Exploring Wisconsin: John Stofflet paddles “The Pec” through Darlington

Pastoral river meanders through Lafayette County
Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 3:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 6:02 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -The Pecatonica River seems to bend and wind through Lafayette County like it’s in no hurry to get where it’s going.

Drone view of downtown Darlington, Wisconsin and the Pecatonica River
Drone view of downtown Darlington, Wisconsin and the Pecatonica River(WMTV)

You’ll paddle through some gentle beautiful farmland, before you come into Darlington. You’ll know you’ve arrived in the county seat when you see the Cheese Country Trail Bridge, and a sign in the park welcoming you to the “Pearl of the Pecatonica--Darlington.”

Welcome sign on Highway 23
Welcome sign on Highway 23(WMTV)
Cheese Country Trail Bridge over the Pecatonica at Black Bridge Park.
Cheese Country Trail Bridge over the Pecatonica at Black Bridge Park.(WMTV)

The river welcomes you with a “riffle” under the Cheese Country Trail bridge that was a piece of cake for me to navigate.

From there, it flows alongside parks, trails, and a campground as it makes its way toward downtown Darlington.

A park alongside the Pecatonica River in Darlington
A park alongside the Pecatonica River in Darlington(WMTV)

Folks in Darlington celebrate the Pecatonica every summer with Canoe Fest, but during times of flooding, no doubt there are a number of people cruising this river. It runs right through the heart of town and causes all sorts of problems when the river’s at flood stage. But still, the “Pearl of the Pecatonica” would not be the Pearl without the Pec.

The Pecatonica River floods downtown Darlington in 2019
The Pecatonica River floods downtown Darlington in 2019(WMTV)

(By the way, we asked local historian and author of “A History of Darlington’s Main Street” Joe Boll how the community earned the nickname. Boll told us it’s because for years people used to go clamming in “The Pec”, as locals call it, and harvested the pearls and the shells to make buttons.

“Pecatonica” means “slow water” in Algonquian...but the Class I rapids near the campground and just before the Highway 23 Bridge are anything but slow, and are a fun little adventure to paddle down. (Watch my story to see the rapids run from a few different angles).

John Stofflet paddles down the Class I rapids in Darlington.
John Stofflet paddles down the Class I rapids in Darlington.(WMTV)
Drone shot of John Stofflet paddling down the rapids on the Pecatonica River in Darlington.
Drone shot of John Stofflet paddling down the rapids on the Pecatonica River in Darlington.(WMTV)

Paddling “The Pec” turned out to be relaxing, exciting, and, well, pretty as a pearl.

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