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 www.milespaddled.com or www.usgs.gov 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.”
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Vacationing tourists are starting to fill Walworth County, and Black Point Estate and Gardens is ready to welcome them. Of course, Black Point has been opening its doors to guests for well over a century.
This season visitors will see a major restoration of the covered veranda that wraps around the house after it was meticulously rebuilt from top to bottom.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Fish stories don’t necessarily require catching fish. But many anglers across the Stateline will begin pursuit of the latter in order to tell the former as Wisconsin’s inland fishing season starts Saturday, May 6.
Veteran guide Dave Duwe said opening weekend is like Christmas for fishing enthusiasts. And as a gift, he and other experts offer their best tips and locations for filling a live well or stringer while creating more memories.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- About 20,000 boats travel on Geneva Lake throughout the summer. Besides the boaters, the lake also is busy with swimmers, sail boaters, wakeboarders and water skiers.
With all that activity, someone has to make sure the lake remains safe for users. That’s where the Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency comes in.
Candidates vie for a job on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line U.S. Mailboat tour. Potential jumpers were evaluated on athletic skill, tour narration and enthusiasm. The prospects must jump from the Mailboat, run along the pier, deliver the mail, pick up any outgoing mail, then jump back into the boat without the boat stopping.
LAKE GENEVA -- "What gets saved is often more by chance than by merit, and I think that’s true whether it’s buildings or photographs," says David Desimone, the director of Black Point Estate, the Queen Anne-style summer home of 19th-century Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp, that lies along the shores of Geneva Lake.
Desimone became director of the Wisconsin historical site in 2013, some eight years after the property was donated to the state by a Seipp descendant.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- There are stories in Geneva Lake. Some are fascinating, others a little creepy.
Ask Dan Johnson, owner of Loves Park Scuba, an Illinois diving school, and the Lockwood Pioneer Scuba Diving Museum. Johnson has been diving in Geneva Lake since 1974, systematically covering most of the shoreline in search of antique bottles -- of which he’s found dozens.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Music, food, carnival rides and a little bit of history are some of the things that will be featured during this year’s Venetian Festival, set for Wednesday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, Aug. 23.
The festival, hosted by the Lake Geneva Jaycees, will be held from 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Friday and from noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Some of the highlights include the water ski show, craft fair, beer tent, bags tournament, brat tent and fireworks display. Live music will be provided by Bella Cain, Cherry Pie, The Love Monkeys, Fresh Hops Band, The Acoustic Generation, Too White Crew, Lake Geneva House of Music and Christopher’s Project.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Brian Porter credits two men for influencing him and his life the most. The first was his late father, Bob, who moved the family from Elgin, Illinois, to Walworth County.
“Our dad never was a great (yacht) racer, but he loved sailing,” said Porter, 57, who is a 1976 Big Foot High School graduate. “My older brother, John, and I were four years apart, but we always were close, and we have been out on the water here since we were kids because of our father.
“The club made him a trophy once because he tipped over five times and still finished the race,” Porter said with a chuckle. “Like I said, Dad wasn’t much of a racer, but he loved the water and moved us up here.”
220B Commerce Ct., Elkhorn, WI 53121| 262.728.3424
Main office hours: Monday - Friday 8am to 5pm
CSI Media, LLC. All rights reserved.