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Preview: Kayaking the Lakes of South Dakota

Kayaking the Lakes of South Dakota

This blog features the waterways in the Sioux Falls area. My intent is to describe the many paddling opportunities within an hour drive of Sioux Falls.

Updated: 2017-10-26T22:53:45.740-07:00


Jay Heath (1941 - 2014)


Sioux Falls - Jay Albion Heath, age 72, died peacefully at home on Monday, July 28, 2014, four and a half months after receiving a diagnosis of esophageal cancer.

Memorial Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 2:00 PM on Friday, August 1, 2014 at St. Lambert Catholic Church in Sioux Falls. Family present visitation will begin at 5:00 PM on Thursday at George Boom Funeral Home with a liturgical wake service beginning at 7:00 PM. Memorials will be forwarded toward a donation to Perry Nature Area, a beloved and favored recreational spot for Jay and his family.

Jay was born on November 30, 1941 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Betty Eastman and George Willis Heath, Jr. He grew up in New England and the South until moving to Anchorage, Alaska to begin 7th grade. After attending Anchorage High School, Jay left school at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Navy in 1959, where he obtained his G.E.D., and began his lifetime love of maritime travel.

After completing his enlistment, Jay moved to Los Angeles, where he attended community college while working in the defense industry. He then moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he pursued his college education while working as a television cameraman. It was in Aberdeen that he met his beloved future wife Marcella. The couple was united in marriage on November 28, 1969 in Grenville, SD. Following graduation, Jay entered the U.S. Peace Corps, where he spent two years as a teacher trainer, traveling extensively across South and Central America. The couple made their home in Sioux Falls, SD in 1979.

Following the Peace Corps, Jay served as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in South Dakota and Minnesota. After completing his Doctoral Degree in Education from the University of South Dakota, Jay served as a Professor of Educational Administration in Nebraska and South Dakota. As an educational leader, he led over 20 accreditation teams for school evaluations across Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Pacific. Jay retired in 2006.

Jay and Marcella were especially proud of their sons Jason and Derek. These fine young men were the central focus of their lives. Jay was a member of St. Lambert Catholic Church. He was a past officer in the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Organization. He was an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Board Member. He was a volunteer at the Sertoma Park Outdoor Campus. He was active on the Minnehaha County Museum Board and Historical Association and the South Dakota State Archeological Association.

Grateful for having shared his life are his wife, Marcella of Sioux Falls; two sons, Jason (Courtney) Heath of Chicago, IL, and Derek (Molly Brown) Heath, Sioux Falls; and one sister, Patricia (Johnny) McCaskill, Jackson, TN. Preceding him in death were his parents Betty Eastman Baiocco, George Willis Heath, and a sister, Nancy.

A Special Message for My Readers


A Special Message to my Friends and to the Readers of this Blog:

A few weeks ago I received the diagnosis of esophageal cancer, an aggressive form of cancer that has effectively ended my participation in kayaking/canoeing for the 2014 season.  I am taking a “sabbatical” this season and may not add much fresh material, but the blog will remain active as a resource of paddling opportunities for those searching out locations and descriptions of the lakes, creeks, and rivers of South Dakota.  I am hoping to visit some of my familiar paddling spots or to observe some events this season, probably in the company of my pal Dave Finck. In that event, I will try to write about these experiences.  

In the meantime, my very best regards to all who have followed this blog over the past eight years, and I so regret that I should have contracted this disease. I’d much rather be paddling this season than tending to my treatment program.  I hope to recover from the disease and be back on the waters of South Dakota later this year.

