Category Archives: Community

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

New Volunteer Growers Network to Help Restore Watershed

The Friends of Starkweather Creek (FSC) is encouraging those that are interested to sign-up for their new Volunteer Growers Network. If you love growing plants from seed or want to learn how, now is your chance. No previous experience is necessary and all materials are provided! 

FSC volunteers are currently collecting seeds from remnant wetlands and sedge meadows in the Madison area. Once seed collection is completed this fall, FSC will mail you seed packets of species desired for restorations along Starkweather Creek along with instructions on how to best care for them until the young plants are large enough the following year to be transferred to their new home. Space requirements are also minimal. A little shelf space in an unheated garage or an empty corner in your garden or cold frame and can provide some protection from rodents is all that is necessary. 

Interested? Email the FSC Volunteer Growers Network Coordinator at with your name and mailing address to sign-up.  

This is a great opportunity to study valuable seed growing techniques, learn a new hobby, and give back to our watershed. 

Virtual tours & teasers

For those itching to explore the watershed…
but not ready to get too close to humans…
I offer a few “virtual” outings of the past six months…
to savor what was…
or long for what can be:
Fall color paddle
White winter wonderland (two days later)
12:12 full moonrise paddle
2:15 Starkweather Woods Sanctuary restoration
2:22:2020 tromp scouting
2:22:2020 tromp across bridges and into Bridges

More restorations (for people and place) are planned.
Tromps and paddles are occurring spontaneously for small spaced groups.
Larger planned outings (and cleanups) soon.

A tantalizing tale of the 2/22/2020 tromp

Saturday, February 22, 2020

A distant distorted relative of Mark Twain (disguised as co-chair Dave) had this to tell (or two tall tale) about today’s white winter wonder:

Somewhere between 4 to 5 and 75 of us got together, if you count all the ducks and muskrats & woodpeckers. The launch at Olbrich this afternoon was a snowy downhill traverse onto the frozen tundra. I can’t tell you how far those two co-chairs went… but they went out of sight cackling on about nothing for at least an hour. They met up with the walking crew up the road… or backside to the south wind. Watching the ducks nimble and pick away at what they were eating showed us a better launch for next time. This section, which the ducks use as a walkway to get in and out of the creek, it’s just up and over the small hill by McCormick & Commercial Avenue. Look for the ducks hanging out. They don’t give three quacks about the signs posted up over there.

We walked up the bike path over the noisy Aberg bridge into the Starkweather Woods, where it becomes quieter, and the landscape opens up. Stories got told, wet foot prints got left behind, the day melting away. Meandering, snowballs, walks on the golf course & even hopping the fence to the airport and air national guard sure drew some attention!

We all learned, it’s hard to run in snow!

The walk back was quiet & reflective. The sun soaked day, among perfect

Strangers, who became friends by the time the sun fell behind the clouds. Hugging a big silver maple, back where we started. The trickster squirrel had the final words for standing too close to its nest.

 favorite mentor of Carl (disguised as co-chair Carl) had this perspective:

Mr. Dave was not intimidated by the frozen creek at the Olbrich launch… making gallant (or goofy) attempts to emulate over the frozen tundra (here and here)… finally luring poor innocent Carl into a canoe for moral (or immoral) support.

Only because Carl had a wimpy juicy cold excuse… and had nature walkers waiting up the creek for a 2:22 start… did our calm collected co-chairs abandon this adventure (for a day).

After a sweetly serene connection with the ducks at McCormick Park (and our future launch site)… five mortals (and endless immortals) ventured north of Aberg to the sites Carl previewed on 2/19 (herehere and here)… and then up the Starkweather Woods trail along the creek where we cleared fallen trees and invasive buckthorn the last two months.

We then crossed over into the rolling expanse of Bridges Golf Course (not available during golf season)… awed by the white winter wonder (here and here

And then the “PFAS channel

And further out on the Bridges tundra

Before ‘returning to where we started…only to know it for the first time
while listening to (and loving) a grand old tree (and a squirrel overhead)…in a special rebirth sanctuary (that Jeff Steele midwifes and nurtures): The Starkweather Legacy Sanctuary.

Wow. Magic & miracles were flowing & flying on today’s 2/22.

Starkweather woods walk (and POSSIBLE paddle) 2/22/2020 at 2:22pm (1:11 for paddle)

To explore the magical trails along the creek in Starkweather Woods (between Aberg and Anderson) in winter white wonder…
AND the Bridges Golf Course snow-covered beauty…
meet at the Commercial Av. bridge over Starkweather Creek (by Oak St) at 2:22pm Sat. 2/22/2020.

for an ice-breaker paddle adventure…
meet at Olbrich boat launch N of Atwood E of creek at 1:11pm…
to see if water and ice are paddle-able and break-able…
with canoes launch-able…
and paddlers adventure-able…
to paddle to the Commercial St. bridge by 2:22.

We will walk N across Aberg to the Bridges Golf Course (here)…
and then to the trails on the E side of the creek (here and here)…
and then up towards MATC (here and here)…
before circling back through the golf course.

For paddlers…
the creek at the Ivy St. bridge above the fork looked like this on 2/19.

Forecast is 40 deg sun.

Contact Carl Landsness for questions:

Nov 9 sunny snowscape paddle… if weather gods assist

11/9 update: Because snow, sun and color look less than stunning (but still attractive)…
I will still be available at 2:22 (at the launch)…
but likely shift to an intuitive walkabout…
e.g. in Olbrich Gardens (outdoor snow or indoor rain forest)…
to connect with higher perspective re all that ails or triggers us…
to find the hidden gifts and grace.

Weather forecasts may create a sunny snowscape over fall color in warming weather Saturday afternoon (low 40’s)…
if the weather gods, goddess and faeries assist (and we humbly ask).

For a sample of such possibilities, check out this sequence of short videos from the Oct. 29 snow…
two days after this fall color paddle in shirt sleeve sun.


I was in ecstatic bliss

Tentative launch time Saturday: 2:22pm
Check here Saturday am to confirm

Nov. 16 creek paddle and Olbrich shore clean-up: 10 to 11:30am

Recent high lake levels, wind and waves have thrown major trash and weeds on the Olbrich shoreline…
making a major mess.

dropping lake levels has left the exposed mess easy to pick up, sort and rake.

Friends of Starkweather will collaborate with Madison Parks to expand our already planned FUN paddle…
to BOTH paddle and walk, fun and work, silly and serious…
with a campfire and hot chocolate to enhance the experience.

Last year’s post flood clean-up of this area felt extremely fulfilling and connecting to the 20ish hardy helpers…
despite (or because of) cold windy rain.

Details here.

Feel the force
and find the fulfillment
for when we heal the watershed
we heal ourselves

Fall color paddle up the creek – Sun Oct 27 3-6pm

Ten canoes (and paddles) are available… or bring your own
Meet at Olbrich launch N of Atwood, E of creek (across creek from Olbrich Gardens)

Intention: heal & honor people & place…
balancing & synergizing inner & outer, self & other, head & heart, physical & metaphysical, work & play, comfortable & uncomfortable, serious & silly, ego & soul

Afterwards (at 6:30ish)…
we will explore higher ways to address controversial issues like PFAs, F-35’s, climate change, etc…
around fire (a mile away):
i.e. find the hidden gifts & grace disguised as pain & problems