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, June 12, 2011
Split Rock Creek - Corson to McHardy Park
David and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten led a cruise this afternoon on Split Rock Creek, beginning about a mile and a-half northwest of Corson and ending at McHardy Park on the west end of Brandon. The put-in was off of 259th Street, and the road distance to the take-out was four miles. By creek travel, the distance clocked on one of the party’s gps was just over 6.5 miles.
It was a partly sunny day today with a stiff wind and a temperature in the high 60s. Eight paddlers gathered at McHardy Park and used a vehicle shuttle to move the kayaks to the put-in spot, under a bridge across Split Rock Creek and accessible through a path within high grass. We then drove the cars back to McHardy Park and returned in Dave’s van.
We shoved off into the creek about 2:10 p.m. to make our way downstream, moving into a relatively fast current and in water that was generally four to five feet deep. The waterway was usually about 50 feet wide. There were several riffles along the way, just fast enough to focus attention on the passage.
The shoreline along the creek is elevated and wooded; therefore, the wind was diminished, although it always seemed as though we were going into a head wind regardless of the curves along the route.
A couple of miles along the way, we came to a dam across the creek topped by a road at a large concrete or gravel plant. Several culverts extend under the road, and all the flow from the creek is forced through these four or five culverts. We had to portage over the road, and this served as a rest stop for us.
Continuing downstream, the creek was unchanged: fifty or more feet wide, plenty of depth, wooded shoreline, and a fairly fast flow of the current.
Everything was fine, and we were cruising along until we came upon a large tree across the entire width of the creek – a strainer! We were spread across the width of the creek as we came upon the strainer, and those on the left side found themselves unable to escape the flow: they were swept into the tree, the trunk of which was about three feet off the surface of the water. The tree had recently fallen, there were leaves still on the branches.
Three of the kayaks found themselves in this situation. I was toward the rear of the grouping and found myself also in the grip of a steadily increasing current flowing toward and under the tree. Fortunately for me, I heard the warning of people ahead of me and began back-paddling as hard as I could and was able to make it to the right side of the creek and stop myself along the bank. Except for those three kayaks caught in the strainer, the others made it to the right bank as well.
One of the paddlers was able to free herself and move on somehow and escape the trap. Two others, however were caught up at the trunk of the downed tree, facing downstream but unable to get under the tree. Of course, it was impossible to back up, and the cut-bank on the left made it impossible to get out of the kayaks.
So, there we were: Mary in one kayak with the bow under the trunk, and Rick in another similarly caught in the high velocity flow alongside. With some coaching from the shoreline and Robin, the man of the hour, wading out into the waist-deep water to lend a hand, Mary was able to lean backwards in the kayak so that she could move under the tree trunk and out from the strainer. Unfortunately, though, as she was holding on and trying to avoid a capsize, her paddle got away from her and was lost downstream.
Rick tried the same approach, but as he leaned back to fit under the tree trunk, the kayak capsized and he found himself in the water. With the help of Robin, he was able to move the kayak away from the tree so that it could be emptied of water. Even as he went over and had to make a “wet exit,” he managed to hold on to his paddle.
After the two paddlers were out of danger, the remaining problem was finding propulsion for Mary’s kayak. No one had an extra paddle, so the choices were to take apart one of the other kayak paddles and have two people share the two parts or to tow Mary the remaining couple of miles to McHardy Park. I had a rope with me, and Roger, a powerful paddler in great shape, volunteered to tow Mary to the take-out.
At the downstream end of McHardy Park, there is a set of rapids, a pretty big set of steep rapids. This was the end of the cruise, and the choices were to get out above the rapids or to continue through and get out just below them. There was no real advantage in concluding the trip by going through the rapids, and I had decided not to do that. But, the majority of our party wanted to shoot through these rapids, and I did not want to be thought of as a lesser paddler, so I went along too. I was the last to approach the rapids, and people were shouting to me to go over at the center. Earlier, I was informed that the left side was the best route. So, I was conflicted as I approached the rapids. When I heard the shouting, it was too late, and I went over at the worst point. My kayak got hung up momentarily on a big rock with water pounding all around me. I felt sure that I was about to be flung into the raging water. Somehow, though, my kayak slid off and I was suddenly through the slot. Those standing on the banks thought I was about to go over as well and only wished for a camera to record my last moments.
This was a new stretch of Split Rock Creek for me, and it adds to trips that I have taken downstream from McHardy Park to the confluence with the Big Sioux River, and on to the Highway 42 bridge at the newly developing arboretum. I like these waterways, set down below elevated banks and relatively obscure. The lessons of today will stay with me: (1) Travel with others on moving water; (2) Consider taking a spare paddle in the event of a wet exit and the disappearance of your paddle; (3) Never relax your vigil on moving water, a strainer or set of unpleasant rapids can come upon you without much warning.