Checking Out the Waters: March 2014


Dave Finck on Lake Alvin March is a time of great restlessness for those of us living on the northern plains.  This has been a very long and cold winter and the arrival of a day with some sun and a temperature in the high 50s is enough to become our obsession.Lake AlvinDave Finck and I decided to take a “road trip” this morning and visit several of the area waterways south and west of Sioux Falls.  I can’t help but look back two years ago and enjoy photos and narratives of a couple of cruises that I took on Lake Alvin and Lake Lakota in mid-March.  There won’t be any such early cruises this year.  Instead, I would guess that we are at least three weeks away from being able to get out on area lakes.Lake AlvinOur first stop this morning was Lake Alvin, then we drove across the Big Sioux River at the Grandview Bridge crossing, south of Sioux Falls near Lake Alvin.  From there, we drove to the Klondike Rapids and walked across the bridge from the Iowa side to South Dakota.  We then continued south to Lake Lakota, just on the southeastern edge of Newton Hills State Park.Big Sioux River looking upstream from Grandview BridgeBig Sioux River looking downstream from Grandview BridgeBig Sioux River at Klondike RapidsLake LakotaLake LakotaNew Service: Kayak Rentals at Lake LakotaFrom Lake Lakota, we drove west to check out Swan Lake, located between Viborg and Hurley.Swan LakeGeese on Swan LakeAll of these areas are in transition now.  The ice is becoming splintered and porous with pools of recently melted surface water scattered about.  I would not want to walk out on any of those surfaces, although we did see a guy ice fishing on Lake Alvin with a vehicle parked on the ice. Guy out on the ice at Lake AlvinGeese were headed north overhead, and we could hear their loud calls to each other.  On Swan Lake, we came across a large flock of geese standing around on the ice.Geese on Swan LakeThe lakes are about to experience a great change as the warmer surface water shifts with the deep cold water and the annual breakup takes place.  Kayaking and canoeing might resume within just a few short weeks.Swan LakeAll the photographs from today can be accessed on my Flickr page at the following URL: [...]

SDCKA Annual Conference: 2014


The Annual South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Conference was held yesterday at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls.  This event is always held at mid-winter and sets the stage for the approach of the paddling season in a couple of months. Fifth-one paddlers gathered in the auditorium of the Outdoor Campus after an hour of socializing and networking in the lobby.  President Steven Dahlmeier opened the conference with a look at the activities of the association over the past year.  He provided the continuity for the conference as a variety of presentations were offered over the next four hours.Kayak Outfitted for Adaptive PaddlingThe first presentation offered a review of the adaptive paddling activities provided for people with disabilities who wanted to stretch themselves through kayaking.  Cory Diedrick, board member of the SDCKA, was a key figure in this process, and he was accompanied during the presentation by paddlers who were able to take advantage of this opportunity as well as others who helped bring this plan to fruition. Presentations were offered on the health and future of the Big Sioux River, both within the Sioux Falls area and on the upper river watershed from Summit to Brookings.  In addition, a representative of the Iowa DNR presented a review of the demolition of the Klondike Dam and how that affects the river flow on the Big Sioux River in that stretch between SD and Iowa.Several South Dakota paddlers and a support team participated in the MR 340 this past summer.  This event took paddlers 340 miles down the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Charles in 88 hours.  Kati Albers, David Mays, and Pat Wellner offered their photos and recollections of that major accomplishment.A group of SDCKA members offered some tips for paddlers regarding choice of paddles, safety equipment, and gear for cruising.Pete Larson, long time SDCKA board member, presented his slides and story of a 14-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon this past summer.Jarett Bies and Steven Dahlmeier discussed the South Dakota Kayak Challenge ( race between Yankton and Sioux City and plans for next summer.  In addition, Jartett presented the first look at a new 50-mile race along the Missouri River from Fort Randall to Pickstown.  Details of this race can be found on a dedicated Facebook page at the following URL: many of us at the conference, this gathering was the first time we had chatted since mid-November when the waters in the Sioux Falls area iced up for the long winter.  We laughed it up for a few hours and began to anticipate our first cruises of the season.  Now, we just watch the daylight hours lengthen, the sun continue to strengthen, and the snow and ice to gradually melt.  Normally, we are able to get out on the water in April, and that means just another 8 or 9 weeks to go. [...]

