By NIKKI YOUNK
FLORENCE, Wis. - Out of the five state-designated "wild rivers" in Wisconsin, two run through Florence County.
LaSalle Falls is one of the seven waterfalls located on the wild Pine and Popple Rivers in Florence County.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the 1965 Wisconsin state legislature established the wild rivers system in order to allow residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy natural rivers in a free-flowing condition and to protect the rivers from development.
Wisconsin wild rivers include:
- the Pine River, which runs through Florence and Forest counties.
- the Popple River, which runs through Florence and Forest counties.
- the Pike River, which runs through Marinette County.
- the Totagatic River, which runs through Bayfield, Sawyer, Washburn, and Burnett counties.
- the Martin Hanson Wild River, which is a portion of the Brunsweiler River that runs through Ashland County.
Both the 89-mile-long Pine River and the 62-mile-long Popple River start in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Forest County. The Pine River enters Florence County in the town of Long Lake, while the Popple River enters the county further south in the town of Fence.
The Popple River feeds into the Pine River in the town of Fern, just south of State Highway 101. Combined, the rivers flow through the middle of the county in the towns of Fern and Commonwealth before emptying into the Menominee River along the town of Aurora/town of Florence border.
Lori Moore, director of education and promotions at the Wild Rivers Interpretive Center in Florence, explained that management on land along the rivers is designed to show as few traces of human intervention as possible.
"Stewardship of the wild rivers is shared by all land owners along the river," she said. "The Pine and Popple rivers shorelines are also protected from development impacts by Florence County's Wild River ordinance, which regulates activities on lands within 400 feet of a wild river or the visual horizon, whichever is greater."
As a result, outdoors enthusiasts are free to enjoy a "true wild experience" on the rivers.
Moore pointed out that for canoers and kayakers, different areas of the rivers will offer distinct experiences.
"The upper Pine River, above LaSalle Falls, alternates between deep, slow meanders and rapids or waterfalls," she said. "The lower river, the last 10 miles downstream of the Pine River Flowage, offers relaxed paddling with a steady current and only a few gentle ripples."
As for the Popple River, Moore said that the upper river, upstream of Morgan Lake Road, features easy but shallow rapids. More complex rapids await downstream of Morgan Lake Road, she added.
"It is the most difficult white-water on the watershed, and it is recommended for only experts with suitable equipment and skills," said Moore.
However, since the rivers are in their natural states, their water levels are highly variable.
"The best season for river running, particularly on the white-water sections, is April through May when the snow melts and rains swell the river flow," Moore explained. "Typically, the Popple is not canoe-able after mid-May unless there is a lot of rain."
Moore added that the lower Pine River is the exception, as it tends to offer good paddling conditions well into the summer.
Anyone interested in checking the rivers' conditions can check the staff water level gauge near the State Highway 101 bridge over the Pine River.
Of course, the rivers can also be enjoyed by those without canoes or kayaks.
Moore said that most of the waterfalls on the two rivers are accessible by foot trails from either town or county forest roads. These trails are hilly and rugged, with the LaSalle Falls trail being the only maintained trail.
There are seven named waterfalls on the Pine and Popple. At 22-feet high, LaSalle Falls on the Pine River is the largest. Others are Meyers Falls and Bull Falls on the Pine River, and Washburn Falls, Little Bull Falls, Big Bull Falls, and Jennings Falls on the Popple River.
For more information on canoe and kayak put-in locations and trails to the waterfalls, contact the Wild Rivers Interpretive Center at (715) 528-5377.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.