A Hobby Gone Wild
In 2007 Barry Kalpinski took his first paddle in a kayak; he loved it instantly. What started as a blog to share trip details and tips with friends eventually grew to become MilesPaddled.com—an accessible and comprehensive guide to paddling Wisconsin’s rivers and streams. Timothy Bauer, also an avid paddler and the author of Canoeing & Kayaking South Central Wisconsin: 60 Paddling Adventures Within 60 Miles of Madison, began to contribute content in 2011.
River Alliance recently spoke with Barry and Timothy, who shared some advice and wisdom on paddling and caring for Wisconsin’s waters.
DL: You’re both very experienced paddlers, but what is your advice for someone who has never paddled before, but is curious to try it out?
TB: Find a river or lake close to home and there get your feet wet first. Become comfortable with being in a boat and learning basic control. Then seek out unique escapes and special places within an hour’s drive away for say 2-3 hours. Buy a state map, a paddling book, look up info online. Build confidence and believe in yourself. Just as in life, we’re all going to get dumped at some point, but that doesn’t preclude falling in love again—especially with the water and being outdoors.
DL: Can you tell us about a few of your favorite paddling experiences of all time?
BK: My favorite (and wonderfully awesome) paddling trips are usually on obscure streams. There’s always the excitement of the unknown or what will be discovered. That’s what [I think] is great about paddling—no matter where you go— you’re discovering nature in a way that very few people do, even if it’s a popular stream.
TB: [Some of my] most personally fulfilling and meaningful paddling experiences include canoe camping down the Lower Wisconsin River because it is so singularly fun and beautiful. Also, scouting a raucous Class III rapids on the Big Rib River, near Wausau, reading the swirling water, determining what line I should take and what hazards to avoid, and much to my astonishment, running it successfully.
DL: How does your time paddling inspire you to advocate for Wisconsin’s waters?
BK: Paddling around the state absolutely inspires us to advocate for protecting Wisconsin waters because we see water quality issues first hand. Where MilesPaddled.com is concerned, it’s hard to beat the accessibility to 15,000+ lakes and endless miles of rivers and creeks, but I love Wisconsin’s waters beyond the recreational opportunities. It benefits all of us to have a voice at the table or at least support those who can speak on our behalf to preserve what we have.
TB: Absolutely! When on the water, especially in southern Wisconsin, one sees the effects of bank erosion and improper cattle management all the time. The bottom line is one can still be pro jobs and supportive of family farms without being anti-environment. I’ve always felt that to be a totally false dichotomy that’s used to divide the public. However, it takes outreach, networking, and a whole lot of communication between private interests and stakeholders to combat the unwieldy power of big business lobbyists whose money floods our state legislature and drowns out our collective voice.
DL: What irks or concerns you about water/environmental policy in Wisconsin or beyond?
BK: It’s funny because litter used to bother me but it doesn’t as much anymore. It’s the bigger issues at hand that bother me now. High-capacity wells that literally affect the water table and choke streambeds like the Little Plover River. Frack sand mines that have popped up all over the state which harm water quality. The invasive species that continue to spread. Farm run-off makes streams in their immediate vicinity unhealthy and then that carries further downstream, making once wonderful lakes untouchable to swimmers and anglers.
TB: My three main environmental policy concerns are decrepit dams, phosphorus runoff from fertilizers, and high capacity wells. High capacity wells drain the groundwater, pure and simple. With little regulation and even less enforcement, such unlimited irrigation will diminish area lakes and rivers, affecting the wildlife (particularly trout streams, which are not only part of our heritage, but a source of local tourism revenue).
DL: Anything else you’d like to add on the topic of paddling?
BK: We do our best to be good stewards to the rivers and streams we paddle and not disrupt much. We clip what we can to make them navigable in the attempt to keep them paddleable. And, we share them so others can experience them too!
Barry and Timothy maintain MilesPaddled.com as their self-described “hobby gone wild.” You can support MilesPaddled.com by sharing the resource widely with friends, or volunteering to submit your own paddle reports. Learn and explore more at: www.MilesPaddled.com