Big Sioux River: 26th Street to Bicycle Trail Bridge in Sioux Falls


Yesterday after being unable to get out on Fensterman Slough as planned, Dave Finck and I decided to canoe upstream on the Big Sioux River from just beyond the bridge over 26th Street to the rapids under the bike trail bridge, a distance of about 2.5 miles round trip.Whatever ice had been on the Big Sioux River through Sioux Falls had melted with the warmer temperatures, the wind, and the river current.  There were only traces left along some of the shoreline; otherwise, the river was clear of ice. The water was remarkably clear after some of our cold weather.  Sometimes it was possible to look down into the water a couple of feet and see a thick carpet of leaves suspended over the bottom for 18 inches or so.  These carpets of leaves reminded me of clouds in the sky.The current was surprisingly fast as we powered our way upstream.  Depth of the water within the channel was probably three or four feet, but the river is about 50 feet wide at this point, and there are gravel bars or mud banks along the way.  We touched bottom a couple of times in Dave’s 17 foot canoe, but did not grind to a halt until we reached the gravel bars that form just past the rapids under the bike trail bridge.Taking a trip down the river at this time of the year is sort of a farewell to the paddling season.  The monochromatic brown tones of the vegetation going dormant is the major feature of the landscape.  Passing along the shoreline, the view into the trees is markedly different than just a few weeks ago when the undergrowth was thick and the world seemed green. As we muscled our way upstream against a fairly strong current, we could look into the deserted YMCA camp along the right bank.  I thought of all the years that my own boys attended Camp Leif Ericson and had such a great time.  Along the left side of the river, the bike trail snakes its way northwest, and we could see riders enjoying the 57 degree sunny day.There were a few ducks still on the river enjoying their final days on an ice-free Big Sioux River.  I wondered where the ducks go for the winter, and Dave Finck thought that they headed for the Missouri River where the water is at least partially open most of the year. We made it up to the rapids and ground to a halt on a gravel bar.  After turning the canoe around, we made a very leisurely return trip back to the put-in at 26thStreet.  Paddling was hardly necessary, just an occasional stroke to steer the boat; otherwise, the return was mostly a float trip down a quiet river with plenty of opportunity to look at the landscape, the water flow, and the trees that have fallen into the stream.The cruise yesterday was really a moment to reflect upon the now closing paddling season.  The forecast ahead is for colder days, and I expect to see ice on the river soon.  As we found at Fensterman, the lakes are either closed down or just on the edge of being frozen for the next few months.Very soon, I will clean up my kayak, remove the rack from the roof of my Honda Civic, and unload all my paddling gear from the trunk and carry it up into the attic above the garage.  It will be late March or early April before there is much chance of getting on the water again here on the Northern Plains.Dave Finck on the Big Sioux Through Sioux FallsA full set of the photographs of the BSR cruise yesterday can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL:  [...]

