Location: northwest edge of city of Racine.
Shuttle Length: 0.2-0.6 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: Relatively high, rocky, tree-lined banks provide almost a 'wilderness' feel in a county park, where sloping bedrock creates fine playable features.
Put-in is approximately 620' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 600' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 20'.
Shallow bedrock ledges in a fairly uniform width, unobstructed channel create a sweet series of green (ok, more like brown) waves for surfs and (at high water) major freestyle action. Many who have done this reach (at levels above 1400-1800 cfs) have proclaimed the play waves here to be among the best in the state! Not bad, considering it's in the southeast corner of the state where one would not expect to find good whitewater!
Access and parking are convenient both at the upper put-in by the Horlick Dam and at the take-out in Quarry Lake Park. (Most boaters just park at the take-out and carry up to their chosen put-in.)
In winter or early spring when the water is up, don't let a windy, raw day discourage you from boating this reach. High banks flank the river, sheltering you from almost all wind conditions while on the water. (It will only be a factor as you carry up the paved path in the park.) I've boated it with the temperature in the low 30's, and wind-chills of single-digits or teens, and have been fine while on the river. Additionally, the existence of the dam and its millpond (at the head of this reach) holds back ice in winter. The stretch that we boat downstream of the dam will often flush free of ice after a day or two of winter warming, allowing for reasonably safe boating. (Always check for ice-shelves in pools before putting on in winter!)
Be aware this is a VERY popular fishing stream. During spring (March/April) and fall (October +/- 2weeks) when the Steelhead, Salmon, Trout, etc., are running, be prepared to share the river with scores of anglers. Fortunately water levels most conducive to boating are generally unfavorable for fishing, so there is seldom a problem. Most fishermen will be found up by the dam (down to the first bend), and in the pool below the final playspot (and along the golf course river-frontage downstream). Do your best not to interfere too much with their fishing. When possible, wait until they are pulling-in their line (or changing tackle) before passing them (whether going downstream or coming up an eddy they are in). Most fishermen will return courtesy if you show them courtesy. Occasionally you'll encounter a more belligerent one who does not want to share the river, and will take any whitewater boater's presence as a personal affront. It is likely nothing you do or say will change such an attitude. When you encounter this, it's likely best to stay well-away, and move elsewhere on the river as soon as possible.
In general, running dams is highly discouraged. Many low-head dams are 'killing machines' at a wide variety of water levels. This dam is a rather notable exception. The cement face of the dam slopes nicely, and flairs to a smooth horizontal 'kicker'. Water at the base of the dam generally 'sheets' away quickly due to the generally shallow bedrock of the riverbed downstream. At high waterlevels (above 800 or 1000 cfs) the left half of the dam does develop a bit of a nasty looking hydraulic, but the right half still generally sheets out fairly reasonably.
Again, not meaning to encourage anyone to run it, but the question comes up with great regularity. So, yes, the dam has been run numerous times. Levels below 300 cfs you'll be grinding down the cement on a thin sheet of water. From about 300 to somewhere in the 500 - 800 level it's a quick smooth slip down the face. Above that, things can start to look a bit scary. Highest presently known run is about 1500 cfs, Christmas day, 2006, no less!
It is important to note that there is much shallow bedrock at the base of the dam, and much rocky rubble about halfway down toward the next feature ('Malted Milk'). If you flip at the base of the dam, you are likely to have trouble rolling as you are raked across all this bedrock and rocky debris.
And, for what it's worth, there is a viewing deck off the back of the bar at the motel on river-right. You are likely to attract an audience of patrons cheering you on and pulling out their cellphone/cameras.
Some other dam trivia:
The 'official' height of the dam is listed as 12'. The crest (lip) of the dam is 180' across. It creates a pond of 60 acres, 'normally' holding just 160 acre-feet of water.
