This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.
The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.
You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.
I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at: http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The Big Sioux River - Lake Alvin to the Klondike
The South Dakota Canoe Association (SDCA) sponsored a Big Sioux River cruise from the public access area at the bridge on 272nd Street near Lake Alvin to the bridge just above the old Klondike dam off County. Road 116 on the Iowa side of the river. This is a river distance of about 8 miles and was a leisurely two and a-half hour cruise for most people.
The cruise was led by Larry Braaten of Canton, and there were 28 boats within the flotilla that set off about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, Saturday, July 14. The majority of the boats on the cruise were kayaks, but there were also a good number of canoes. Paddlers ranged from those with very limited experience to well seasoned veterans of many years on the water.
Even though the flotilla seemed large as it assembled at the put-in, within just a few minutes the craft were spread out along the route so that people could paddle alone or with small groups of companions. As I paddled, I seemed to drift among a couple of congenial groups of two or three people. Often times, the spread of boats meant that other groups were out of sight ahead or behind. There is a strong social aspect to a cruise of this sort. It is a time to network with people of some similar interests and an opportunity to get to know a few more paddlers. There is a certain commonality among people who choose to spend some of their free time running rivers in kayaks.
I did not observe any hazards to navigation on this trip of about 8 miles. There was plenty of depth to the water; it was only necessary to evaluate the probability of staying in the deepest channel by keeping generally to the high banks on bends. Most often, the water seemed to be around four or five feet deep. Some of the canoes would occasionally ground on sandbars or shallow areas, but it was easy enough for the paddlers to jump out and move on a few feet into deeper water. Kayaks seemed able to avoid grounding problems on sandbars. I touched sandbars a couple of time but was able to push off easily. I kept my rudder deployed during most of the trip, although I may have been alone in using a rudder; most other kayaks were not similarly equipped.
There were no major log jams on this portion of the river, and the current was running pretty good. There was also no wind problem facing us, and the temperatures were moderate – the 80s I would guess. It was nearly a perfect day for a river cruise.
The scenery along the route is pretty typical of the river in general. There are large trees on either side, some providing shade to the paddler. Lots of the trees are beautiful cottonwoods that reach up with massive trunks and leaves that whisper in the breeze. The shoreline generally shifts between a high embankment on one side to a slope down to the water on the other. Some banks are, in effect, cliffs while others are a few feet high. I did not see any “critters” on the cruise, only birds. There were a few homes up on the shore on the southern portion of the cruise, and we ran across one group of cattle standing around in the shallows on once occasion.
The take-out for us was just above the dam, at the public access area on the Iowa side of the river. This is a serious “lowhead” dam that used to power a mill. It is not possible to run the dam, and it would be very risky to go over it. The first hint of completing this section of the river is the passage under a highway bridge. Just beyond the bridge is a large island that seemingly can be negotiated on either side. My group took the right side and came closely around the south end of the island just above the dam. The sound of falling water over the dam is quite clear, warning the paddler about the dam ahead. We were able to easily cut across in front of the dam to the take-out point. On another occasion, I think that I would go on the left side of the island to approach the take-out without cutting in front of the dam. This take-out did not pose much of a problem for any of the group. In fact, there were a couple of guys fishing there above the dam who quickly lent a hand to pull in landing boats.
So, this was a very successful SDCA sponsored cruise. It was a great way to spend Saturday afternoon on the water, looking at the trees along the bank, navigating the shifting channel of the river, feeling free in our boats, and laughing it up with people of similar spirit. I do most of my paddling alone, but this is a wonderful addition to the kayaking experience. I hope to take more of these cruises this summer, and I appreciate the willingness of SDCA members to take on the leadership of such events.