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Finding Fun on the Fox

There's much to see and do in and around the river
By Margaret LeBrun
Reprinted from the 2003 Fox Cities Visitor Guide

From a boat in the middle of the Fox River, the world feels upside down.

Landmarks on the map appear close together. Bridges seem insignificant. The riverbanks, no longer foreboding cliffs at the edge of city streets, become lush havens for wildlife.

As he ties up his boat just beyond Lutz Park in Appleton, Doug Dobbe envisions the day when the river's locks open to recreational boaters, when its trails are developed and the Fox River Heritage State Parkway connects historic landmarks from Neenah to De Pere. As president of Friends of the Fox, an organization working to protect the Fox River's water quality, Dobbe's enthusiasm for the river's future is catchy.

Dobbe gestures to the south bank, just below the Riverview Country Club, where five great blue herons perch on rocks and branches. "You see great blue herons, hawks, eagles. It's just beautiful."

More than 400 years ago, Native Americans were attracted to the Fox River for its fish and navigable waters. About 200 years ago, European settlers came here for the power of its current, which they harnessed for industry. Today, visitors often want to know what the river has to offer. And as they soon discover, many of the Fox River's treasures lie in quiet wait for boaters, bikers, hikers and history buffs.

Miles of trails along the riverfront beckon, scenic parks offer a chance to picnic and catch the antics of nearby water enthusiasts, and numerous boat launches along the Lower Fox make water access easy.

Follow the Trails

Like many fans of the Fox, local Ed Kleckner finds a way to enjoy it. "I like to run and hike and walk and bike. What I enjoy on a hot summer day is to go down to the Appleton stretch between Olde Oneida and Lawe to Telulah Park. Trees overhang some areas, and it's shady. Because of the steepness of the slopes there, you have some nice wildlife areas.”

Developed trails in the Appleton industrial flats invite walkers, joggers, bicyclists and in-line skaters along the old canals and out-of-the-way portions of the river. Fox Cities Greenways Inc., a nonprofit organization working to further develop trails throughout the Fox Cities, posts a map of the trails on its Web site, www.focol.org/greenways.

Along the Newberry Trail, a 1.2-mile stretch of asphalt that runs from Telulah Park to Olde Oneida Street near the Between the Locks building, you'll find goldenrod, sumac, wild grapes and chicory on a late summer day. Fat squirrels hoard nuts; calling birds compete with the low hum of the mill across the canal; leaves rustle in the breeze.

On a late-summer day, Appleton resident James Froeming accompanies his mother, Donna Froeming, on a trek down the trail from Telulah. He carries a camera, she, a walking stick. “I knew the trail was there and it started at Telulah Park, but we haven't taken it before,” James says.

Ambitious hikers and bikers can combine a trip along the Newberry with the North Island Trail. On its own, the North Island Trail is an easy, short stroll from downtown. From College Avenue and Superior Street at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, walk south one block, cross Lawrence Street to Jones Park, walk down the hill and continue on the path to the parking lot. If you're driving, from College take Drew Street south, head west (right) on Water Street and just after the Historic Old Mill Apartments, turn right into the Jones Park parking lot. From there, walk south across the Old Oneida Street Bridge. Just after the bridge, pick up the asphalt trail on the left. The North Island Trail heads east about a half-mile along the shallow side of the river to South Lawe Street. Benches and new lampposts dot the trail.

At Lawe Street, look for a couple of historic markers. A plaque on an old, white building labeled a National Historic Engineering Landmark marks the location where the first hydroelectric station was erected in 1882. Closer to the street, hikers will discover a dedication to magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton as a young boy.

Continue south on Lawe Street and you can pick up the Newberry Trail to the east or west, just after crossing the canal on the Lawe Street Bascule Bridge. Look for the street sign that says "Newberry Trail," near the defunct Appleton Lock 3.

For a full-fledged nature experience, 1000 Islands Environmental Center (920-766-4733) offers more than two miles of trails meandering through 350 acres of wilderness hugging the banks of the Fox. Visitors enjoy looking for some of the nesting bald eagles; at least 27 eaglets have hatched at the center over the past 14 years.

"We're unique in that we're the only nature center right on the Fox River," says 1000 Islands naturalist Lee Hammen.

The 1000 Islands hosts an art show in May and an event where maple syrup is made in late winter. When the snow falls deep enough, it rents 100-plus pairs of snowshoes to patrons who like to hit the trails all year long.

Sail On

On a warm day, the blue flowing Fox River can look mighty inviting. If you don't own a boat and want to get into the water, Lake Winnebago Sailing Charters (920-540-3536) offers sailing cruises from the Menasha Marina.

Years ago, boat excursions were popular on the Fox. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, steamboats catered to tourists. From the time the locks system opened in 1856 until most of the locks were closed in 1988, the Lower Fox connected Lake Winnebago to Green Bay. Of the 17 locks in the Lower Fox River system, three continue to operate: Menasha, Little Kaukauna (between Wrightstown and De Pere) and De Pere.

Boat owners tie up at slips at the Menasha Marina and the Appleton Yacht Club to cruise on Little Lake Butte des Morts and Lake Winnebago.

When Doug Dobbe pilots his boat, the Great Escape, out of the Menasha Marina bound for Appleton, he calls ahead to the bridge tender who will open the Tayco Street bridge. Once through, he calls Dale Collier, who tends the Menasha Lock, and alerts him that the Great Escape is on its way. As he enters the open lock and Collier begins to hand crank it closed, Dobbe marvels at the ingenuity of the pioneers who built the system.

“One of the truly amazing things is this was a man-made canal,” Dobbe says. "Before the railroad, this canal was dug by hand with picks and shovels and dynamite."

City of Menasha Marina (920-967-5193) manager Diane Schabach, who also operates a gift shop from the same location, says many boaters enjoy long cruises into Lake Winnebago west to lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne, Poygan and beyond to the Wolf and Upper Fox rivers. They tie up at the Menasha Marina, cross the street to enjoy patio dining at Nauts Landing (920-725-7777) restaurant, check out a few gift shops and continue on their way.

Boat owners who want to cruise the Lower Fox for a day will find plenty of launch sites, including Doty and Shattuck parks in Neenah, Fritse and Smith Park in the Town of Menasha, Lutz Park in Appleton and Sunset Park in Kimberly. Canoeists and kayakers can find even more carry-in launches, such as at Telulah Park or at the 1000 Islands Environmental Center.

Bill Merrick, treasurer of the Green Bay Paddlers, a group of about 250 members who paddle together, has toured much of the Fox River in his sea kayak. The group has often put in boats at Lutz Park, near the Appleton Yacht Club. Merrick recommends canoeists and kayakers familiarize themselves with the route before putting in.

A boat launch on the north side of the river in Little Chute invites a short distance of shore paddling. From the canoe launch in the 1000 Islands nature preserve, paddlers can continue to Wrightstown. With a short portage there, they can continue to De Pere.

Discover the Fox

So it doesn't matter if you're looking to get wet or stay dry, there are many opportunities for fun and enjoyment along the Fox River.

Margaret LeBrun is a freelance writer based in Appleton.

Fox Cities Visitor Guide

Fox Cities Visitor Center

3433 W. College Avenue, Appleton, WI 54914


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