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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
A short hydraulic jump (cement ledge/drop). Measured when dry, this is a 12" drop. (All listed heights are measured from the cement lip to the cement base when the river is dry. With flow, some of these will have virtually no drop to them at all, but will vary in amount of backwash/boil.)
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.
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. (Same advice as in the prior drop.)
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.
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.)
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" of the next 0.8 mile of Underwood Creek removal of the former cement bed and banks, replacing it with granite boulders of varying sizes. For boaters, this area will be either rock-dodging or rock-bashing at low flows (anything under 250 cfs). At higher flows, novice boaters (and anyone unfamiliar with whitewater paddling) are likely to think this looks wild and 'scary'. And it actually is scary and extremely dangerous for anyone who may end up capsized or out of their boat! Major rock impacts and possible foot entrapments about here! On the other hand, experienced paddlers will find little more than a featureless flush followed by swiftwater flowing between rocks (at low water, or over them at moderate-to-high water).
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. Flow through here is (at best) swiftwater. At low water, there may be rocks to avoid, but any decent boatable flow everything should be well-covered, making this essentially flatwater.
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).
The bottom and banks become mud and cobble, and shores become tree-lined. (There is no drop nor feature which forms.)
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').
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!
*** As flows reach around 1750 cfs (on the Menomonee gauge) 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.
This is the first convenient access point (take-out) after Underwood confluences with the Menomonee, thus is our listed take-out for a run on Underwood Creek.
However, any paddlers who run Underwood Creek are most likely to continue with 3.6 miles of the Menomonee, enjoying two very different experiences: a relatively lower-volume cement ditch run (on Underwood), and a relatively high volume run (with the Menomonee having about 8-times the drainage area thus likely something near 8-times the flow). Please be VERY aware of flows and how they may be changing even while you are paddling, especially if raining while you are on the run.
The former put-in for the MenTosa Section
was in Hoyt Park. However, four 'transects' (which had created hydraulic jumps,
pourovers, and occasionally interesting play possibilities) have been
removed, leaving a lot of flatwater/swiftwater, but very little true
whitewater from here to downtown Wauwatosa. As a result, we've changed
our recommendations for that run, splitting it into an upper section
(MenWesTosa) and a lower section (MenTosa). As a result, for those continuing downstream, you will have to refer to both of those descriptions for complete info on what you will encounter.
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Permits are not required for this reach.
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.
Walled In (looking upstream)
Remediation (former 'Big Jump')
Railroad Jump Revised
(De-)Construction: Railroad Jump
Three box culverts of 115th Street Bridge
First Transect (Warm-up Drop)
Second Transect (Wake-up Drop)
WPR Drop (Third Transect)
Site of the Rooster Tail
End of meandered section
Lead-in to Railroad Drop
Little Jump, Looking Upstream
Looking upstream at Scary Drop
Scary Drop, looking downstream
115th Street Bridge
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