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
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Revisiting Oakwood Lakes
This morning began with calm winds and a clear sky with temperatures in the 70s: a perfect day for my annual trip 82 miles northwest to Oakwood State Park and a cruise on the West Oakwood collection of three connecting lakes. I set off from my eastside Sioux Falls home and headed north on I 29 to the Bruce intersection, just north of Brookings. As I drove on Brookings County Highway 6, following the signs to the park, I rocked along with the oldies radio station out of Pipestone, Minnesota. Traveling through the corn, I was reminded of the old adage: knee high by the 4th of July.
I decided to save gas and take my Folbot out for the first time since last September. With no kayak on top of the car, I figured that I would gain 10 mph and not have to worry about the boat blowing off when passed by an 18-wheeler.
As usual, there was very little action in the park on this weekday morning; there were a couple of boats that I saw during my time there, but they were distant and had no effect on my paddling nor did they intrude upon my tranquility: there was not even engine noise heard.
Unaccountably, I had a difficult time assembling my Folbot today. The most trying part of putting the boat together is connecting the bow and stern sections with an aluminum cylindrical sleeve; there are two such sleeves required, and I was surprised to find that I had lost one them on my last trip. Fortunately, I had a spare within my repair kit. But then, I couldn’t seem to get the sleeves over the two parts of the frame. I spent 20 minutes or so working on that problem and nearly gave up in frustration. I had begun to curse myself for not bringing my Dagger kayak instead. I would have been out on the water laughing in the waves if I had just not been so cheep about gas usage. Instead, I found myself sweating blood over the aluminum sleeves. Finally, though I got the frame fastened enough so that I thought it would hold together and cast off from the launching area.
I made the crossing from the state park dock and went west around Scout Island, then around Arlington Point into Johnson Lake. Arlington Point presents a shallow habitat where waterfowl gather. I saw several pelicans, an egret, a great blue heron, and ducks.
The north side of Johnson Lake is fringed with high cattails and tree cover just beyond the reeds. Elsewhere, the lake has nearly continuous tree growth along the shore.
There was a moderate wind out of the northwest creating wave action enough to splash over the bow when heading into it. After kayaking into the wind and waves along the southern shore of Johnson Lake, I was able to drift with the wind along the north and east shore listening to the breeze through the foliage, hearing a great variety of bird calls, and checking out the landscape of trees and shoreline. Sometimes, I was able to exchange glances with jumping fish.
On the return, I went up the main body of West Oakwood along the east side of Scout Island where I verified that this is no longer an island, but rather a long narrow peninsular dividing the northern parts of Johnson and West Oakwood Lakes.
As I observed last year, this is a really fine lake for paddling. The majority of shoreline in the three lakes seems to be undeveloped parkland. The lake is large (1200 acres), and there is a great variety of wildlife to see. This is really the primer lake for kayaking in the area. The only drawback for me is the 164-mile round trip distance from my home in Sioux Falls. People living in the Brookings area are lucky to have this set of lakes available so close to home. Incidentally, nearly adjoining West Oakwood Lakes is East Oakwood Lake, a large (1000 acres) body of water with charm of its own. East Oakwood, however, is wider with the potential for big waves. In fact, as I drove past it after my cruise, I observed white caps on the water. There is also a much less developed launching point. Still, on a calm day, I would like to try that waterway as well.
More on Oakwood Lakes can be found in an earlier entry accessible through the directory of area waterways on the right side of the blog.