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Spokane River access open at stateline site

WATERSPORTS — A launch site for drift boats, paddling craft and rafts has been remodeled and reopened at the stateline just downstream from the I-90 Bridge.

The Stateline access site includes parking and native landscaping planted by the Spokane Conservation District and volunteer groups on 800 feet of shoreline, said Andy Dunau of Spokane River Forum.

The forum has  details about this access site and others on the Spokane River Water Trail website.

Air Force helicopter rescues Marble Creek rafter

WATERSPORTS — The benefits of living near an Air Force Base with skilled rescue helicopter pilots have paid off for recreationists, most recently in a one-weekend blitz to help a Pacific Crest Trail hiker as well as a Spokane Valley rafter on a tributary to the St. Joe River.

Airmen from the 36th Rescue Flight answered the call to save not only one, but two lives in one weekend. We're just getting the details.

On June 13 at 5:30 p.m., the crew received a call that a kayaker was stranded 70 miles southeast of Fairchild Air Force Base, according to a report by Airman 1st Class Janelle Patiño of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.

Within a few hours, the crew launched the UH-1N Huey and was enroute to the man's location.

Bart Rayniak, a retired Spokesman-Review photograher, had been kayaking near where Marble Creek flows into the St. Joe's River when his cataraft flipped, ejecting him into the cold water.

“There were some challenges that occurred during the rescue due to the weather, but the crew of Rescue 48 never gave up,” said Maj. Jennings Marshall, the 36th RQF commander. “At 8:30 p.m., Capt. Nate Jolls, a 36th RQF pilot, with the survivor on board, began an approach back toward the ambulance where Maj. Montsho Corppetts, a 336th Training Support Squadron medic, was waiting.”

“I was never able to truly thank my rescuers,” Rayniak told the base reporter. “They were so wonderful! They put their lives on the line to save mine. They were amazing flyers and crew. They were professional and caring. Damn good at what they do. I will always be grateful.”

A logging operation this year apparently has caused logs to slide into the river and increase the hazard for floaters during high water, the only time Marble Creek is navigable for rafts and kayaks.

  • Rayniak has not been available for further comment to the S-R.

Friends recovered his cataraft the next day. The video in the post below indicates the velocity of the water and the hazards in the Marble Creek posed by a logging operation. A look at this brief video explains why Rayniak couldn't just swim to safety even though he was fully decked out with dry suit and life vest.

Two days later, on June 15, the crew received a call at approximately 11:30 a.m. that there was an injured hiker along the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern Washington needing quick extraction.

“He had been walking along a steep and snowy section of the trail when he slipped and tumbled down the mountainside, hitting a tree and breaking several ribs,” Marshall said. “Fortunately, his hiking buddy was able to call for help.”

Capt. Erik Greendyke, the 36th RQF operations supervisor, worked with Marshall to assemble a crew. The crew then launched at 1 p.m. and followed the Methow River past Mazama, Wash., to the hiker's location.

“Other hikers prepared a bright orange tent along the ridgeline that helped us immediately identify the area with minimal searching,” Marshall said. “As soon as we rescued the injured hiker and his hiker buddy, the survivor was then loaded onto an ambulance with the help of Capt. Josiah Hart, the 36th RQF standardization and evaluation liaison officer, and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Poe, a 36th RQF special missions aviator, and departed for the hospital.”

Helicopter rescue operations can be dangerous, but the 36th RQF crews constantly train to maintain proficiency in rescue operations as part of the mission to support the Air Force's only Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.

“We take great effort to ensure rescues are executed safely and with as little risk as possible,” Marshall said. “Our normal training missions take place at Fairchild and in the Colville National Forest and we have been tasked to perform civilian rescues throughout the Pacific Northwest in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.”
  

Little Spokane River shuttle starts July 5

WATERSPORTS — No more worrying about getting a lift back to your car at the put-in on Saturdays in July and August.

Racers hit Blackfoot in open canoes

WATERSPORTS —The 2014 Open Canoe Slalom National Championship starts today and runs through Sunday (June 29) near Missoula on the Blackfoot River upstream of the Roundup Fishing Access Site off Montana Highway 200.

Spectators can view the American Canoe Association event for free in the designated area upstream of the Roundup Bridge.

 For information about open canoe whitewater racing in general, see aca.whitewater-slalom.us.

Saturday features four “Citizen-class” races in which noncompetitive or inexperienced paddlers can run the course in a tandem canoe with an experienced racer.

