Kayaks and canoes stand ready to tackle the Fox River as part of a heritage paddle.

Kayaks and canoes stand ready to tackle the Fox River as part of a heritage paddle. Photo By Courtesy Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

Heritage paddles showcase Fox and Wisconsin rivers


The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway will once again host a series of Heritage Paddles throughout Wisconsin in 2015.

The organization has been hosting the events in partnership with the North East Wisconsin Paddlers since 2010 to further the Heritage Parkway’s overall mission of preserving, promoting and celebrating the legacy of the Fox and Lower Wisconsin rivers.

“This river system is a huge asset to the state of Wisconsin, and so the more focus and attention we can get on it, the better, because i think it’s been somewhat forgotten up to this point,” said Candice Mortara, executive director of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway.

The route is steeped in history. In 1673 Father Jacques Marquette, French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet and three French-Indian voyageurs traveled from Lake Michigan along the Fox and Lower Wisconsin and down the Mississippi to within 435 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

But the rivers were used for transportation long before Marquette explored them.

“It was the first highway through the state, really, so trade and commerce for thousands of years starting with the Native Americans through to the paper mills have been happening on the waterways,” said Mortara, who lives in Appleton.

In addition to promoting and preserving the waterways’ history, one of the organization’s main goals is to create a water trail totally 280 miles along the route from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien.

“Our goal is to make it the longest accessible water trail in the United States,” Mortara said, and that includes creating handicap-accessible landings. In 2013, the National Park Service granted the parkway National Recreation Trail status.

But what’s a water trail without people paddling it? The heritage paddles were designed to expose more people to the rivers, and the annual Park to Park heritage paddle in the Fox Cities attracts anywhere from 250 to 350 people, making it the largest recreational paddle in the state, according to Mortara.

This year’s first paddle will the Portage Paddle on May 16. Paddlers will launch from the Agency House in Portage and paddle about 11 miles north to the County O bridge, with options for dinner and camping that night. Everyone from beginners to expert paddlers are welcome on the trip.  

“We really want this to be something that people feel comfortable coming and trying,” Mortara said, adding that an experienced paddler always brings up the rear of the group to ensure everyone’s safety. “We’re very low key and welcoming, so it's not like you’re joining this hardcore group. It’s fun.”

Plus, since spring rains have left the river high and the route will follow the current, paddlers should be able to float part of the routes, Mortara said.

The paddles cost $10 per day for paddlers age 16 and older. If you need to rent a canoe, contact the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway in advance.

Other paddles in 2015:

July 25: Park-to-Park Paddle, Shattuck Park in Neenah to Lutz Park in Appleton (8.5 miles)

Aug. 28: Moonlight Paddle, from Bomier Landing in De Pere to Metro Boat Launch in Green Bay (8 miles)

Sept. 26: Tour of the Four Appleton Fox River Locks, Lutz Park in Appleton to Sunset Park in Kimberly (6 miles)

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