The base flow of the Peshtigo varies between
about 145 and 250 cfs. Ideal rafting starts about 300cfs and
it is best at about 1,000-1,500cfs. That would suggest that the
river definitely needs rain to keep levels up. It is so, with
the Peshtigo getting, by my guess, about 60-70% or its total
annual volume of water from rain and snowfalls. This makes us
very rain dependent for water levels. The Peshtigo is free flowing
and devoid of dams upstream of the Roaring Rapids section, so
there is no shock absorber effect to smooth out flows. As a result,
spring rafting usually brings the highest levels of the season
with the snow melt offering a considerably increased flow. If
it rains while it is melting, the river gets huge. Later in summer,
the levels usually fall, but not always. If it rains, we can
have great water anytime in the season.
Something of interest is how much the river
comes up when it rains, how long it takes to peak, and how fast
it falls. There are so many variables involved here, it is tough
to call. Generally, the best rises in levels come from watershed
wide rains. With the elongated watershed, it can take 1 1/2 to
3 days to peak, sometimes longer if there are supplemental rains.
If the rain was more local to the Roaring Rapids section, it
will rise and fall much faster and seldom achieves huge volume.
The river could rise, peak and fall in 3 or 4 days. If the rain
was heavier in the northwest areas of the watershed, it may peak
in 3-4 days and fall to previous levels in 3-4 more. That all
varies with how dry it is, what time of year, and many other
things. I have been watching the river a long time, and I do
not have a good system for predicting this yet.
About 125 years ago, northern Wisconsin
was being aggressively logged to build the big cities to the
south. The first wave of logging came for the big pines that
grew here, and because the pine floated so well, the rivers were
the way to get the logs from the forests to the mills and to
market. The Peshtigo was ideal for this with its high spring
flows and the fact that it stretched from a Lake Michigan port
city (Peshtigo) deep into the forests. This area is rich in history
from that era, and many old logging camps still exist in some
The many ledges and big rocks in the northern
rivers presented obstacles to the rush of logs and spring water,
and would cause major log jams. As a result almost all of the
major rivers were dynamited in the late 1800s to make passage
easier. There is some debate if the Peshtigo was altered, but
I will suggest that it looks like First Drop, Horserace and maybe
the Third Drop/Joey's Hole series of rapids were cleared.
The very first rapid on the river, Farm
Dam, almost certainly was. Local legend says that the loggers
would pile rocks up in this narrowing to dam the river. When
it froze in winter, they would skid the huge logs onto the ice.
When the spring floods came, they would dynamite the dam and
send a huge torrent of logs, water and ice downstream at once.
There were no trucks back then, and the alternative was the horse
drawn wagon. The rivers presented a great way to get the logs
The logs went to the town of Peshtigo,
where there were many mills and cabinet shops and all sorts of
industries with wood products. It was also right on Lake Michigan,
making shipping convenient via the Great lakes. Much of this
lumber built the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago.
This practice slowed eventually as the
big pines were cut. When the loggers came back for the remaining
hardwood trees, they brought the railroads with them to transport
the logs. Hardwood doesn't float as well as pine. Along in the
same era, there was some prospecting for silver and gold in the
area. There are low concentrations present in the area and they
can often be seen in the bedrock of the river. Don't forget that
there is some iron pyrite (fool's gold) too.
Well, now you know that you have a clean,
free flowing river that needs rain to stay high. There is also
a lot of history to the area and the river at one point was very
central to it.
Next up, we will take a look
at the structure and ratings of the river, and why you need the
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