Post Falls Dam gates close; Spokane River flows drop

WATERSPORTS — The Spokane River's flows have subsided enough for the spill gates at Post Falls Dam to be closed, Avista Utilities reports. That has allowed river recreation to open for the season starting today in the area between the Spokane Street Bridge and the boater safety cables that are just upstream of the Post Falls Dam. 

The City of Post Falls boat launch at Q’emiln Park is opening to the public today. The swim beach will open later this week after the parks department removes fencing, installs swim safety bouys and lifeguards are scheduled. Typically this occurs sometime between Memorial Day and the July 4 holiday, and on average about June 22.

 Upgrades underway this summer at the South Channel Dam adjacent to Q’emiln Park will require visitors to stay out of some areas near the construction.

Logs pose hazard to whitewater rafters in Marble Creek

WATERSPORTS — Whitewater rafters and kayakers were greeted by hazards in Marble Creek last weekend.

Logs from a logging operation apparently slid down a steep slope and into the tributary of the St. Joe River.

This is prime time for river runners before flows become too low in Marble Creek, but the stream flows fast with tight turns and hazards that make it for experts only.

Video: Rafter catches Moyie River whitewater

RIVERS — Whitewater river rafter Tanner Grant floated the Moyie River in North Idaho over the weekend and made this video documentary of the run from Meadow Creek to Moyie Dam at 2,300 cfs — that's 4 feet at the dam.

The 8-minute video is instructional for rafters who want to follow in his wake.  

But don't procrastinate.   Here's Grant's field report:

I wanted to share my run down the Moyie River in North Idaho from this last weekend.  The river is on the drop and time is running out, there was no wood in Eileen Dam or Hole in the Wall rapids, feel free to share on your blog if you want to, what an awesome run!

See Grant's descriptive videos of other rivers:

Outdoor recreational outings offered to disabled

OUTDOOR RECREATION — The St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute's recreational therapy team is gearing up for a busy summer season of outdoor recreation fun for physically challenged adventurers of all ages.

Outdoor Recreation Experience,  June 21, features adaptive and regular fishing, handcycling, archery, kayaking and canoeing, plus a barbecue for participants and family members.  

SkiFest, July 19-20,  features adaptive water skiing, boating and swimming at Clear Lake. 

Payette River train serves whitewater rafters, paddlers

RIVER RUNNING — Rafters and paddlers soon will be riding the rails to a popular floating and whitewater  stretch of Idaho's North Fork Payette River.

On Saturday, May 31, the Idaho Northern and Pacific Railroad, also known as the Thunder Mountain Line, will debut the Payette River Flyer with runs between Smiths Ferry and Cascade on Saturdays and Sundays this summer.

Riders are able to bring their own rafts and kayaks onboard or opt for a guided raft trip provided by Bear Valley Rafting Company.

The train ride is not only convenient, it's also scenic. Park in one spot and let the railroad do the 17-mile shuttle to the top of the seven-mile river run.

The train travels along the North Fork of the Payette River, also known as the North Fork Carbarton, and features Class II-III rapids. The following rapids are part of the float:

  • Trestle Rapids-Class III
  • Smoothie Rapids-Class II-III
  • Wet Spot Rapids-Class III
  • Francois Rapids-Class III
  • Howard's Plunge Rapids-Class III

The Smiths Ferry loading location is across the river from the Cougar Mountain Lodge on Highway 55, with free parking available on-site. The Smiths Ferry site will be the only location where rafts and kayaks can be loaded.

The Cascade loading site is behind the Ashley Inn, 500 N. Main St. Parking is free.

Rail enthusiasts can stay off the water and enjoy a scenic roundtrip train ride from either loading sites.

The Payette River Flyer will run May 31 - Aug. 31, with Smiths Ferry departures at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day, and Cascade departures at 12:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.payetteriverflyer.com or by calling the ticket office at (208) 331-1184. One-way tickets for river drop-off are $20 for all age groups, while round-trip train rides start at $25/person. All guided raft trips will be provided by Bear Valley Rafting Company and start at $60/person. One-way trips are approximately 45 minutes to one hour in length, with the round trip train ride taking three hours. Food will be available for purchase on the train.

Spokane paddlers offer canoe, kayak classes

PADDLING – The Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club is launching its annual series of paddling classes for canoeists as well as whitewater and sea kayakers starting next weekend.

The classes are taught by qualified instructors as follows:

May  18 ­– Flatwater solo and tandem canoeing.

June 21-22Beginning whitewater kayaking.

June 28-29Moving water canoeing.