Many folks ask about the possibility of releases from the dam to create boating opportunities. First off, the dam does not contain a 'releasable' gate, so it's just not possible without rebuild or major modification of the dam (and removal is probably more likely than such a modification would ever be). Second, discounting whatever natural inflow is occurring (which could replenish the pond or extend release times), the pond would be completely drained (using 160 acre feet of water) in 6.4 hours@300cfs, or 3.2 hours@600cfs, or 1.6 hours@1200cfs. Obviously, such a wide variation in pond height would neither be tolerated nor allowed due to impact on habitat and water quality above and below the dam.
Similarly, some folks have concocted fantasies about pumping from the quarry pond to make a 'release' (particularly since they have in the past pumped out from the quarry in spring to bring it's water level down from spring highs). The quarry has just 18 acres of surface. Even if one were able to pump 500 cfs from the quarry to the river (which would take far more massive pumps than are currently used), the quarry would drop a foot every 26 minutes (and more as the lake went down since the surface area would diminish as well). Thus, even a four hour 'pumped release' of 500 cfs would drop the quarry level by over 10'. Again, this would not be tolerated as it would completely ruin concurrent use of the quarry (for swimming and for fishing from the shore-attached floating pier).
Also worth noting: the WIDNR has given Racine County (owner of the dam) until 2024 to either remove the dam or renovate it (to be able to withstand a '500 year flood event', which should more properly be called a '0.5% chance flood event'). There have been numerous studies done and nearly a half-dozen proposals regarding what to do to comply with this mandate. These are always very contentious issues, with strong feelings on both sides. Suffice to say, some time in the coming years, a decision will be made and the dam will either be removed or significantly modified! Stay tuned for updates!
The name derives from one of Racine's former claims to fame. The Horlick company patented a Malted Milk process, and sold their product for nearly a century.
At low to moderate levels (250-800 cfs) the sloping bedrock and very minor ledge (river-left, right-center of photo) form a decent playable wave (though it barely deserves the same name, hence at these levels call it 'Horlick's Extra Lite' or 'H.E.L.').
It is at higher levels (about 1200-1500 cfs) that the "Malted Milk" wave appears, as this dishes out into a wide, glassy wave. Sweet surfs (and ocasionally spins) can be done, often with a smally gallery of spectatators on the Northwestern Avenue bridge just behind and overhead.
This feature may wash-out a bit or surge and become chaotic at different levels over 1800-2000. While it may offer some great surfs, it is less predictable or assured than at more moderate levels (1200-1500 or so).
Click here to see time-lapse photos of river (looking downstream from gauge location)
starting as much as a month ago, ending at most recent view.NOTE: Presently only functions with the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Opera.
Not far downstream from the Northwestern Avenue bridge (and the USGS gauge site), a large eddy exists on the right, as the river twists off to the left. At levels above 600 cfs or so, there will generally be sufficient depth in the eddy and enough current differential to allow those who are so inclined to charge into the eddy, plow down the bow, and try for bow-stalls and 'eddy-wheels'. This may also be a good spot for beginners to practice peeling-out into the current, and charging back into the eddy.
As the river bears off to the left (just out of this eddy), it falls across a small diagonal bedrock ledge, 'Diagonal Slice'. At low-to-moderate levels (~300-700 cfs) this can allow some odd surfs in shallow wrapping twisting currents. At 1000-1500 or so, it provides very interesting and challenging surfs. At higher levels, this completely washes out.
Be aware that there are large cement slabs (no exposed rebar, thankfully) river-right immediately downstream. One large slab lies center-river about 50 yards downstream. This will be completely covered at most boatable flows, and will only be of concern if you are upside-down (flailing and failing to roll quickly) or out of your boat coming out of 'Diagonal Slice'.
The area between the upper features and the lower features is mostly just flat and flowing. However, at levels above 1000 cfs or so, a series of small but sweet catch-on-the-fly glassy waves (riffles) do form. Turn bow upstream and paddle hard to stall onto the best among them, or (if you are of a mind and body to) try a few wave-wheels down the small wave-train.
