Water trail to be added to Missouri River from Yankton to Sioux City

Tim Cowman, director of the Missouri River Institute in Vermillion, points out locations for river signage to National Park Service biologist Lisa Yager. (Randy Dockendorf/P&D)

Starting next summer, kayakers and canoeists will find signs guiding them along their way from Yankton to Sioux City.

The 14 new signs will be installed this spring along the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) Water Trail. The signs mark access points and will contain historical and scientific information along the trail.

The 48-inch-by-36-inch fiberglass panels will stand upright with printing on both sides, according to water trail organizer Tim Cowman. The timeline calls for installing the signs by June 3.

There is general information about the water trail, he said. But there are also things like trail safety and etiquette, (facts about) where you are standing, what is found down the river, and the mileage and reasonable time for reaching your destination.

The signs could also include animal and plant life found along the trail, he said.

The 14 sites include the Nebraska tailwaters, the training dike, Riverside Park in Yankton, St. Helena, Myron Grove, Brookey Bottom, Clay County Park, Cotton Park in Vermillion, Mulberry Bend, Bolton, Ponca State Park (north and backwater), Rosenbaum and Chris Larsen Park in Sioux City.

Cotton Park lies about five miles from the Missouri River, but the site was included for signage because of its use for river access.

Organizers dont plan to include signage for emergent sandbar habitat (ESH) found in the Missouri River, Cowman said. The ESH benefits endangered species such as the least tern and piping plover.

The information should be for something that you feel will be there for years, he said. Dont take the time to explain things that could be gone (because of high water).

You dont want to be taking things off the signs (because) they arent present or functioning, added Cowman, who also directs the Missouri River Institute (MRI) at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

However, the ESH and other features could be included in brochures or on the website at www.mnrrwatertrail.com, he said.

The signs can point out both the big picture and specific items, Cowman said.

We could include information about the entire trail, he said. We have the wild and scenic river, the endangered species, the ESH all along the longest river in America. Once the signs get to 10 years old, we could update them with a new version.

The signage project could incorporate the rich history of the river and entire region, said Anne Doherty-Stephan, the community outreach, partnership and education director for the National Park Service (NPS) office in Yankton.

That would include the discoveries of explorers Lewis and Clark who passed through the area, she said.

This is a Lewis and Clark historic park, she said. Its possible to include excerpts from the Lewis and Clark journals, even those that arent necessarily tied to a particular location.

The signage offers tremendous educational opportunities, Doherty-Stephan said.

This (signage) provides a combination of both the interpretive and the informative, she said. The signs can answer questions, or it can cause a person to take a moment to pause and reflect.

The kayakers and canoeists can use the signs as they float down the river or make a return trip to study the signs further, Doherty-Stephan said. Organizers have suggested using the signs for geocaching.

The historical notes will help visitors realize how much of the river has changed since the Lewis and Clark exploration, Cowman said. The dams have been created, and the river level has changed, he said.

The trailhead signage project has received $21,500 in funding under two cost-sharing programs.

A National Park Service cost-share includes $5,000 from an NPS grant; $1,500 each from the City of Yankton and the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA); and $1,500 for signs and $1,000 for the website from the Missouri River Institute and Sierra Club.

The other cost-share includes an $8,000 grant from the Nebraska Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and $2,000 from the MRI/Sierra Club.

The National Park Service will likely maintain the signs, according to NPS ranger Dugan Smith.

Currently, the water trail includes a 78-mile segment of the Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton to Sioux City. The segment of the river from Ft. Randall Dam near Pickstown to Gavins Point Dam will be added to this water trail in the future.

The water trails sponsors include several academic, federal, state, local and non-profit organizations. The groups activities include improving public access to the river, establishing trailheads and routes, and building an interactive website to plan float trips and to disseminate information.

The trail sponsors include the USD Missouri River Institute, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League of America; South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks; Missouri River Futures, the City of Yankton, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the National Park Service.

The sign project has won the support of Jim Heisinger of Vermillion, a member of the Living River Group with the Sierra Club.

The signs, along with the water trails website, allow visitors to explore unknown areas, Heisinger said. He used the example of mole crickets at Goat Island.

There is so much here on the Missouri River, he said. Those who live here dont appreciate it enough.

The signage project will encourage visitors to slow down and take time to enjoy the river, Cowman said.

If somebody goes down the river in a kayak or canoe, its different than flying by on a boat and wondering, What is this? he said.

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