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, May 30, 2010
This weekend, the long planned South Dakota Kayak Challenge was held: a race beginning at Yankton’s Riverside Park along the Missouri River, south of the last dam on the river, and ending at Sioux City, Iowa. Like many others, I had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer on this race, an event that drew over 90 kayaks and canoes for the 36-hour race.
The race was planned and managed under the leadership of Jarett Bies, vice president of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA), and Steven Dahlmeier, president of the SDCKA. I arrived at Riverside Park in Yankton about 6:15 a.m. in time to do a few minor jobs as the race was nearing the 7:00 a.m. start. The sight of all the paddlers assembling, the boats lined up on the shoreline, and Jarett Bies giving television interviews was enough to make me wish that I were among the paddlers. Thinking of 70 miles of paddling into a southeast head wind gave me pause, and, on second thought, I was glad that I did not have to try and prove myself in these circumstances. I am a geezer, after all, and doing my checkpoint assignment was probably enough.
At 7:00 a.m., a military sendoff was signaled with a “cannon shot,” and the 90 boats surged off the beach and set out for the first checkpoint, 17.25 miles away at the Myron Grove public access area, also known locally as “Highlines.” My first official assignment was working under the direction of the “Checkpoint Boss Cory Diedrich at Checkpoint 1.
At the checkpoints, there were generally three volunteers working. My role was to verify the boat number and name, my colleagues at the checkpoint then checked them off on the official racing forms and noted the time of arrival at the checkpoint. We had ice and water available at the checkpoints, and another one or two volunteers filled orders for the racers. With my binoculars, I would note the boats in the distance and then call out the names and numbers as the racers arrived. Many of the paddlers came ashore to stretch their legs and take on more water and ice. Some of the very serious racers had their own support teams at the checkpoints to offer advice, encouragement, and pass food and liquids to the paddlers.
All the paddlers had passed the first checkpoint by about 11:30 or so, and I moved on to the third checkpoint, about 40 miles down from the starting point. By 12:15, the first racer had passed Checkpoint 3, and a few of the most hardy and well-equipped racers arrived within the next 15 to 30 minutes. I stayed at Checkpoint 3 until about 6:45 p.m., and only three boats had not arrived. Checkpoint Boss Cory relieved those of us who had been on this site since noon, and he planned to spend the night there. Jarett and Steven had moved on down to Checkpoint 4 and then to the finish line, points where the action was most intense. By Checkpoint 3, about 7 people had dropped out of the race.
There were a variety of boats in the race. There were sleek surf skies that were long, narrow sit-on-top types of kayaks with all the accouterments for racing, including a mounted gps system and trip computer and a built in water container with tubes running through the deck so that the paddlers could sip as they moved along. A number of touring kayaks were in the race, perhaps 17 feet long or so with a rudder and experienced paddlers that looked ready for the race. Then there were a surprising number of recreational kayaks, many only 10-12 feet long and paddlers with no sprayskirt or rudder. A few canoes were in the race, some serious looking canoes that looked race-ready, and other more common looking tandem canoes. I did not see a solo canoe in the event. There was a Hobie Cat kayak with the pedal drive system, “MirageDrive fins.” One guy in a touring kayak was using a single paddle, which he told me worked better with the wind conditions. Some people traveled from Canada, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa to join the South Dakota paddlers.
The wind was from 20-30 mph, right into the face of paddlers as they headed southeast down the river, and the temperature was about 90 degrees. The river is quite wide along this route, and the trees provided something of a lee at various points. Paddlers told me, though, that unfortunately the lee conditions were not in the flow of the main current, and it did not help much. Some paddlers told me that without paddling, the wind blew them upstream.