A huge hunk of concrete (remnant of an old bridge from the quarrying days) lies on river right along the stretch of 'doldrums'. At moderate water levels (maybe 500-1000 cfs), this forms a fine place to practice charging into and catching an eddy, as well as peeling out of the eddy. At the higher end of levels cited, it allows bow stalls and stern squirts on a well defined eddy line. The eddy becomes a bit dynamic (swirly and boily) making an interesting place for novice boaters to learn how to deal with those currents as well. Unfortunately, flooding in 2008 has pushed this slightly more diagonal to the current, pushing more water toward shore, diminishing the eddy and the play potential (minor though it always was).
This is the first feature on the lower part of the run (the 'short run'). Most boaters will just put in here for most runs at most levels, foregoing the upper features since they hardly justify the extra carry-up/shuttle at many levels.
A shoreline eddy/pool to put-in from (or eddy-out into) exists among the trees on river left above the features.
At low-to-moderate levels (200-700 cfs), a river-right pocket-wave/hole ('Upper Pipeline Right' or 'UPR') exists, with a decent width, but somewhat short shoreline eddy. Sweet surfs and flatspins can be done at will, but you have to paddle hard for the eddy when you come off the wave or you will be flushed too far downstream to be able to regain it.
There is also a river-left wave/hole ('Upper Pipeline Left' or 'UPL'). At low-to moderate levels, this one is exceedingly shallow and scrapey, and only scarcely worth much attention. As the level rises, the UPR washes out, but UPL builds quite nicely. At higher water (1000 cfs and up) this one becomes a sweet surf (especially nice around 1500 cfs). Again, there is only a narrow and short shoreline eddy, so you have to come off the wave in good control and paddle hard for the eddy or you will be flushed too far downstream to be able to regain it. Additionally, at the downstream end of the eddy, there are trees on the shore overhanging the river which can become quite worrisome. Strong, confident paddlers who are swept back close to these trees may be able to 'throw their back into them' and push off to secure the eddy. However, more paddlers (as soon as you realize you are not being able to make it into the eddy) will quickly paddle hard (away from shore) to avoid tangling with them.
Also, it should be noted, 'post flood' (since June, 2008) the eddy for UPL will not extend far enough upstream (at lower flows) to allow repeat play. As levels reach somewhere around 1100-1200, water spreads across what is normally shore. It is then possible (not easy, but possible) to 'pull' your way up this eddy. As levels exceed 1300 (+/-) the eddy gets much more manageable.
Many other features on this run come and go (I.E., are good at some levels but either disappear or are lame at other levels), but this is one of the best features at the widest variety of water levels.
At most playable water levels, it is nearly impossible to catch that wave 'on-the-fly'. It used to be best to charge hard into a river-left eddy just before these features. A diagonal 'shoulder wave' feeds out of the eddy, across to center river where a flattened-out V-wave exists. Lately, however, this has been much less effective, and the better choice (at most flows) is to charge hard to the right, blast through the wave, and immediately turn bow-upstream in an along-shore eddy. From there it is usually possible to paddle up and over the extreme-river-right part of the wave and surf across.
At any level over about 250-300 cfs, the main wave extends from center to river-right shore. It allows great side-surf practice (especially nice for beginners) and has a natural 'kick' into a left-hand flatspin. Front surfs, blasting and spins against the grain can be pursued by more experienced boaters for variety. It is also interesting to practice surfing from center all the way across to river right and back, feeling and reacting to the differing currents in the shallow, steep-faced wave.
At river left (immediately downstream of the wide wave here) lies "Tundra" (so named because it lies 'below the pipeline' (think the Alaskan oil pipeline), and also to honor the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers). Unfortunately, 'post flood', this wave has been seriously affected. Much of the rock rubble (which was just upstream on shore) washed away, and (as a result) the wave is not as well-formed (at almost any water level), and the eddy service for this wave is greatly diminished (difficult to impossible to catch for repeat play).
Above video shows Lower Pipeline at 1000 cfs (as a sweet 'sit-and-spin' breaking wave/hole) and shows Tundra at 850 (a real sweet level for this wave).
A sweet aspect here is that, from the center-river slackwater which backs up the main wave (Lower Pipeline), it is possible (at levels from 300 to about 1000) to paddle upstream in the slackwater, over the back of the wave and slide back in to surf the main (Lower Pipeline) wave. After playing that to your heart's content, experienced boaters can slide from the center of that wave, back across some minor turbulence, and onto Tundra.
