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Local Trip: Fever River

Posted by Rutabaga Staff on 8/6/2013 to Where We Paddle

Benton to State Line


First off, contrary to what Mike Svob reports, it’s the Fever River, NOT the Galena River. Illinoians can call it whatever they choose, but north of the Jo Daviess county line, it’s the Fever, thank you very much. And not because of the ghastly settlement era epidemics–the French Huguenots called it “Riviere au Feve” because of the wild “feve” (or “bean”) flowers growing along its banks.

Moving on: ditch your boat at the bridge where Lafayette County W crosses the river (about two miles west of New Diggings). There’s a put-in on the southeast side of the bridge. Continue on W about three miles and bear left onto Buncombe Road. Proceed about four miles until the intersection with Kennedy Road. The river take-out is on the left. Ditch car. Begin pedaling. Enjoy mining era debris.

This area of the state is soooo cool! There were over one hundred lead and zinc mines from the 1830s to the 1970s in the area. As long as you’re down here, stop at Shullsburg or Benton and pony up fifteen bucks for the locally published TOUR GUIDE TO THE MINES. It will explain a good deal of what you’ll see along the river.

The Fever’s decent gradient, many riffles, and low volume definitely make it a plastic boat/plastic paddle run (at least on summer days). You begin your paddle with a steep wooded limestone wall on river left and open pasture on river right. The river cuts deeply through pasture, and you’re facing five feet of rich black earth sheerwall. A mile downriver, there’s an old rail bridge (circa 1917) abutment in the river, and on river right there’s a long abandoned rail tunnel well worth plowing through the nettles to explore. The next several miles are cow-laden, and the girls get kind of temperamental when you paddle between them and their calves, so pay attention. Also, it gets real old, real fast, continually inquiring “Got Milk?” as you paddle past.

At mile three, there’s a rusty truss bridge apparently connecting nowhere to nowhere west. The banks become woodier and steeper, and you’ve entered the land of the frogs. Shut up, sit still, and listen. After a few minutes, the air resonates with their sounds. If it’s suppertime, blue heron will join the fun and dine on frog legs (and other froggy bodyparts). There’s quite a bit of wildlife along here. I got to smacking deerflies, dropping them in the water, and watching yellow bass hit on them.

A few miles past the old iron bridge, you’ll find another abandoned rail tunnel off on river left. I’m afraid I was too beat to explore it… guess I have to go back! Paddle another mile, and the take-out is on the right. The bike shuttle is about half an hour, and the river time is at least two hours… much more if you explore.

The key to enjoying this trip is purchasing the tour guide mentioned earlier. You’ll know what you’re seeing as far as human creation and appreciate it more. If not…well, there’s enough Divine creation on this stretch to keep you busy.

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