July 16, 19, 20Sea kayaking.

Cost for each class is $55 per paddler and participants must become club members.

Sign up: 448-9214, or email dianecadams@asisna.com.

Kayak paddling, hypothermia film featured in program

WATERSPORTS – A chiller and a thriller will be shown at a double-feature program at 7 p.m. tonight, April 28, at Mountain Gear Corporate Office, 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley.

 Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club members will give a program about kayaking in Costa Rica, with head-cam video that captures more excitement than they’d planned.

Also featured is a screening of Cold Water Boot Camp, a must-see video for anyone who recreates around water.

Brave volunteers who jump into frigid water graphically demonstrate the risks of cold water immersion and what boaters and anglers can do to improve their odds of survival if in a similar situation.

Paddling law would be bad news for national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — I've made a few classic canoe and kayak trips in Yellowstone National Park over the years, including the Lewis River to Shoshone Lake (see photo) and on Yellowstone Lake.

But even though I'm a long-time paddler and co-author of the guidebook, Paddling Washington, I can still clearly see a reason to restrict paddling in national parks, where the priority is on preserving natural ecosystems. 

It's shocking to see that a Wyoming Congreswoman has introduced a bill that would REQUIRE Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park officials to allow more paddling in the parks. 

Here's the scoop from High Country News and a person who knows and write's eloquently on the potential ramifications of the legislation.  Check it out.

Called the “River Paddling Protection Act,” the bill has already passed the House of Representatives. It gives the National Park Service three years to change its regulations barring non-motorized boating on rivers and streams. If the agency fails to act in that time, then boating in the two parks will be considered unregulated.

Sea kayaker details journey on B.C. coast

PADDLING — A free program on a British Columbia sea kayaking journey from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, for the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club at Mountain Gear's corporate office, 6021 E. Mansfield. 

The two week adventure of paddling along the exposed coast of Queen Charlotte Sound will be detailed by Roy Massena, who has kayaked extensively in Pacific Northwest waters and has encountered more than his share of challenging conditions. 

Flash flood ordeal recounted by paddlers

NOTE DATE:  The date for this program was incorrect in today's print version of the announcement.

PADDLING – Four Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club members who survived a close call with a  freak flash flood event while kayaking the Green River of Utah will present a free slide and video program on the trip Monday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Mountain Gear Corporate Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave. in Spokane Valley (go north on Fancher Road from Trent and turn right just before the tracks).

Debbie Pierce, Lisa Helmbrecht, Marlene Landis and Susan Luchesi were trapped on a quickly disappearing sand bar out of reach of rescue-attempting park rangers until the flood formed a temporary dam that gave them a short window for escape.

Paddlers continue chilly New Year tradition

PADDLING — For the 19th year, paddlers from the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club bring in the New Year with an outing on the Little Spokane River. Wednesday was no different, although the temperatures were more on the mild side compared with other years.

Eric Erickson, above, is pictured by canoe partner Juile Titone during the float in 2000.  As Titone said, he was “looking determined to reach the potluck-and-wood stove part of the day.”

Kayaker found dead on Palouse River

PADDLING — A kayaker's body was recovered this morning from the Palouse River, according to the following statement released this afternoon by the Whitman County Sheriff.

Alison Webb, 54, who was on the Palouse city council, was found dead early Friday morning, her life apparently claimed by hypothermia after capsizing in the freezing cold.

COLFAX, WA- Authorities have recovered the body of a kayaker who was reported missing late Thursday evening. 

At approximately 8pm on Thursday evening, Deputies from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office were notified of an overdue kayaker near the town of Palouse, WA.   The kayaker, Allison E Webb, 54yoa of Palouse, WA, reportedly set out on a late afternoon kayak trip on the Palouse River.  When she failed to arrive at her destination, family members became concerned, conducted a brief search and later notified 911. 

After Deputies determined that Webb started her float trip near Wellesley Road in Latah County, officials from Idaho were also notified.  Due to the extremely cold temperatures search crews from both sides of the border immediately began a ground and aerial search of the river and terrain. Officials from Latah and Whitman Counties searched through the night and into Friday Morning.

At approximately 8:30 Friday morning, search crews from Fairchild Air Force Base (36 Rescue Helicopter) assisting in the effort located the body of a deceased female, later identified as Allison E. Webb.  It is believed Webb died after capsizing her kayak and being exposed to the extremely cold overnight temperatures.  The exact cause and manner of death will be determined by the Whitman County Coroner’s Office.

