A Virtual Tour of Starkweather Creek: Serenity During the Pandemic

On Monday, August 21st, my husband and I paddled Starkweather Creek on the eastside of Madison. The waterway runs through most of the eastside of Madison, through neighborhoods, past a quarry on the east branch, and to the airport on the west branch. A map of the area is included at the end of this article. As an urban stream it has been highly impacted by human development yet it remains a source of serenity for paddlers. We met only one other pair of kayakers enjoying the day. With the dense vegetation on each side of the creek, we felt far removed from the city that surrounded us. On this trip, we visited the east branch of the creek, my favorite.

Passing Olbrich Gardens, we paddled through waters that were cloudy and full of plants.

Image 1: Paddling under the Thai Pavilion Bridge, Olbrich Gardens

The water is high on the creek and at the old railroad bridge, we had to lay flat to get through. This accomplished, we paddled past the Garver property, passing ducks, turtles, and some large fish on the way. I am always surprised by the beauty and quiet in this area.

Image 2: Railroad bridge with a tight fit to get under in the current high water conditions.
Image 3: Paddling past the confluence of the two branches

As we passed the confluence of the two branches, I mused about how the area will change once the city completes its plans for the area. As part of the board for the Friends of Starkweather Creek we meet with the city to learn about their ideas for improving the water quality and planning for street improvements and neighborhood amenities around the creek. From these meetings, I know they want to add another bike path across the creek, improve a vintage bridge near O.B Sherry Park, and put in affordable housing on the farm area off of Milwaukee Street, with another bridge over the creek to accommodate the traffic. I can’t help but wonder how that will impact this remnant of the wild that I love to visit.

As we approached the Milwaukee Street Bridge, my husband wondered about our location and I pointed out the Seversin parking lot that backs up very close to the creek. We hooted as we passed under the bridge and entered the magical area near the Voit property and quarry.

Image 4: The East Branch of Starkweather Creek

Houses line the north side of the creek, some with small access areas and boats. The south side is occupied by the quarry, with heavy machinery sitting silent on the banks. This is the area where the city has plans to put in another bridge to connect to the future housing project. Recently this was also a site where the city wanted to purchase property and locate a stormwater treatment system in the Voit Pond. This would have opened the door to restoring the wetlands on the Voit property and a bike path connection. Those plans were put on hold by the Mayor’s office.

As we enter the East Branch, this is where the water changes. The springs in the area push clear water into the creek and we spent time watching the small fish dancing around the dense vegetation growing from the bottom. Soon, our forward momentum was blocked by a downed tree. We took a moment in this quiet spot listening to the birds and trying to find fish in the depths. On our journey back to the dock, we were paddling with the current and met the only other people on the creek, a couple of women in kayaks. We also saw a blue heron hiding in the vegetation along the Garver property and more turtles enjoying the sun.

Image 5: Machines parked on the Voit property
Image 6: No trespassing sign on an inlet that leads to the Voit Pond.
Image 7: Clear water entering the creek from springs.
Image 8: East Branch of Starkweather Creek near the Voit Property, a refuge for green herons, blue herons, ducks, turtles, and lots of fish.
Image 9: Ducks occupy the downed tree that blocks the East Branch of the Creek.
Image 10: Railroad cars parked on a track near the East Branch of the creek.
Image 11: Taking a moment to enjoy the quiet.
Image 12: Quiet area on the East Branch of Starkweather Creek.
Image 13: Clear water coming up through dense vegetation.
Image 14: Paddling back to Olbrich Gardens boat launch
Image 15: A turtle enjoying the sunny day near the Garver property
Image 16: Blue heron near the Garver property

It was good to get out of the house and feel connected to the natural world. It has been a long time since the stay at home orders commenced and our normal lives were disrupted. A bit of nature helped calm our souls.

Image 17: Starkweather Creek