As levels rise above 1000 cfs, Tundra tends to wash out, but the main wave (Lower Pipeline) builds to ever sweeter proportions. It becomes difficult or impossible to regain from the center-river slackwater, but a slick trick allows continued access for repeat play. Higher water (near 2000 cfs and up) allows paddlers to sneak up through the trees on river-left. Doing a little 'pull-up' on a couple tree-trunks to regain the upper eddy will allow one to access the shoulder-wave to slide back out on the main wave. As levels rise (from 1000 to 2000 or more), this wave just becomes bigger and steeper, turning into a wall of water (especially the further river-right you go). If this wave doesn't amaze you at these levels, you either are not a 'wave boater' or you've done considerable travelling to boat some amazing rivers elsewhere.
Above video shows Lower Pipeline at 1600 cfs, and begins to show the fast, powerful surfs this wave provides at higher flows.
Not far downstream of Tundra (or, where Tundra used to be, pre-flood), in the river-left flow, at moderate-to-high levels (600-1000+ cfs), a wave forms. Some boaters enjoy sweet surfs here.
A willow on shore (years and years ago) toppled, and the trunk (laying across the ground, roots still intact) has anchored to the ground and sent up substantial vertical branches. The name of this wave reflects the 'lazy' trunk of that tree.
(NOTE: Years back there had been another large horizontal trunk of the willow which had broken off, leaving a large log, cracked open, looking rather like the gaping jaws of an alligator. At that time, this wave had been named "Alligator Wave". That log was sawed back, so the wave has been renamed.)
A natural bedrock intrusion (tight to shore on the right) creates a pour-over/pocket-wave/hole. At levels maybe 300-800 cfs or so, this tight (narrow) pocket allows interesting play. Boaters who are confident having their boat 'on edge' may surf and spin in this short, narrow, pourover/pocket of a hole. You will have to really focus on your upstream edge and your 'edge transitions' to keep from tripping-up in this pour-over.
Out in center-river to river-left, sloping bedrock forms a wider, smoother wave. The same eddy that serves the previously mentioned pourover/wave/hole will allow repeat play on the main wave. A large eddy also exists river-left, but regaining the wave from there is difficult-to-impossible at most flows.
This feature actually allows (minor, tame) play down to 150 cfs and lower! It's probably at its best from 400 to 600 or more. As flows push higher, the wave mostly washes out into a fast shallow wave or into little more than a minor wave-train.
This is a combination of lesser features. Many boaters will bypass them entierely. In fact, at many levels, these features will not exist or will provide minimal if any play. When present, they generally provide only tame play. Catching them is more about river-running moves (holding a good ferry angle to cross the main current a couple of times).Fenceline (FL) is a small bedrock intrusion which extends from river-left to center-river. It can (at low-to-moderate levels) form a minor riffle of a wave, providing very minor (beginner) diversion. At high levels (1000+), this does create a nice trough (fairly wide across the river, but not tall or deep) which can be caught on the fly and will allow nice surfs and spins. It tends to be a bit of a crease with odd currents which can mess with you. The river is quite shallow here any time the feature is 'in', so if you flip, you are almost certain to encounter bottom.Right Hip Pocket (RHP) is another small bedrock intrusion tight to river-right. At moderate levels this forms a rather funky little wrapping pourover/wave/hole for interesting surfs and spins (good practice for keeping the boat 'on edge' and switching edges on the spin).Good Intentions (GI) is a third minor wave/hole which lies tight to river left. Levels need to be moderate to high (500 cfs or more) for this to be worthwhile. It can be a bit of a challenge to play RHP and then try to make the cross-river ferry and catch GI.Mid-Evil (ME) is a sweet standing wave that lies in a left-hand-bend in the river. This wave is generally caught one of two ways. The tree/snag on river-right has almost completely blown out by flooding 2008.06.09. At some levels, there will still be a micro-eddy on this shore from which you can slide out onto the wave. (It makes good river-running practice to make the move from GI to the river-right micro eddy, which, of course, is good practice at catching narrow, funky, shoreline eddies.) Altenatively, you can stay in slackwater river-left (downstream of Good Intentions) on an upstream ferry and slide across a small shoulder-wave which runs diagonally out to center-river. ME never really builds to a size to allow much other than straight-on front surfs (OK, sometimes some boats/boaters can flatspin on it). In spite of that, there are boaters who will relish the ride on this smooth wave.
