as you approach, pass, and possibly surf this spot, look at the 'urban stalactites' forming on the cement underside of the bridge overhead!

1st Hydraulic Jump (Warm-up Jump), 12"

Class - II Mile - 1.325

A short hydraulic jump (cement ledge/drop). Measured when dry, this is a 12" drop.(All listed heights are dry measured from the lip. With flow, some of these will have virtually no drop to them at all.)

2nd Hydraulic Jump (Wake-up Jump), 27"

Class - II Mile - 1.378

This 27" cement ledge/drop can be quite sticky at good flows. At 750-850, the center looks unlikely to escape, but running a sneak route tight to either shore, angling toward center on your boof, should put you in the clear. The cement bottom is uniform here, so if you end up caught, worst case, you exit your boat, stand up, and walk out.

3rd Hydraulic Jump (WPR Jump), 25"

Class - II Mile - 1.472

WPR often means 'Wisconsin Public Radio', but in this case it means Watertown Plank Road. This hydraulic jump of about 25" can also be slightly sticky at good flows. (See warning above.)

Sliding Chicane / Rooster Tail Wave

Class - II+ Mile - 1.53

The river heads toward and passes under the railroad tracks just downstream of Watertown Plank Road. (There are actually two levels of tracks, one parallel to the creek, the other on the trestle overhead relatively perpendicular to the creek.) The cement channel slopes a bit and heads toward a vertical corregated steel wall which sends the water careening right before it careens back left in the cement channel below. At moderate flows, a sweet surfable (catch-on-the-fly) wave forms before you accelerate into the chicane. (Note: at low-to-moderate flows, rather than accelerate, you will grunge and grind through here, as the water sheets so fast and shallow across the wide cement slab.)

Below the chicane, at moderate boatable flows, a sweet rooster-tail wave forms. A strong eddy forms to the inside of the bend, and may facilitate paddlers who want to eddy-out to try for surfs on the wave.

While there is not a vertical 'jump' here, don't take this area lightly! The other jumps may look a bit more intimidating, but they are generally pretty straightforward -- paddle hard, paddle over, and paddle out. At moderate to high flows, to successfully negotiate this chicane and wave, you will have to be able to pick a path and hit it! (Paddle, maneuver, and be ready to brace!) Sure, you could just 'go with the flow', but that strategy is likely to send you careening into the wall midway through the drop, likely miss the rooster-tail wave, but careen into a very uncomfortable spot against the sloping cement sides. If you flip and end up out of your boat, it will be very awkward to try to recover your gear and remount (floating in the 'inside the bend' eddy) to continue.

With the action downstream so much diminished by the remediation projects, this is the end of the best action. One could try to exit the river and carry up the adjacent bike path to just do this ~half-mile as a park-and-play. However, trying to exit the steep-sloped sides of the cement ditch here will not be easy.

Hwy.100/Mayfair Road

Class - N/A Mile - 1.783
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An MMSD project (years back) removed the cement from the next half-mile of the river. At minimal flows, random rocks may be seen in the channel, but don't create any rapids at boatable flows. In fact, at the 'best' higher flows, water will fill the wider engineered floodplain area here, flowing through and matting down the taller grasses and other plants (sometimes allowing one to cut off a few of the meanders).

The final 0.8 mile of Underwood Creek has also been 'remediated' (removing all the hydraulic jumps in that section in 2017), leaving relatively little actual whitewater interest in that stretch. Anyone who still opts to do this 'bandit run' has two choices:

1) Do the 'full run', knowing that the rest of Underwood Creek (and virtually the entire first mile+ of MenTosa) are flatwater, minor riffs and rips, and rock-dodge/rock-bash class II,

-- OR --

2) Risk a 'park-and-huck'/'park-and-play', putting in from the parkway near 115th Street, running to just under Hwy.100/Mayfair Road, to get out there and carry (~0.6 mile) back up the bike path, to run the above listed features. (I say 'risk' in the sense that unless you are doing this during terrible weather, there is likely to be walkers, joggers, and bikers on the path, and plenty of traffic on 115th and the parkway road, and thus increased potential that someone 'official' might take issue with you paddling this stretch of cement ditch.)

4th Hydraulic Jump, Railroad Jump

Class - II Mile - 2.28

This hydraulic jump (cement ledge/pourover) used to be ~66" (at the metal-capped shoulders). Some years back (when they removed cement channelization of the half-mile upstream) they redid the approach and the lip, lowering the center to a 30" drop. Remediation (done during 2017) removed concrete channel from here down to nearly the confluence with the Menomonee River. This drop is now almost completely gone, having a pool backed up with quarried rock filling much of the area below the cement which remains under the railroad trestle for structural integrity. There may be a bit of a wave/hole when water is over the 'shoulders' of this approach.

Remediation Rips

Class - II Mile - 2.4

The first half of the final 0.8 mile of Underwood Creek (to the confluence with the Menomonee River) will likely be rock-bashing at low flows, and a featureless flush at higer flows.

Narrowing

Class - N/A Mile - 2.577

The first roughly half of this section (from under the freeway to the confluence) had enough room for the creek to be widened to re-create a floodplain and do some meandering of the streambed. Midway down, private properties line river-left, and the railroad flanks the stream to the right, so meandering and floodplain were not an option. As a result, the creek narrows to flow between vertical walls.

Walled In Terrace

Class - N/A Mile - 2.855

After passing a clearing and a chainlink fence on the left, heading to a low-cut area on the right bank (where golf carts pass under the railroad tracks to access a few holes on the course) a 'two-step' terrace has been created. The lower step appears to have some grates (unknown what happens when flows rise to that level).

End of remediation area

Class - N/A Mile - 3.028
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The bottom and banks become mud and cobble, and shores become tree-lined. (There is no drop nor feature which forms.)