Fensterman Slough--Too Late for this Year


For a long time, I have wondered about Fensterman Slough, a long east/west oriented body of water located west on Highway 42, just northwest of Wall Lake.  I suspect that this is one of the least known paddling opportunities in the general Sioux Falls area.Fensterman can be reached by tuning north off of Highway 42 at 460th Avenue and traveling a short distance to 265thStreet.  There is a Dead End sign along 460th Avenue, but don’t let it discourage you; just continue until Fensterman Slough is in sight ahead.  Signs identifying it as a waterfowl production area mark it, and there is a road into the parking area that leads down to the shoreline.At the western end of Fensterman, the slough is narrow and winding. Toward the east, the slough curves around heading generally northeast to a wider end through many peninsulas and bays.  The east/west axis seems to be about two miles in length, and the widest section across seems about half a mile.  There are low hills surrounding the slough, although tree cover is scattered. There is a rough road leading from a parking area down to the shoreline.  The bank is several feet high, and it is a challenge to get down to the water’s edge.  I managed it easily enough by grabbing handfuls of tall grass to balance my descent and to pull myself back up.  It would be easy enough to launch a canoe or kayak at this point.Dave Finck and I had set out this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. in his van pulling a canoe trailer heading west out of Sioux Falls, past the Wall Lake turn-off, hoping to find Fensterman and take a cruise around it. All we had was a copy of the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer to point the way. The temperature had been up to around 50 degrees in the past few afternoons, and we hoped to find the slough still ice-free.  As we drove west on Highway 42, however, we saw ice covered ponds near the road and began to fear that we were too late for this exploration. Finding Fensterman was something of a challenge.  Of course, there are no signs indicating the slough, and we had no idea where or if there was an access point.  So, we drove about the area trying various roads, generally circling the slough site.  Finally, we reviewed the map and decided to go back down to Highway 42 and look again for a north route that might lead us to Fensterman.  Earlier, we had passed a “dean end” sign and thought that the dead end might indeed be the shore of Fensterman Slough.Proceeding north on 460th Avenue, we passed the dead end sign and continued on until we saw blue water ahead.  There are a few homes in the area and a road leading up to a grassy parking area and a sign indicating boat access.Walking down a pathway through the browne grass, we reached the shoreline and looked out over a lake covered with ice.  Perhaps the surrounding hills prevented the west wind from breaking up the ice over the lake, even in the 57-degree temperature of this afternoon.  Launching a canoe was just not possible today, and it seems as though the long winter has taken hold of Fensterman Slough for the next several months.We wandered down a long narrow path along the southern shoreline through the grass and looked over the slough from several vantage points.  The slough looks like a fine place to paddle, and the nature of the waterfowl protection area suggests great bird watching ahead.  There were some unidentifiable white birds sitting out on the ice a couple hundred yards off shore.We saw an island located a hundred feet or so off the southern shore, and I thought of how next year I will step onto the island and walk around it.Fensterman will be on my list of waterways to paddle early in the spring.  I am looking forward to paddling the entire shoreline of the slough as soon as spring arrives and the ice is gone for the season.  Sometimes I wonder about the distinct[...]

Lake Poinsett: A Guest Narrative from “Patricia from Omaha”


The following is another guest narrative from “Patricia from Omaha.”  She has become a regular guest contributor to this blog, describing her paddling adventures on area lakes and waterways that I may not have visited.  The narrative this time presents a cruise on Lake Poinsett, one of the largest lakes in South Dakota with a surface area of 7,886 acres. The lake is northwest of Brookings, just a few miles west of Estelline, SD. (JAH)On my way to a campout with my sister from Fargo, I spent a night at the Lake Poinsett Recreation Area.  I checked out the rec area's boat ramp on the south shore but decided against using it.  Poinsett is a big round lake, and my philosophy is that if I can see the whole lake from the ramp, there's no need to put the kayak in the water.  However Google Earth showed both an attached lake and a river to the north, so I went in search of an access on that side.I started driving clockwise around the lake; at about the 9 o'clock position I found a beach with a boat ramp, but it wasn't close enough, so I pressed on.  The campground host had described a ramp on the north shore and that was my goal.  I was following roads close to the lake, and found a promising ramp at the end of NW Lake Drive off of Highway 28/192nd Street. A little further east on 28 and just after the 458thStreet intersection, I saw a boat ramp sign and a road that led back to a sandy beach.  I found nothing further, so this is where I returned.  I backed the van close to the water and unloaded the kayak, glad not to have to paddle across the entire lake to get here.A large flock of seagulls watched me put in and paddle to the left past them, looking for the river.  It was late afternoon with a light wind and a pleasant temperature.I arrived at the north inlet quickly; it was very shallow but the water was flowing strongly from the lake side and help push me across the soft sand (more about that later).Around the turn lay a body of water with a bay to the left, full of trees and ducks.  I paddled that direction for a bit; the ducks all flew off but I did snap this turtle catching the afternoon sun.Back in the main body, I paddled further north, coming to the bridge on Highway 28, from which I had spotted this waterway.  Near the bridge were more gulls and a solitary pelican.  The bridge was high and easy to travel under, so I pushed on.Like a rerun on TV, on the other side of the bridge was a body of water with gulls and… another bridge, on 459th Avenue.  This one was a different animal however; it had massively heavy metal plates hanging on the other side and a mechanism for lowering them.  I learned later that it is a dam to keep too much water from flowing back up from the river.  Looking at its pictures on Google Earth, it was pushed hard back in 2011.I confess I felt very uneasy paddling under the pieces of the dam and relieved when I was past it. On the other side was a long and narrower stretch of water, more quiet and agrarian.  There were rushes and a heron on the shore, and farm buildings with cows further up.Paddling on, I came to my third bridge, this one on 192ndStreet.  It was a fairly ordinary and solid looking roadway and I passed under it easily.  Now my waterway was definitely a river, with odd square blocks placed across it at one point.  I wasn't sure if the blocks were meant to stop boats or were just leftover from some former structure.  They were far enough apart to allow easy passage, so I kept going.The river turned into the twisty and intriguing path that I enjoy exploring, just to see what's around the next corner…and the next and the next. Believe it or not, around one of the corners lay my fourth bridge.  It looked smaller and more rickety than the previous three, but was still easy to paddle under.  Finally the usu[...]