By Checkpoint 3, the fastest paddlers were three hours ahead of the pack. I admire the strength and endurance of these hardy racers: they are truly athletes of the first order. But, I think that I admire even more the ordinary paddlers in their slow, tubby, short kayaks who ploughed on into the wind and were able to eat up the miles through their steady efforts. Few of the racers had any illusion of winning the race; they just wanted to be part of the event and to challenge themselves through participation. This, then, was a race for the most competitive paddlers as well as a great event for the “everyman” sort of paddler – paddlers like me.
For further details on how the race turned out, check out the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association club blog at http://sdcka.blogspot.com or the club Facebook page. One of the Sioux City television stations and South Dakota Public Broadcasting covered the story. The SDPB cameraman told me that the story of the race will be presented in a program airing in October.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Remember also, that the SDCKA is hosting a free canoe/kayak fair at Family Park, the new lake located in western Sioux Falls near the intersection of the Tea/Ellis Road and West 12th Street. The fair will be held on Saturday, June 5, 2010 from 1:00-4:00 p.m. You can check this out at the club website: http://sdcka.blogspot.com. This is a great opportunity for people to try out a variety of boats. Several people over the past few years have attended this event and then gone out and bought their first kayak. I look forward to the event so that I can try out a variety of boats. Like many kayakers, I have felt that you just can't have too many boats, and I am always looking for the next one.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
We are having a string of beautiful days here on the northern plains, days not to be wasted with my part-time job of editing school accreditation reports. After returning yesterday from a trip out to Grass Lake, I just left the kayak on the car in anticipation of another excursion today.
By 8:00 this morning, I had arrived at the public access point at Loss Lake, a small and secluded body of water located west of Sioux Falls, about 15 miles west on Highway 42 and then 2.5 miles north on Highway 19. There is an inconspicuous sign along the east side of Highway 19 pointing down a dirt road; about .5 miles on, there is a well developed lake access area with a dock, boat ramp, fishing pier, vault toilet, and ample parking.
When I arrived, the lake was deserted, as is almost always the case when I arrive at area waterways, especially on weekday mornings. There was just a light wind blowing, the skies were clear, and the temp. was about 70 degrees.
Loss Lake is really a small prairie lake that is surrounded by low hills. The shoreline is elevated a few feet along most of the perimeter, with some banks extending up 10 or 12 feet and other banks only 2-3 feet. There are trees along a segment of the southern shore; but for the most part, the shoreline has only an occasional tree to break the landscape. On one part of the lake, a bay extends back for a few hundred feet and normally is ringed by marsh reeds and nesting ducks and geese. The water is quite high now, however, and those reeds have yet to emerge.
I did not see any mammal wildlife today. There were quite a few pelicans out on the water, and the sound of them taking off and landing was the dominant sound that I heard. Otherwise, there were some ducks and geese about and some perching birds on the bushes and reeds along the shoreline.
The water was as clear as it seems to get on this type of lake, and I could see detail on the bottom at 4 feet. I looked over the side of the kayak at one point and saw a big turtle swimming along about 2 feet under the surface. There were several schools of small, minnow-like fish that flashed by me as I slid along in clear and shallow water. The presence of these schools of little fish probably account for the pelicans that were hanging around together.
There are high cut banks to look at, large boulders along the eastern shore, and the old hydroplane racing booth slowly deteriorating, also on the eastern shore, directly across the lake from the public access area. After about an hour, I had finished my paddle around the shoreline of the lake and had arrived back at the “put-in.” To my astonishment, two large pick-up trucks arrived with an older guy in each one ready to do some fishing off the pier. After I had my kayak on the car, I strolled over to the pier for a chat with these guys, and asked them what they knew about the history of the lake. One of the guys was from the area, and he told me what he remembered about the hydroplane races that took place on Loss Lake back in the 1940s and 50s. I was glad to have that story confirmed. As I paddled past the old command booth this morning, I thought about what it must have been like 50 or 60 years ago with all the excitement and noise of racing hydroplanes and spectators yelling out their encouragement to the drivers.