Crews from The Latah County Sheriff’s Office, Latah County Search and Rescue, Whitman County Emergency Management, MedStar, Fairchild Air Force Base, Whitman County Sheriff’s Office, Palouse Fire and EMS, Border Patrol, Whitman County Coroner and the American Red Cross all assisted in the search effort. 

Radical Reels pump action into area theaters

FILMS – Radical Reels, the adrenaline filled off-shoot of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, is coming to the Inland Northwest this week.

The edited package of 11 new action-packed films featuring free-skiers, longboarders, snowboarders, mountain bikers, kayakers and rock climbers will be shown:

  • Friday, Oct., 11, 7 p.m., at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint. Advance tickets at Outdoor Experience.
  • Saturday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. Advance tickets at Mountain Gear, 2002 N. Division, 325-9000.

Films include “Being There,” about fun loving free-skiers taking their sport into the stratosphere. “Endless Roads” follows seven female longboarders winding down in Spain. “La Dura Dura” features rock climbing superstars Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra vying for a first ascent the world’s first 5.15c grade climb.

Sea kayakers paddle at night where the plankton shines

PADDLING — Sea kayak outfitters are leading paddlers out of the San Juan Islands as well as Bellingham Bay on night-time excursions to see one of the bright little wonders of the sea.

When conditions are right, the stroke of a paddle paints a swath of bioluminescent light that resembles a swish of Tinkerbell's wand.

“When we accidentally paddled over a school of startled juvenile herring, they jumped out of the water looking like kamikaze lightning bugs,” writes Tan Vinh in a story for The Seattle Times.

The natural spectacle of bioluminescence is caused by single-celled planktons that emit light.  

Outfitters offering bioluminescent night tours include:

• Community Boating Center in Bellingham will hold its next tours on Sept 5 and 6. $50 per person. 360-714-8891 orboatingcenter.org.

 Salmon Bay Paddle in Ballard leads stand-up paddleboard tours at Shilshole Bay. $85 for one person or $65 per person at group rate. 206-465-7167 or salmonbaypaddle.com.

• Discovery Sea Kayaks in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, does tours around Griffin Bay. $99 per person. 866-461-2559 or discoveryseakayak.com.

Read on for Vinh's first-person experience.

Agreement reached on Spokane River boat access at Convention Center

BOATING — The Spokane Parks and Recreation Board apparently has reached an agreement with the Spokane Public Facilities District that may assure maintaining a viable boat take-out point under the Division Street Bridge after the voter-approved $55 million Convention Center expansion project is finished.

The outlook wasn't so good when I wrote today's Outdoors column on the subject or when I wrote about the state of the issue in April as final Convention Center plans were being approved.

But here's a message received tonight from Parks Board member Andy Dunau of the Spokane River Forum:

I’m pleased to be able to share what I believe is good news. Today, the Spokane Parks and Recreation Board passed a resolution that the PFD has agreed to. The resolution addresses items needed to move forward this fall with development activities on Centennial Trail and Spokane River shoreline that are part of the convention center expansion. The section of the resolution that is essential to a put-in/take-out for the water trail reads as follows:

“The Park Board approves the Access in principle and subject to further review and approval design of the Park Board, and further authorizes the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department to be the lead agency in getting the Access permitted, conditioned on the District’s acknowledgement that it will bear all costs and expenses associated with permitting and construction of the Access, including any expenses ordinarily assigned to the City as lead agency for any permitting and/or construction of the Access, up to an amount not exceeding $47,000.”

The PFD verbally agreed to the resolution at the Park Board meeting, and will memorialize their agreement to it in a letter being sent to the Park Board.

We now have in writing a commitment of funds from the PFD, a design that has received broad support (also funded over the summer by the PFD), and Parks and Recreation agreeing to be the lead agency to develop the access. We can now get to the fun part: creating the Spokane River Water Trail Division Street Bridge Access.

Over the past week, intensive hours were committed by both PFD and Parks and Recreation staff and Boards to take this critical step forward. We are very appreciative of their time, effort and support. The Forum would also like to thank Spokane City Council for amending the municipal code last spring to allow this site location to move forward; Avista for their support in developing the design; Spokane Riverkeeper for providing important policy and regulatory guidance; and the many individuals and user groups who are the lifeblood of helping make good things happen.

$55 million Convention Center project should give voters more, not less river access

UPDATE: Sept. 12 at 8 p.m.: Tentative agreement reached on Spokane River boat access at Division Street.

