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
Monday, May 17, 2010
Grass Lake - May 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.