MMSD (Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District) will be spending tens of millions of dollars, removing various sections of cement from this river, widening to re-create a floodplain, and meandering the channel (where possible) to alleviate recurring flooding problems and improve fish and wildlife habitat.
A stretch from Cleveland Avenue to 16th Street (through Pulaski Park) took place was completed early 2020. All cables and equipment have been removed from the river. There are plans for similar work from 16th Street downstream to 6th Street (which will eliminate two of the three 'jumps' listed on the run as detailed here), but we are not yet aware of the timeframe for that phase of 'remediation'.
We will try to keep our eyes and ears open to report further developments on these projects. For now, you may have interest in the following article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 21, 2017: Concrete bed of Kinnickinnic River to be removed from Milwaukee County's Pulaski Park.
Click the following link for a video addressing the plans for the lower stretch of this river. Of particular interest are segments at 0:54 and 1:48, where MMSD officials speak, and (briefly) views of the cement-ditch/river at high-water are shown.
This description is being included here largely to DISSUADE anyone from thoughts that they may have discovered some unknown or unrun bit of whitewater. The majority of this river has been straightened, smooth-curved, and cemented for the convenience of mankind (allowing roads and subdivisions to be laid out less hampered by the randomness of nature). At more-or-less random locations, 'hydraulic jumps' (cement ledge/drops) of various sizes/heights exist. With good flow, these may look like very interesting whitewater, however, they will form wicked hydraulics at some flows!
You would need to scout every drop prior to putting in (I.E., while you are setting shuttle). It is possible (likely?) you will not be able to get out to scout or portage once in your boat because there are virtually no eddies in the uniform cement ditch! Even more problematic, flow changes extremely quickly during and immediately after rains, making it impossible to know precisely what conditions would prevail by the time you would finish setting shuttle and arrive at each 'hydraulic jump' in your boat.
Upstream of our 'theoretical put-in', virtually all areas of the river which are not straightened and cemented have heavily wooded shores and are subject to much deadfall, blocking any safe in-stream passage. In addition, there one area where the river passes through a box culvert ~295' (nearly one football field) in length. At another location, it passes through four large, oval, corrugated steel culverts ~656' in length (more than two football fields, about 1/8th mile). This one also has a bit of a bend in it, so besides being pitch dark, you will not see the light at the end of the tunnel until you are a fair way down it. (Strong water-resistant flashlight or headlamp would be a must!)
Beyond those concerns, to the best of my knowledge, it is illegal to boat virtually any stretch of this river. In the cement sections, the side-slopes are almost all very steep, making any chance of escape problematic. If you were to capsize and swim, it would be exceedingly difficult to exit the river, and nearly impossible for you or any companions to recover your gear until slackwaters at or beyond our listed take-out.
So . . . our recommendation is just to do a drive and hike, to look at some of the various locations and hypothesize runs . . . or better yet, don't bother . . . if there's enough water in the Milwaukee area to make anything here look interesting, there is likely enough water to go have more fun in some other safer, more scenic, and more playable river.
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 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 E.coli 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!
PLEASE TAKE NOTE: the 'Mile' markers on these early features are NEGATIVE, to indicate that they are NOT part of our recommended run. They are being included primarily as warning for anyone who may think of exploring further upstream.
The flow comes out of a long (and, I believe, grated/non-enterable from the top end) tunnel. There is virtually no reasonable 'staging area' from which to launch into this cement ditch, and the police department has posted signs prohibiting entry into the cement ditch.
There are a few interesting looking jumps in the next 0.4 miles. ('Course, finding flows at the right levels to not be a scrape and not be washed-out would be tough.)
A step-drop of ~3-4' immediately precedes ~295' of cement-box culvert. As you approach this box culvert, the combination of the drop and the low ceiling of the culvert will look like the river just disappears (or that it would decapitate you!) at any boatable flow.
As the cement ditch leaves the box culvert, it drops down two hydraulic jumps in quick succession and then begins nearly a mile of non-cement (more 'natural') streambed, surrounded by trees. This stretch is HEAVILY prone to deadfall and impassible snags. Only the ignorant or most masochistic of individuals would attempt to paddle this mess!
Convenient parking (to look at the 'roller dam' and to hike in to the 5.5' corrugated iron-wall dam) is available just off S.43rd Street. For the best viewing, park in the south end of the lot. (The north end would be very close for the iron-dam, but you'll be on the wrong side of the river for the best and easiest viewing locations.)
The 'Roller-dam' is immediately adjacent (right under the downstream side of the 43rd Street bridge), while the Iron-wall-dam requires crossing the river (via 43rd Street bridge or a footbridge just downriver in the park), then walking along the edge of the woods near the river until a VERY OBVIOUS path into the woods which will take you right to the 'falls'.
Immediately under the downstream edge of 43rd Street lies a rounded cement slab ('hydraulic jump'). With high flows this is likely to form a very uniform hydraulic. However, with only 2.5 square miles drainage, it will seldom get high flows, and they won't last very long.
Upstream of this point, the heavily wooded area is extremely prone to deadfall and snags, so putting in above this location is extremely unlikely by anyone who has bothered to read this description or to look at the actual river!
After 43rd Street, the river passes under a pedestrian bridge and turns to head north for a short distance before encountering a railroad embankment where it again turns to the east. Anyone foolhardy enough to be in the river is advised to get out and scout before rounding that bend.
Almost immediately around the bend is about a 5.5' vertical corrugated-iron drop. River-left of the landing pool, two culverts under the railroad contribute flow of a substantial tributary, which may cause some interesting currents (at least, at times of high flow).