RIVERS — Plans for the voter funded $55-$65 million expansion of the Spokane Convention Center are advancing to the construction stage, but Public Facilities District officials continue to suggest that maintaining viable public river access at Division Street Bridge for rafts, kayaks, paddle boards and outfitters is not their priority.

I wrote about this in April when the designs were being approved.

I wrote about it again today as the PFD readies to begin digging without giving a commitment to a viable boat access when the construction is complete.

Unbelievable.

Video: Experience 6-day Salmon River raft trip without getting wet

RIVERS — Local rafter Tanner Grant compressed his recent six-day whitewater rafting trip on Idaho's main Salmon River into this 11-minute video, listing all the rapids in the 80 miles from Corn Creek to Carey Creek for river runners to view.

He also succinctly shows some of the attractions along the River of No Return from pictographs and hot springs to Buckskin Bill's Museum.

Note that when they launched on July 24 the river was running at about 2,800 cfs, which is considered a low-water run.

Woman, 8 months pregnant, wins Payette whitewater kayak competition

PADDLING — Emily Jackson, 23, — severely pregnant with her first child — conquered whitewater three weeks before she's due to have her water break.

Jackson, a two-time world champion from Rock Island, Tenn., won the women's freestyle whitewater kayaking title last weekend in the Payette River Games.

The event was held at Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade, Idaho.

Jackson's freestyle performance in the video above starts at 2:18 minutes.

Field report: Kayaking Lion Creek near Priest Lake

PADDLING — Spokane kayaker Brian Jamieson and some friends had a hoot paddling the slick granite slides of Lion Creek near Priest Lake on Saturday, as you can see in his helmet-cam video above.

Lion Creek is a popular destination for Priest Lake visitors, who have worn out the bottoms of many swimsuits slipping down the slides on their butts in lower water.

Video field report: Paddling Lightning Creek at 3100 cfs

KAYAKING — Here's a wet glimpse of North Idaho's Lightning Creek at flows of 3,100 cfs on Thursday through the lens of Celene Olgeirsson, who was with a Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club group.

NC man drowns kayaking Idaho’s NF Payette

WHITEWATER —  A 22-year-old North Carolina man has died in a kayaking accident on the Payette River in Idaho, north of Boise, the Associated Press reports.

Boise County officials say Eric Weigel of Asheville, N.C., was kayaking the North Fork of the Payette with two friends on Wednesday afternoon when he apparently flipped over and hit his head, losing consciousness.

The sheriff’s department tells KBOI-TV that Weigel was upside down in his kayak for several minutes before friends could get him to shore. He died at the scene.

The sheriff’s office says Weigel and his friends were on the final day of a 21-day whitewater rafting trip when the accident happened.

The North Fork of the Payette is known for its challenging Class V rapids. 

Sign up for canoe, kayak and sea kayak classes

PADDLING – Registration is open for the excellent annual paddling classes taught by the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club:

  • Flatwater canoeing for solo or tandem boats is June 5.
  • Moving water canoeing is July 13-14.
  • Sea kayaking for novice to advanced is July 17, 20 and 21.
  • Whitewater kayaking dates are not set.

Each class is $55 per person, except the flatwater canoeing class is a free pre-requisite for the moving water class.

Sign up: (509) 448-9214.

Paddlers carefully eye Priest River flows

RIVERS – The best time to float the Priest River comes and goes, but the next couple of weeks will be worth checking out.

At its extremes – up to 10,500 cubic feet per second and down to 165 cfs – the river is basically too high for safe passage except for experts or too low to float without dragging a vessel over the rocks.

  • Ideal flows for experienced canoeists are in the range of 1,200-4,500 cfs (recorded at the gauge near Priest River, Idaho).

During summer through early fall, when most people would be lured to portions of the river downstream from Priest Lake, the water generally is too low to float without bouncing and scraping along the rocks.

However, inexperienced paddlers running inflatable boats can have a safer, enjoyable float at flows in the 600-1,000 cfs range in the Eight Mile Rapids stretch from McAbee Falls downstream.  (See description below.)

Prime times for experienced paddlers farther upstream are:

  • Spring runoff period of May and early June, but be especially ready for cold water and alert for new log jams or strainers.
  • Early October, a glorious, fall-color period when mosquitoes are gone and flows pick up to the 1,200 cfs range as water is allowed to flow over Outlet Dam to lower Priest Lake to winter levels.

Read on for more details and notes on flows from Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club diaries.

Challenge yourself: Idaho Adventure Sports Week June 2-9

ADVENTURE SPORTS — Fitness junkies who enjoy trail running, mountain biking, paddling and other outdoors sports will love the big event coming up based out of Farragut State Park.