The guy from the area told me that the attraction of Loss Lake was the depth of water and that there was very little “winter-kill” among the fish species. I saw a speckled fish swimming very near me off the southern shore, so close that I think that I could have caught it in a net. I asked the guy what types of fish were in the lake, and he rattled off half a dozen names. I have no idea what type of fish I was looking at, just that it was a speckled fish that wasn’t moving too fast.
Loss Lake is not the greatest body of water in the area for checking out the wildlife. Also, the only shade is under the banks when the sun is low on the horizon. It is a place that I like to revisit each year, but once a year is enough for me.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I have been working in Italy and Turkey the past weeks and missed about three weeks of spring this year, as I did last year. Still, I feel fortunate to have been on the water four times during the mild early weeks of spring in late March and early April. Today, I continued my spring roundup of area waterways with a trip to Grass Lake. This is one of my favorite lakes in the area, especially for viewing wildlife. Grass Lake is about two miles north of Highway 42, about 20 miles west on 12th Street from my eastside Sioux Falls home. You can check the blog waterways index on the right side of the blog for past narratives about Grass Lake, including detailed driving directions.
The lake is situated along a northwest to southeast axis. The primitive launching site is on the northeastern end of the lake, just off 459th Street. Grass Lake has not received an upgrade to the public access area, and I often wonder how a boat could be launched from this steep gravel access point. For a kayak, though, the launch is just a matter of carrying the boat down the approach and shoving off.
I arrived at the lakeside at 7:30 a.m. with only light wind, mostly sunny skies, and a deserted lake. With no wind through the trees, the surface was quite calm and the sound of birds was constant. I set off in my kayak along the northern shore and headed west toward the larger of the two islands in the lake. The water was high, higher than I ever remember seeing it. A large group of pelicans was concentrated just off the shoreline of the island, and I moved closer trying to capture a good photograph with my barely adequate camera. As I found out a little later, the rocky point jutting off the northwestern shore about two-thirds of the way down the lake was largely underwater. The high water had covered that spot in the lake where the pelicans tend to hang out most of the year, and they seem to have found a new spot to gather, at least for now.
As I cruised down the northern shore, I came across a large raccoon at the water’s edge. Before I could fumble my camera out, however, he had moved off into the vegetation. I could see the weeds rustling, but the raccoon decided to avoid publicity today. There were lots of pelicans out on the water along with geese, ducks, and cormorants. In addition, there were a great many shore birds, including egrets and what seemed to me to be plovers, although I am not sure about that designation. There were, of course, many gulls as well. Perching birds were constant along the shoreline and in the branches of dead trees protruding from the inshore waters.
Because of the high water, I was able to move into a wetlands area to check out a couple of beaver lodges. I like moving through cattails and other wetland growth into areas where birds nest and beaver build their homes of mud, weeds, and sticks.
Along the southwestern shoreline, I came across two coyotes moving rapidly about ten feet in from the edge of the lake. They were running through the trees on a high bank, and I was just offshore. I would guess that they were about 25 feet from me, close enough to see details of their bodies. This was the first time that I have seen a coyote in the wild, and I felt pretty lucky to have shared that space for a few moments with these creatures. They did not seem to notice me; they just keep moving on – too fast for me to get a photo of them, of course. Later, I came across a woodchuck sitting in a tree hanging just over the shoreline. I stayed and watched him for a while, and I could see slight movements, including his eyes. He seemed unaffected by my presence in a kayak right under him.
The lake was beautiful today. The calm conditions and sunny sky created conditions for reflections of trees along the shore, and the spring foliage is at its height. I was glad to see that the old windmill along the southwestern shore has made it through another long winter.
This is a great time of the year to slowly paddle along the shoreline, alone on the water with a range of wildlife from turtles to birds to mammals. I was out for two hours, and the only sign of another person was a light airplane that passed over two or three times. I waved to the pilot, but I did not see any wing wagging in return.
It was even more delicious, of course, to be out on Grass Lake during what are normal working hours for most people.