Confluence with Menomonee River

Class - N/A Mile - 3.082
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The confluence is generally uneventful. Often the increased flow from the Menomonee actually 'backs up' into the lower part of Underwood Creek, and there is a general lack of any strong merging currents. However, this confluence is your 'notice' of the upcoming concern (see next 'feature').

Hansen Park Golf cart bridge

Class - II Mile - 3.16
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A golf cart bridge (for Hansen Park Golf) crosses the Menomonee River. At flows which are necessary to make Underwood interesting, it is likely to suffer minimal clearance. It is 'duckable' (in a whitewater kayak) up to 1180 cfs but a canoe would be in trouble! At most levels between 800 and 2200 cfs you will have to get ashore and portage. It will be mandatory to catch an eddy (at right is best) to exit for portage. (Technically it is illegal to be on the golf course here, but technically their bridge should not obstruct passage on a navigable stream.) With higher flows yet, water will flow over the bridge (with only fairly short 'curbs' on the bridge deck, but no rails) and a small wave/hole may form. At super high flows, there likely will be almost no surface disturbance, but at such flows, you are likely to be in serious jeopardy if you continue downstream, as some bridges (at least two pedestrian and one train) will either be low to the water or will have water flowing into their understructure, with very little chance to avoid disaster. In the instance that you are able to pass over this bridge, you are likely to be very sorry if you have not checked bridge clearance at these other bridges on your shuttle upstream. Also be VERY aware whether the river is on the rise or declining flow.

Take-out/'upper' MenTosa Put-in; Drainage area: ~110 sq.mi.

Class - N/A Mile - 3.56
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The upper put-in for the MenTosa Section lies just downstream from the confluence of Underwood Creek. Any paddlers who run Underwood Creek to that confluence are most likely to continue with the ('full') 3.6 miles of that run, enjoying two very different experiences: a relatively low-volume cement ditch, and a relatively high volume run (at least, when Underwood is running good), with about 8-times the drainage area (thus likely near 8-times the flow). Please be VERY aware of flows and how they may be changing even while you are on that run, especially if raining while you are on the run.

Comments

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Rob
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1 year ago

The 'remediation' on this stretch of river (started spring, 2017) is apparently complete. All equipment is gone from site, so pipes, pumps, cables, etc. no longer block the river under the expressway at Mayfair Road. *************************************************************************************************************** Concrete has been removed, and the riverbed and banks are now strewn with various sized rocks. Some of the shoreline has been laid back to create a wider floodplain, planted with grass and saplings. Partway down this stretch (where private property flanks the creek), having little room to lay back floodplain, they did widen the riverbed and confine it between vertical walls. The first 'jump' (at the railroad trestle) is very much lessened, with the pool backed-up by all the rocks in the river. All other ledge 'jumps' downstream are gone. There may be some minor rapids here at some flows (though likely to be little more than swiftwater class I-II rock-dodging). Whether any of it makes playable features will remain to be seen, but it will be important to be aware that any flips or swims will likely involve high-speed impact with rocks not far below the surface. This project did not affect the shorter pour-overs and the cement ditch upstream of Mayfair Road, however I suspect 'remediation' of that stretch may be not far in the future.

Gage Descriptions

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Take Out

43.031,-88.026

Permits

NA

Directions Description


Shuttle directions have been a bit convoluted due to road construction projects (at the Zoo Interchange and surrounds). Alternate routes are likely to be used. (Good luck!)

Be aware that if you are headed west on Blue Mound Road, it is NOT possible to turn left onto Columbia Blvd. You need to continue to a left turn lane for Elm Grove Road. (Careful! The turn-off lane is well-before the intersection, but after an oncoming turn-off lane.) Heading south on Elm Grove Road, look for the third (3rd) road to the left. Golf Road will take you right into the parking lot in the park. Head to the back end of the lot and walk (largely due east) a paved path to the creek to put-in under a bridge.

It may be worth using a completely different shuttle route to have a chance to look at the 'hydraulic jump' right under Watertown Plank Road, immediately west of Hwy.100/Mayfair Road. You will have to park briefly in a business parking lot and hike up the bike path under Watertown Plank Road to have a look here.

Anyone who risks arrest and disease to do this run is likely to continue beyond the listed take-out of this run to run the Menomonee River 'MenTosa' section, therefore it is highly unlikely that the default shuttle directions below have any relevance what so ever. To get shuttle directions for the extended run (Underwood Creek plus MenTosa), enter (cut/paste) the coodinates for MenTosa's take-out (43.0415, -87.9681 or just the address W.Monarch Place) into the text-entry box below. Again, other routings may be preferable.

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Rob

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1201983 04/19/13 Rob Minor tweaks to description/scouting
1199203 02/14/11 Rob n/a
1199204 02/14/11 Rob Initial add.
1199209 02/15/11 Rob Add link to MMSD project info
1201664 11/13/12 Rob Rework start/end of reach; clean up other minor points.
1201960 04/12/13 Rob redo put-in
1201701 12/21/12 Rob Rename
1201962 04/12/13 Rob fix/comment about shuttle error.
1202774 10/06/13 Rob Minor text edit.
1202872 11/24/13 Rob Add overview
1207773 06/23/17 Rob promote to top of page warning about restructuring
1207592 05/29/17 Rob Remediation has removed cement ledge/drops from final 0.8 miles
1207782 06/27/17 Rob replace broken link
1208595 12/15/17 Rob update re: work progress
1208506 11/20/17 Rob minor edit
1208727 01/14/18 Rob minor edits for finalized remediation
1211676 04/02/19 Rob updated image position
1210000 07/09/18 Rob minor edit/rework remediation writeup