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, June 07, 2010
Split Rock Creek - McHardy Park to Highway 42 Bridge
Yesterday, I happened to notice an invitation to paddle posted by David Finck on the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association Facebook page. He and his wife Mary and Larry Braaten, all directors of the SDCKA, invited paddlers to join them on a cruise along Split Rock Creek from McHardy Park in Brandon to the Highway 42 Bridge at the developing arboretum near the Perry Nature Area on the eastern edge of Sioux Falls.
Ten paddlers gathered with their kayaks at McHardy Park by 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. We moved our boats over to a launching point just below a set of rapids in the park. David and Mary used their van to organize a shuttle to move the cars down to the take-out point at the arboretum.
By about 1:30, we were ready to shove off from the park and head downstream. I have been on this stretch of Split Rock Creek three times, but those trips were always in September or October, and the water was always low. Today, the stream was flowing quite nicely and there was plenty of water. Shallow areas that required paddlers on past trips to claw their way across gravel bars had enough depth on this trip to allow a fast passage. I did not find it necessary to get out of my boat because of running aground at all on this trip. My last passage down Split Rock Creek two years ago took five hours: five hours of clawing along the bottom and getting out and dragging the kayak across sand and gravel bars. Today, we made the 8.65-mile trip in just over three hours, including a 20-minute break midway along the route.
Split Rock Creek is a hidden treasure. People traveling between Brandon and Sioux Falls are generally unaware of this waterway, moving sort of parallel to Highway 11. The course of the creek is obscured by tree growth along the high banks, banks that also shelter the waterway from wind.
The creek is usually 25-50 yards wide and has recurring sets of riffles that keep the paddler alert. Moving down this waterway requires a steady “reading” of the flow to make good choices regarding deepest channels for passage. The water is usually 3-4 feet deep, although there are shallow areas along bars and deep water along cut bank shorelines. As the route passes the confluence with the Big Sioux River, the width and depth increases markedly.
Today, we came upon a tree down across most of the creek; there was an open slot between the tree and the left bank through which we were all able to proceed without any problem. A tree across the stream is usually called a “strainer,” and such a situation is potentially hazardous to paddlers. The current across a strainer can be quite strong and can capture a boat, keeping it pressed into the branches and unable to escape. Small streams like Split Rock Creek are especially difficult, because a tree can easily fall across the entire stream. Larger streams like the Big Sioux River can also be subject to strainers and cause danger to boats. It is critical that strainers be approached with caution and afforded a wide berth. It might be better to get out and portage around a strainer rather than take a chance. Today, however, we were able to get past the tree without any difficulty. If the water were to be a bit lower, it would probably be necessary to portage around it. This strainer is on Split Rock Creek, perhaps a mile or so upstream of the confluence with the Big Sioux River.
The ten kayaks today tended to move in a group down the waterway. Sometimes large groups of paddlers spread out over time, but today the paddlers seemed to remain in sight of each other during the entire trip. There is an advantage in group paddling like this: the lead kayakers make choices regarding a bank to follow, especially in shelving water, and those following can evaluate the choice made by the leading boats. If the lead kayaks began to drag along in the shallows, those following can move to the other bank and just cruise past them, waving.
We stopped about halfway along the route to take a stretch break. Those farsighted enough to bring along a snack enjoyed the moment to nibble their treats. Those of us who are more shortsighted were able to vicariously enjoy their snacks.
A group of paddlers seldom is able to see much in the way of wildlife. There is too much conversation going on, and most animals steer clear of a flotilla of ten boats moving down the waterway. Today, though, a deer crashed through the brush and across the creek in front of us. Other than the deer, there was the usual variety of bird life to see along out passage.
Getting out of kayaks just before the Highway 42 bridge is a little tricky. The current today was pretty fast, and there is not anything like a beach or sandbar to use when getting off the water. The water is still rather deep at the shoreline, and there are large rocks along the shore. There is also a barbed wire fence to negotiate and a long and steep path up the shore to the parking area at the arboretum. This is not an easy exit point off the river, although it could be worse. It all depends upon whether you are a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” sort of person.
This is a trip that is best made with the support of a shuttle and someone to help carry the boat up off the river to the parking area. I am really enthusiastic about making this trip now in the spring rather than the fall.
The ten kayakers enjoyed the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoon on Split Rock Creek with a group of like-minded paddlers, and I think that we all enjoyed the trip and the fellowship. Most of my kayaking is alone, observing nature on deserted lakes. I think that it is good to have a mix of paddling experiences. Alone is good, but so is the experience of traveling down a waterway with a group of friends and fellow kayakers.