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A new way to navigate Portage waterways
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A new way to navigate Portage waterways

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There are only a few opportunities left to enjoy the fall weather before the calendar turns to winter. A new Portage business can help with connecting people with nature on Wisconsin waterways in the Portage area.

Wild Wisco Waters will be open for guided tours and canoe and kayak rentals until Oct. 31. The couple who own the business will be back giving tours next spring after a successful first year of the new business, helping people connect with the Wisconsin River.

The company offers a variety of guided paddle tours of four or eight hours, a Sunset Park Day paddle tour and a Pine Island overnight package. The guided tours include everything needed to do fish on the trip.

“Both canoe and kayak trips are beginner-friendly as well as pet-friendly,” Elizabeth Hengel said. “We understand that people’s comfort level in nature varies so we created our guide series with an option to create your own unique paddle to fit everyone’s needs.”

Elizabeth Hengel and her husband Rick started Wild Wisco Waters in 2019 with a single goal in mind, to reconnect people with nature. That same year they took over a family friend’s canoe rental business. Hengel said after two years they opened their own business.

“We want to help make it possible for everyone to live their best life in the outdoors, no matter who they are, where they live and play, or what inspired them to get outside in the first place,” Hengel said.

She said connecting people with nature is a big reason the couple started Wild Wisco Waters.

“We welcome and celebrate all the colors, genders, body types, abilities, and communities that enjoy the outdoors,” Hengel said.

Rick is the guide for the tours, he has over 15 years of experience teaching outdoor skills and an experienced angler.

The Sunset Park is a self-guided trip that begins in Dekorra and travels the Wisconsin River to Sunset Park in Portage. The Pine Island overnight trip is a 13-mile paddle from Dekorra to the Pine Island Wildlife Area.

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“Rick is our guide for the paddle trips and with over 15 years of experience teaching outdoor skills to diverse audiences you can expect to have a great time,” Hengel said. “Each trip is curated to our client’s interests and desires.”

Online reservations can be made but require 24-hour advance booking. However, short notice bookings are possible by calling to check availability.

“We offer guided fishing, birding, and eco-tours that connect you with the wild side of the Wisconsin River,” Hengel said. “A guided tour is a great way to explore the natural world around us and to learn about the wildlife that calls it home while staying safe.”

Wild Wisco Waters also offers daily canoe and kayak rentals with optional delivery based on mileage from Dekorra and for overnight trips the company will sell bundles of firewood for camping.

The Hengels met at UW-Steven Point in a forest during an outdoor ethics course. They have both worked in the outdoors to stay active. In the summers the couple worked as land stewards where they restored and managed lands in Wisconsin to help sustain a healthy environment.

“Then in the winter, we would chase the snow to Lake Tahoe where we worked in the ski industry. Rick is a professional instructor of 15 years and I managed a mountain top champagne bar,” Elizabeth Hengel said.

Hengel explained the rental policy is simple. In most instances the paddlers meets with Rick at the Dekorra boat launch.

“We require that all of our paddlers follow the guidelines to Leave No Trace,” Hengel said. “The seven principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors to recreate responsibly. We also enforce all WI DNR River recreation regulations.”

The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Leave what you find
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Hengel added an eighth principle at Wild Wisco Waters which is to have fun.

“It’s not a principle, but something we strongly encourage,” she said.

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