With the right flow, it looks like it could be fun just carrying in and running this drop ('doing laps'). But again, with such tiny drainage area, being here when it has the right flow would be exceedingly rare.
The river enters four LARGE diameter (~7-8') culverts, staying underground for the next ~656' (1/8th mile). Since the river had traversed nearly a full mile of heavily wooded natural banks (where it is very subject to deadfall), VERY CONSIDERABLE WOOD tends to accumulate, hanging surprisingly high on these culverts. The county (or some entity) does some regular maintenance to chainsaw wood from this location. However, deadfall may preclude being able to enter ANY of the culverts. (Even if passage were possible, each boater would need a bright water-resistant flashlight/headlamp to navigate the tunnels!) Significant boat-handling skills may be needed to get ashore to portage through the woods past these before being swept into danger or disaster.
Coming out of the culverts, flow is initially separated by high dirt/grass berms. It is entirely possible that (from time to time) wood which does not hang-up on the culvert entrances could (upon exiting the culverts) become lodged between these earth berms. It would be irresponsible and risky to enter any of the four culverts (if/when passage is even possible) without first having checked the exit of these tunnels to be certain you aren't heading into certain disaster. (Kind of like playing russian roulette ... four culverts, staring down (paddling down) one of them, not knowing whether it's 'loaded'.)
Almost immediately after passing under the Kinnickinnic Parkway Road, an overflow stream from the lake/pond in Jackson Park cascades down a narrow cement sluiceway, tripping down a couple of stepped/pools on its way. (No, there's virtually no chance at all that this stepped sluice would ever be boatable. It's merely a minor, marginally 'scenic' sidenote to the river.)
The (theoretical) best access might be from S.31st & W.Manitoba, under a footbridge just before the confluence with Wilson Creek.
Immediately after our listed (theoretical) put-in, from river-right, Wilson Creek enters. Interesting that it has about 3-4 times the drainage area as the Kinnickinnic above this point, but is considered a tributary! Some may wonder since Wilson is that large, why not boat it! Well, just before its confluence with the Kinnickinnic, it is underground for about a quarter-mile! (You seriously do not want to do that!) Its an open cement ditch for ~0.35 miles, then there's another nearly 0.2 miles in a box-culvert (under Point Loomis Shopping Center). Go up another 2.6 miles and its underground again (from Layton to Howell, coming out of the north end of Mitchell field. By the way, entrance to this culvert (and likely some others) is grated/gated, so you would have to portage!
Beyond that, all appearances are that the vast majority of the above-ground portions of Wilson is uniform (sides and bottom) cement ditch, with no pourovers ('jumps'), and virtually no evidence to expect any significant features. There's just no good reason to think about being on any part of that creek!
Parking (for the Kinnickinnic Sports Center) is available just off S.20th Street. It may be just as viable to access from this lot (cutting off nearly a mile of pretty much featureless flush).
About a quarter-mile after S.20th Street, after the river takes a roundhouse left bend (heading northerly, just before a defunct railroad trestle followed by a 2-track railroad trestle) the river drops off about a (very wide) 3' jump.
At flows above 400-500 cfs, this may form a very significant (potentially inescapable in your boat) hydraulic. Fortunately, the river is not that deep (at all reasonable flows), so even when the hydraulic may be at its worst, you are likely to be able to stand up in the backwash/hydraulic and walk to shore!
(It should be noted this would be possible only because of the hydraulic here! Anywhere else on the run (at 'boatable' flows) extremely swift current in the uniform cement ditch will make any attempts to stand and walk in the stream very dangerous to nearly impossible.
This should be scouted (before putting on upstream) by parking on S.16th Street, just South of the bridge over the railroad tracks. It will be necessary to step over the guardrail and try to carefully make your way down (and back up) a steep heavily-wooded slope to get a view of this location from near water level, to analyze the reversal/backwash and carefully assess your chances of being able to run this drop.
After passing under S.13th Street (you'll see a pedestrian bridge crossing where S.11th Street dead ends either side of the river), a short 'hydraulic jump' will be encountered. This one is very minor, formed by what look essentially like parking-lot stop-blocks in the cement-ditch-bottom. At flows in the 400-600 cfs range, this forms a sweet-looking V-wave which could allow catch-on-the-fly one-shot surfs.
Visible from a footbridge spanning the cement ditch at 8th Street (which dead-ends on each side of the river), this hydraulic jump is quite interesting. As shown in the photo, the right side stays high further than the left side. All faces are sloped rather than vertical, making for some VERY interesting currents here. Indeed, at flows around 300-400, left-of-center has a wicked looking wrapping wave, while the right-side drops into a fairly significant hole.
Additionally, immediately at the base of the drop, on the left, there is an storm sewer (combined sewer) outlet which could (at times of excessive rains) contribute significant contaminated flows.
As the river heads toward 6th Street it leaves the cement. The first 500-1000' have had cement removed and shores laid back and generally 'armored' with quarried rock on the sloping banks. Beyond, bed and banks are finally back to more natural (rocks, mud, dirt, trees) condition.
At this point, you are largely at Lake Michgan water levels, thus generally much more slack currents.
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"Remediation" at Pulaski Park
MMSD Project Detail
MMSD Work At Cleveland Ave/Pulaski Park
8th Street Ledge
11th Street Mini-ledge
Jackson Park Pond Overflow Falls
Exit from Quad Culverts
Timber & Snags
43rd Street Rolling Dam
60th&Bennett (Close-up view)
60th&Bennett (Wide view)
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