By Mike Kuhr
It’s known as the President’s River, but on a recent sunny day in August, the Bois Brule River in Northern Wisconsin welcomed U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), several of her staff, and a number of conservationists for a paddle down its famed trout waters.
Sen. Baldwin was just finishing up a weeklong tour of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, highlighting the importance of clean water at every stop. Trout Unlimited was eager to share our conservation success stories and we could think of no better way than to spend some time on the water together canoeing the Bois Brule.
I and Wisconsin State Council Secretary Bob Rice (a recent president of the local Wild Rivers TU Chapter) were in the stern of two canoes to talk about the importance of watershed restoration, public land and water access, and the thriving outdoor recreation economy in Wisconsin (17.9 billion dollars of annual consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Association).
As we put in at the Stone’s Bridge Landing, we thanked Sen. Baldwin for her support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program aimed at protecting and restoring the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. TU’s Great Lakes Stream Restoration Manager Chris Collier, attended and provided insights from his experience working directly on GLRI-funded stream projects in Wisconsin.
One of TU’s best GLRI project partners is the U.S. Forest Service. We invited one of their fisheries biologists, Sue Reinecke, to come paddle with us. Sue has spent decades improving the waters in the Chequamegon – Nicolet National Forest. Many of these projects have included support from local TU Chapters and in recent years, leveraged GLRI funds to accomplish their goals.
We were happy to have Bryce Schmidt from Wisconsin Backcountry Hunters and Anglers along as well. Threats to our public lands seem to be coming at us faster than the next set of rapids and we’re glad to have the good people of BHA on our side.
Bryce highlighted the importance of the recent permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and thanked Sen. Baldwin for her support. These investments in public land and water access are giving all Americans an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
Bob Banks, from the Brule River Coalition, was our guide on the Bois Brule. Bob seems to know every rock, bend and downed tree in the river. He’s well-versed in the history of the Brule, threats to its health, and local conservation efforts to preserve and enhance it. He was quick to point out a pair of osprey overhead, and the many springs and seeps below whose sandy upwelling were quite visible.
Halfway through the four-hour canoe trip, our party took a break at the “Summer White House,” located on the Cedar Island Conservancy property. Yes, this was the place President Calvin Coolidge famously spent the summer of 1928, hence the nickname. The caretakers had a light lunch ready for us, and after a quick tour of the building, a history lesson, and a group photo on the shore, we were back on our way downstream.
This stretch of the river is home to a good population of native brook trout and some wary brown trout. We passed several anglers out wetting a line under the bluebird skies. We also pointed out several wing dams and piles of spawning gravel – restoration projects the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club and local TU chapter have taken up over the years.
The shoreline is mostly protected as either state forest or conservation easement land. There is private property in areas, but the quaint cabins do not detract from the natural beauty of the Bois Brule. Before long, the Winneboujou landing was in sight and our 9-mile paddle had come to an end.
The fine folks at Brule River Canoe Rental had a shuttle waiting to take us back to the shop. (If you’re in the area, we highly recommend them.)
Wisconsin TU would like to thank Brule River Canoe Rental, Great Lakes Advocacy Organizer Taylor Ridderbusch, and Kelly Westlund from Sen. Baldwin’s Ashland office for their help in bringing together our partners to paddle the Bois Brule River.
The 11 of us left with renewed spirts, ready to move organizations, agencies, and legislative bodies with a common goal of making sure that the next generation of Americans will have the opportunity to experience all that our woods and waters offer.
Mike Kuhr is the state council chair of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, and a long-time TU volunteer leader.