Adventure Sports Week Idaho features 14 different races and clinics over eight days, June 2 - 9. Racers are traveling from long distances to join locals at this event, said North Idaho organizer David Adlard.

Trail runs include a June 2 Beaches 2 Boulders with 5k, 10k and 9 mile fun runs and the
June 8 Deepwater  half marathon, marathon, 50 k and 52 mile races.

Mountain bikers can zero in on the Mad Dash races, 4 or 6hours, on June 2.

Adventure races set for June 8-9 combine a variety of sports and skills on June 8-9.

Kids are offered their own adventure race, plus a clinic on orienteering and adventure racing.
  
The week includes prizes, barbecue and other treats.

Plus, “Farragut is beautiful,” Adlard said.
  
Info: (208) 664-0135.

Wenatchee River Festival a whitewater bonanza

RIVER SPORTS — The 2013 Wenatchee River Festival, set for June 8 based out of Cashmere, Wash., is among the region's few paddling events that brings a wide-ranging paddling community together.

Organizers of the event that's been around in one way or another for a quarter century encourage participation of all river lovers, whether you kayak, raft, or ride the waves on a board, the festival offers a little something for everyone.

This year the festival has added a few new events, as well as brought back activities that were enjoyed in previous years, including clinics, demos and other events). Proceeds from the Silent Auction go to support American Whitewater. Activities include:

Clinics

  1. Yoga
  2. Downriver Kayak Clinic taught by Wet Planet
  3. Playboat kayak clinic instructed by Jean Luc Robichaux
  4. SUP clinic instructed by Leavenworth Mountain Sports
  5. Whitewater rescue instructed by Wave Trek

 

Races and competitions

  1. Rodeo Competition
  2. Washington Kayak Club's Downriver Kayak Race
  3. Raft Down River Race
  4. Leavenworth Mountain Sport's SUP Downriver
  5. Flip-n-Recovery Event
  6. Throw-rope competition throughout the day

 Other activities

  • Demos given by CrossFit Cashmere and Wave Trek 
  • Silent Auction and Raffle, BBQ and live music
  • Displays featuring festival sponsors, vendors and community groups

Travel: Kayaking the New River in Franklin County, Florida


    The dark water of the New River slips silently downstream, continuing to carry my kayak forward whenever I lift my paddles, allowing me to float quietly for a few minutes absorbing the sights and sounds and the lush North Florida landscape around me.


    Tall Tupelo trees, with their bright green leaves and graceful branches, reach out over the orchid-like blooms of flowers that bloom along the riverbanks.


    The air is heavy with moisture but the morning is cool, the sun hidden in the low clouds. The sound of birds is all around us.


    We put in at a bend in the river at Tate’s Hell State Forest, near the small town of Carrabelle, beside a narrow steel bridge that rumbles and whines when vehicles cross on Gully Branch Road. Knobby cypress knees poke up out of the thick black mud that sucks at our sandals as we step into our kayaks.

   We push away and the world immediately closes around us.


    When most people think of Florida, postcard images of broad white beaches, high rise condominiums and crowds come to mind. And that is certainly true for most of the state. But the northernmost part, the panhandle of the peninsula, is a unique blend of pinewood forest, smooth sandy coastline and fertile estuaries. Green, lush, forest gives way to sandy beaches and streams and rivers, like the New River, feed fresh water into surrounding watersheds and eventually into Apalachicola Bay. This part of Florida, Franklin County, is sometimes called 'the forgotten coast' and it does feel as though the worst of progress—the noise, the crowds, the congestion and careless treatment of the natural world—has raced past. A blessing, I think, in this case.    


     I realize the rest of my group has moved ahead, around the next bend, and I am alone. There is a sense of mystery in the moment. Paddling along the surface of the water, even though the morning is cool, I watch for snakes at the edge of the river. On the drive to the park I caught sight of an alligator in a small stream beside the road and I know alligators can be found in the water but I’m relieved that they stay out of sight while I am there.  I see an eagle flying overhead, one sharp eye trained on me, I’m sure. Black bear, cats and countless other wild creatures call this place home and I wonder what they make of the people who come to play.


    We pull out of the water just as a soft rain begins to fall.  After the kayaks are loaded and we are back in the river guide’s van, I look out the window. Already there is a break in the sky and a patch of bright blue shines through. And the black water of the river, relieved again of the weight and interruption of interlopers, moves silently on.
    
    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com