Brink of Evil (BE) is a sweet small glassy wave which forms just above 'All Evil'.at some flows (notably, around 1100-1300 cfs). This is a fine semi 'gutsy' surf for advanced boaters, since you must come off in control and take a couple strong strokes to head quickly to river-left, to 'lip' the edge of the hole, or (failing that) you will be swept backwards or sideways (with little momentum) into the heart of the hole at Al
This is where the rodeo crowd will hang out when the river is running large. This is the most pronounced ledge on the river (though still tiny by most whitewater river standards), and is backed up by a good sized pool, with generally pretty good depth. As levels change (up or down), one can often watch this feature change from hour to hour (sometimes within moments, right before your eyes).
While the ledge is river-wide, differences in how the wave/hole forms up are significant. River-left is generally a bigger pourover/wave/hole, while river-right tends to be a much tamer wave. Thus, they are referred to (respectively) as the "Greater Evil" and the "Lesser Evil". Center-river (at low-to-moderate flows) can be a funky little spot for surfs, spins, and blasts. At higher levels (above 1400 cfs or so) these features merge into one big hole, All Evil (of the Root).
This area can also provide play (front surfs, side surfs, flat spins, blasting) down to 150 cfs and lower.
Take-out is at river-left from the pool at this drop. Downstream the riverbed changes from bedrock to rubble and mud/clay/silt, and one encounters only relatively minor riffles and shoals. Continuing (boating) past this pool would mean having to set a shuttle, whereas one can get the best action by just carrying up within Quarry Park.
A golf course (Racine Country Club) spans the river downstream of this pool. There are reports (and signs) indicating they can be fairly aggressive about enforcing trespass on their property (including the bridge downstream here). Boaters playing "All Evil" are advised (if they swim, or are otherwise swept downstream of the pool) to be as quick and 'invisible' as possible in getting back upstream to Quarry Park.
Be aware that there are three bridges in the golf course. The first is visible from the take-out (the pool/eddies at 'All Evil') and should cause no problems (unless the center-river bridge-pier catches a strainer).The second and third bridges at high water (somewhere above 2000-3000 cfs) will become serious hazards as there will be no clearance under them. At higher levels, water will flow through the bridge railings. While it may be possible to get to shore (or even paddle around the ends of the bridges), many boaters will be in serious danger trying to escape being swept into these bridges.
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The 'minimum' (250 cfs) is for 'normal' low-flow beginners play. Bare-bones, desperation, ELF (Extreme Low Flow) play is possible down to 150 cfs. The 'maximum' (1800 cfs) is mostly set as an indicator of levels 'above the norm'. Experienced whitewater boaters will use this 'maximum' almost as their 'minimum' or 'optimum', looking for the river to 'go purple'. The river is runnable/playable at virtually ALL historic high water levels. However, above 2000 cfs or so, boaters should be aware that two bridges downstream in the golf course will be serious hazards. They will have not enough clearance under them for you to conveniently pass under, and (with higher flows) water will flow through the railings on them. They are far enough downstream that experienced boaters in control will be nowhere near them as they run and play the features on this reach. However, if you need to chase errant gear downriver (in the event of someone having a 'yard sale' swim), strong currents may make it difficult to paddle out of danger around these two bridges.
The cited gauge lies right at the upper put-in for this reach. As a result, the reading will be a very accurate reflection of boatability of this reach.
