By Travis Gulbrandson
Area river enthusiasts will have a chance to break out their kayaks and canoes next weekend for a paddle trip that will take them from Vermillion to Burbank.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, the group will leave Clay County Park, traveling down the Missouri River to the Bolton boat ramp, which is just south of Burbank.
The event is being hosted by the National Parks Services and the Missouri River Institute at the University of South Dakota, with help from the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association.
“It’s a way to get people on the Missouri River who might not take trips on the river because they see it as too intimidating, or something they’re not ready to step into,” said Jarrett Bies, one of the event’s organizers. “This kind of trip would give them an opportunity to take part and do so in the comfort of knowing there are plenty of people with them and plenty of guidance.”
The route is approximately 18 miles and will feature such sites as the Gunderson Backwater, the Vermillion River confluence, Gunderson Island and miles of undeveloped scenic river.
“It’s a pretty good haul,” Bies said. “If there are prevailing south, southeasterly winds, it could take four to five hours. If the winds are less intense, it could take three to four hours. It’ll certainly take three to four hours depending on how many breaks one takes and how aggressively they paddle.”
Although he will not be attending the event next Saturday, Bies – a member of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association – has paddled it before, and said attendees will have the opportunity to take in lots of natural beauty.
“The bluffs of the Missouri River are very beautiful, that stretch once you get past the Highway 19 bridge there are lots of sandbars that people can stop and rest on,” he said. “They are always illuminating in terms of the rocks or debris or fossils that a person can find. Of course, since it’s a national park, you can’t take anything out of there.
“It is intriguing to see farmland give way to cottonwoods, which gives way to the bluffs, especially on the Nebraska side,” he said. “I think what people enjoy about it is, you pretty much have the river to yourself. There’s very little traffic after you get past the Highway 19 bridge.”
Part of the reason for this is because that stretch of the river is legally off-limits to any personal motorized watercraft, such as jet-skis, Bies said.
While they may not see a lot of other people, the paddlers could see plenty of wildlife.
“There will be a lot of juvenile bald eagles,” he said. “I’ve seen dozens of them this year on the river.”
There have been lots of geese, herons and pelicans, as well, he said.
Not all of the wildlife the river-goers encounter will be a welcome sight, though.
“Hopefully people won’t see many Asian carp, or won’t get hit by them, but they are unfortunately becoming an indigenous part of the river,” Bies said.
They also will have to look out for debris and possible snags.
“The logs that are sticking up out of the water, typically, a person can avoid,” Bies said. “But there will be debris that’s just a few inches under the water that, if you’re not expecting it, could hit the bow of your boat, or you could hit it with your paddle. It could startle a person or catch them off-guard so they might capsize.
“Capsizing on the river, even if it feels like it’s not moving very rapidly, you could be separated from your kayak and your paddle in just a few seconds,” he said.
People who travel the river in a larger group are always better off, Bies said.
“If something did go wrong, they would have the support there to help them recover, get back in their boat and continue on the trip,” he said.
Those who will be attending next Saturday’s trip need to provide their own watercraft, either a canoe or a kayak.
Bies said a kayak is preferable because its closed bow makes it more difficult to capsize.
Attendees also need to bring a flotation device, and a couple liters of water and something to eat are also advised.
Bies said parking is limited at Bolton, which is why BJ’s Specialy Sports of Yankton will be providing shuttle service for a small fee.
“I believe it’s $10 per person, so if a person didn’t want to leave a vehicle on the far end, they could contact BJ’s Specialty Sports … so that they could get a spot on their trailer,” he said.
For more information about the trip, contact the Missouri River Institute at USD by calling (605) 677-6151, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.