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Friday, 02 June 2017 11:09

Walworth County paddlers explore beautiful lakes and hidden gems

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Walworth County paddlers explore beautiful lakes and hidden gems Photo by Polly Marzahl

TOWN OF LYONS — It’s a dueling exercise of labor and love. Kayaking creates a physically challenging activity but offers a soothing mental break from work and life’s daily grind.

Several Walworth County residents said that combination is what keeps them searching for any excuse to hit area waterways.

Lyons Township resident Jack Hawkins turns 80 in July and isn’t about to quit paddling.

“I started kayaking in the early 1990s before it really became a popular sport in the Midwest,” Hawkins said.He has been active all of his life, whether downhill skiing, sailboating, hiking, fly fishing or working as a ski patroller, a role he played for 15 years at the American Birkebeiner and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Illinois native moved to Walworth County nearly 20 years ago and owns a place in Door County, a frequent destination to quench his kayaking thirst.

However, much of his time is spent on Geneva Lake.

“ClearWater Outdoor does a social paddle Monday mornings … we usually hit the water by 8 and are off the lake by 10,” Hawkins said of beating the heavy boat traffic of the county’s largest and busiest lake. “Sometimes I’ll start at Big Foot Beach and go to the north shore and back, about a 7-mile roundtrip. You get quite a workout.”

But that’s nothing new for Hawkins.

“I’ve always been a ‘quiet’ sports kind of guy,” Hawkins said of his many outdoor recreational pursuits. “I was trying to decide which kind of watercraft that I would get more use out of.”

Kayaking it was. And now Hawkins proudly talks about the three wooden kayaks — 12-, 14- and 18-footers — he has built himself.

“I like the idea of using something that’s self-propelled but light enough that, unlike a canoe, I can maneuver myself,” he said. “Although, it feels at least 5 pounds heavier every time.

“It’s fun zipping around to all the different places, maybe stopping somewhere for lunch,” he said of his many Geneva Lake excursions.

“It gives you different looks and perspectives. They’re all challenging, but yet they’re refreshing. It’s nice to have something close by like this.”

Picking up the paddles

Polly Marzahl and her husband, Jim, took up kayaking about three years ago thanks to CSI Media co-worker Katie Busateri.

“Katie posted a picture on Facebook with her feet sticking up with lily pads and everything in the background … it was such a pretty picture, and the next day I said, ‘I can do that. I want to do that,’” Marzahl said.

“We went out with them and floated around Lake Comus and loved it … then we bought our own kayaks, a cheaper set,” she said. “But we quickly realized we wanted something better and bought new ones the next year.”

And Marzahl can be found paddling somewhere every chance she gets from spring through fall.

“I try to get out every weekend, sometimes twice, and sometimes even during the week,” she said. “So that’s probably at least 30 times a summer.”

Busateri got her first taste of kayaking during a trip to Maine in 2002, enjoying a sea kayaking adventure in the Atlantic Ocean.

“I fell in love with it on that first trip,” said Busateri, who tools around in her 12-foot Wilderness Systems kayak, nicknamed “The Hulkster” because it’s big and green.

She used to kayak on a lot of lakes and has enjoyed the waters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with relatives and her late husband, Jason Chase, including a short jaunt on Lake Superior.

“Polly really got me into doing the creeks and rivers around here,” Busateri said. “I still do Geneva Lake, but you have to get out early to avoid all of the boats. We have seen more and more people, but it’s still not as busy on the creeks.”

She enjoys Turtle Creek and the Yahara River and has traveled sections of the Sugar and Kickapoo rivers.

The Marzahls, Sugar Creek Township residents, own 13-1/2-foot Jackson Journeys.

“They could be overkill … they’re like a sea kayak, which start at about 14 feet long,” she said. “So ours are on the edge of being too long for creeks.”

But as far as she’s concerned, there is no going back.

“A lot of people think about the little hole (cockpit) and if they capsize they’ll not get out and drown, but gravity usually sucks you right out,” Marzahl said. “If you take the proper precautions and are all geared up you’ll be completely safe. But it’s always safety in numbers — I never go alone because crazy things can happen.”

Turtle Creek and the Yahara River are Marzahl’s favorite destinations, although she has navigated the Sugar River near Brodhead and has tackled the Fox River in Waukesha County, the Kickapoo River and even a section of the Wisconsin River.

“Turtle Creek is a favorite because it has a lot of different sections you can do,” she said of its great scenic and natural variety. “You can do the School Road section, the Oriley Road section, the Highway 140 section to Sweet Allyn Park. Each part offers something a little different.

“Sometimes we go from County C to Oriley Road, what some people call the Fairfield section. We always see a lot of wildlife, birds and turtles.”

They also typically run into one of their special acquaintances, a customer they’ve nicknamed Larry the Heron.

An important thing for novices to know is that kayaking can be time consuming because of loading, unloading, transferring to vehicles, etc.

Many of the Marzahls’ escapades cover about four hours, but they’ve done six-hour adventures.

“I just love it,” said Marzahl, who when properly fitted for inclement weather has paddled in the rain.

She also enjoys the Yahara, often doing a stretch north of Janesville from Stebbinsville Road to Fulton.

“The Yahara is our favorite,” Marzahl said. “It’s so beautiful and more secluded, and it’s wider, faster and the water is clearer. We often see multiple eagles along that stretch.”

Marzahl recommends that veteran and novice kayakers alike check out Timothy Bauer’s website or for detailed information about whatever waterway you’ll be using.

She keeps a diary of her outings, jotting down such information as where they went, what they encountered as far as downed trees, what they saw, water levels, etc., to use as reference the next time.

But the main thing is getting away and communing with nature.

“It’s like an emotional de-fragmenting of your hard drive,” Marzahl said. “Your mind needs to get out where you can listen to everything going on around you … like the sound of your paddle going through the water. It’s so peaceful and soothing. It’s therapy.”

Busateri couldn’t agree more.

“I would recommend the Kickapoo because it’s the most scenic with all of the rock formations,” Busateri said. “But regardless of where you go, you see all kinds of birds … like the time we went on Cravath Lake in Whitewater. I didn’t even know what it was at first, but it was a huge crane. You see duck hunters, who stir up different birds and things. But you see different kinds of nature every time. All of the places we go have their own little attractions.

“And it’s so relaxing and takes away all of the stress,” she added. “We’ve seen more and more people on the various streams, but it’s still a pretty peaceful experience.”


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