Little-Known Fact: The spring-fed Brule River lies in a small watershed and thus the water level remains relatively constant.
The crack of underbrush and then the sound of voices rose above the steady rush of the river. Two men in cutoffs approached us through the forest. The bare-chested one was limping. “Lost my shoe,” he said, extending a foot wrapped in his T-shirt.
“Your shoe, hell. We lost the canoe!” said the other man. “And it’s my uncle’s.”
The water was high and the current swift. Rounding a bend, the two inexperienced paddlers had found themselves heading straight for a tree that had fallen across the river. They ducked and the canoe tipped, continuing down the river unburdened by passengers.
They had my sympathy because the first time I canoed Wisconsin’s Brule River I, too, lost my footwear and canoe.
On that fateful maiden voyage we put in at Stone’s Bridge, a few miles from the headwaters. The current that still August day was slow as the river meandered past meadows and flowering marshland. We paddled slowly and lazily as the sun warmed our shoulders. The air smelled of pines, and the cold water was so clear I could see the flash of trout.
More streams joined the river, and the Brule became wider now. We floated along in solitude, and I tried to imagine how thick the forest must have been when Chippewas watched silently from the shore.
Suddenly, from up ahead of us, came the roar of rapids. Before we could straighten the canoe we were pinned sideways against rocks, water pouring in. We couldn’t budge the canoe. Fortunately the river wasn’t deep, so we scrambled to shore and trekked back to the nearest community. There we found a caretaker who drove us to the town of Brule. The next day we came back with a block and tackle and freed the battered canoe.
This area was once mined and logged, and was a popular site for vacation homes. Now it’s encompassed by the Brule River State Forest, with more than 40,000 protected acres. The businesses are gone and so are many of the vacation homes, bought by the state so the forest could reclaim the land.