Gauge/flow analysis (based on gauge data 1963-08-22 through 2008-05-08)
Drainage area at gauge: 190 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during gauge period: 0 cfs (1988.07.09-15, 2005.09.17-21)
90% of time flow exceeds: 9.3 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 397 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during gauge period: 7426 cfs (2008.06.09)
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 42.7 (under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Based on USGS data from 2000-2010:
Days/yr >2000 cfs: Min=0, Max=7, Ave=2
Days/yr >1000 cfs: Min=0, Max=36, Ave=19
Days/yr > 500 cfs: Min=5, Max=62, Ave=33
Days/yr > 250 cfs: Min=17, Max=100, Ave=65
Days/yr > 200 cfs: Min=24, Max=183, Ave=85
Permits are not required for this reach.
Shuttle is (usually) via carrying up a foot-path which runs between the quarry/lake and the river. Most boaters, most times, will just do the 'short reach' (0.2 mile), avoiding having to carry about 2.5 times as far. Beginners who wish a bit longer a float and some easier warm-up before the main action (especially at levels above 500 cfs) may be best off doing the 'full run' (0.5 mile, from just below the dam). Experienced boaters may find some worthwhile action at the upper put-in at these levels as well. At levels between 1000-2000 cfs, the first wave ('Malted Milk', by the highway bridge) provides some of the sweetest surfing opportunities on the river.
Put-in for the 'short reach' is at fence crossing the path.
To do the 'full run', in the past there had generally been no problem with carrying around the fence (despite signage suggesting "Authorized personnel only") and up the path between the quarry/lake and the river. During summer days when life-guards are present, they will zealously notify you via bullhorn that you are 'trespassing' if you walk this part of the park!). If you carry up inside the park, stick to the well-worn path, as the early going is flanked by massive patches of poison ivy, and the later stretch is flanked by stinging nettle (a concern mostly if the river happens to come up in June to late summer). As you near the highway, carefully carry down around another fence (watch your footing -- the banks are steep, and may be muddy and slippery). You may then either carry back up to the road (via a rough cement splash apron for the road ditch) and deal with the busy traffic to cross the highway, or carefully traverse the boulder field under the bridge. As of Fall, 2009, the county has upgraded (and extended) the fence (both at the lower put-in at 'Upper Pipeline' and near the highway bridge and USGS gauge building). There is an increase in enforcement of this area being 'off limits'. Sheriffs/Deputies are not likely to be present most times when boaters are likely to use the path, but be aware you could be ticketed for trespass. The park supervisor advised that if county sheriffs/deputies are present, they will ticket fishermen and boaters as well as kids back there to jump off the cliffs into the quarry.
-- Therefore, --
Instead of carrying up that path between the Quarry and the river you could carry out of the park (past the gate you drove in through) and up the sidewalk along Northwestern Avenue (a good bit longer, but it avoids the various concerns on the path).
Or, when we're feeling lazy, or when conditions are particularly raw, when a shuttle-bunny/buddy is available, we may actually drive the shuttle. All the streets in the immediate area are boulevards (have center curb dividers), so driving back and forth between put-in and take-out can be slightly hampered where one cannot get across the divider to head in the the correct direction.NOTE: DO NOT take boats which have been in the river and then paddle in the quarry. The river (being connected with Lake Michigan) is "affected water" for VHS (Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia), while the quarry is NOT. Any boat used in the river needs to be thoroughly cleaned (rinsed in bleach!) before using it in the quarry, or you could be subject to a fine. By the same token, boaters are advised they should not jump into or swim in the quarry after having been in the river without first taking a thorough shower with soap (available in the park pavilion when it is open). Actual enforcement of this is would be (I believe) only by DNR personnel, who do routinely come through during the peak fishing periods, and probably occasionally at other times.
See the map below for an overview, and to get directions from your home or other location.
Horlick Dam and Malted Milk
Tundra & 'Gator
Right Hip Pocket
Golf Course Bridge
Root River Ice (#4)
Root River Ice (#6)
Root River Ice (#3)
Root River Ice (#1)
Root River Ice (#9)
Root River Ice (#8)
Matt on Lower Pipeline
Logan on Tundra
Logan on Upper Pipeline
Greg Parker on All Evil
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