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
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Grass Lake: A Spring Cruise on a Quiet Morning
This morning began clear, calm, with a temperature of 47 degrees. The day followed a series of cold, windy, and rainy days that characterized the past week or more here in Sioux Falls. It was impossible to resist the opportunity for an early morning cruise on Grass Lake. I set out from Sioux Falls about 8:00 a.m. and arrived at the lake about 8:40 or so. Grass Lake is west of Sioux Falls, along Highway 42 (12th Street), past the turn-off to Wall Lake, to 459th Avenue. There is a big microwave antenna on the south side of Highway 42 just at the turn north on 459th Ave. Grass Lake is located less than three miles north, past 263rd Street, on the left (west) side of the road. There is a small sign designating the public access area just a hundred yards or so down a dirt road. There is a rough launching ramp for trailers, and it seems to have been improved some since my last trip there. Ample parking is available in this grassy access point, although there is no toilet facility (other than the woods, of course).
The lake was deserted, as usual, when I arrived. The waters were calm, the skies clear, and just a slight chill in the air. My fingers were a little stiff on the paddles at first, but that all faded as the paddling began and the sun became a bit warmer. The shoreline along the lake is in transition from winter brown to summer green. The progression of change varies among the types of bushes and trees, but there is an overall “greening up” all around the lake.
There was a constant chatter of bird life as I cruised past the islands and along the shore. Geese were the loudest, but ducks and coots outnumbered the geese today. As I passed the island off the north shore, a group of a dozen or so geese flew off with loud “honking.” One stayed on the shore, however, stretched its neck high and gave me a stern look, perhaps a warning to stay off the island. The pelicans that normally inhabit the western end of the lake were absent; instead, the gulls had taken over that station for now.
There were lots of yellow-headed blackbirds out today, perching on reeds or in trees. Grass Lake extends west until it ends in a marshy area nearly in the yard of a farm. This is where I first saw the yellow-headed blackbirds, but then I came across another spot along the southern shore where there seemed to be dozens of them in a couple of trees. These birds have a harsh voice, and there seemed no end of them once I became conscious of their presence.
I did not see any mammals today on the cruise, although I did see a fox scampering along a field on the return south on 459th Avenue. As the sun began to warm the water, a few turtles came out to bask and soak up some rays.
It was good to see that the windmill on the southwestern shore made it through the winter okay; from its condition, it must have graced this shoreline for decades. I always enjoy looking at the silhouette of that structure from various angles and in different lighting conditions.
Grass Lake is about 1.5 miles long, so a cruise along the shoreline and up into the few bays and by the islands may be 4.5 miles or so. This is about a 90-minute cruise with plenty of time to search for “critters” along the shore, to check out the abundant bird life, and to appreciate the changing landscape. Around 10: 45, I was off the lake and home by 11:25. By then, the temperature had risen to 55 degrees, and I felt like a heat wave had fallen upon the land!
This is one of my favorite lakes in the area, and I have written several posts about it over the past three years. You can check out narratives of earlier cruises on Grass Lake by activating the button on the right side of the home page.