Split Rock Creek: Garretson City Park Through the Palisades


As we slip into November here on the Northern Plains, paddlers are either putting away their gear for the season or taking every opportunity for what may well be a final cruise of the year. As a retiree, I have some advantage over my working pals and can go out on a weekday during “working hours.”  As a matter of fact, I revel in that status!Today seemed like the best day of the week for paddling, so Dave Finck and I met at the city park in Garretson for a cruise up through the palisades.  This has come to be something I have done toward the final days or weeks of the paddling season for the past several years.It was sunny, about 42 degrees, and quite windy as we arrived at the put-in.  The wind was blowing down through the canyon that forms the creek bed at about 25 miles per hour. The high quartzite cliff walls that rise up along both banks tended to provide a lee along the cliff face and to reduce the force of the wind.  Still, we were paddling into a stiff head wind as we made our way upstream from the put-in just above the dam.Paddling along this magnificent waterway, the seasonal shift into winter was evident.  Much of the leaf cover is gone and the grasses have turned brown.  There is little evidence of waterfowl now, although we did see a flock of robins that seemed to have delayed in their flight south.The sun was bright over the cliffs, providing interesting shadows across the water.  I steered my kayak from cliff face to cliff face along alternating sides in order to experience the varying effects of sun and shade.We made our way upstream to the riffles that lead into the impoundment formed by the dam within the park.  Some years ago, there was a single home located at this point, but now there is another large home visible from the creek. This is the point, about 1.25 miles upstream, where paddlers turn and head back downstream.  Along the way back, we came across a flock of 15 turkeys moving through the grass on the right bank.  They were spread out in a line that moved across the landscape into a grove of trees.Along the return route, little paddling effort was required.  The wind just blew us back, and only an occasional paddle stroke was needed to track the course downstream.As has become a feature of a Garretson cruise, we moved under the arched bridge and into Devil’s Gulch.  The wind here was also brisk, and it blew us up the waterway, past other sets of quartzite cliffs to the feeder stream flowing in from the woodlands. We paused within the Gulch to view the changing landscape and then paddled back under the railroad bridge, through the arches, and into the main stream just above the “take-out.”Our cruise this morning was for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and the distance was about three miles.  As we loaded up the kayaks, the wind was reported as 23 mph, and the temperature was in the mid 40s.  We had on jackets, boots, hats, and gloves this morning.  As usual, once we were off the water and trying to load up the kayaks, the cold seemed to intensify.  My fingers didn’t work all that well as I worked on the knots for the ropes that secure my kayak atop the car. This was a great weekday morning cruise, and I found myself enjoying the way the kayak cruised through the water.  We all know that there is little time remaining in this paddling season.  Still, I am expecting to get in at least a couple more cruises this year.A full set of the photographs for the cruise this morning can be found on my Flicker page at the following URL: [...]

Big Sioux River: Grandview to Klondike - Late October 2013


Today, Sunday, October 27, was a beautiful day for a cruise on the Big Sioux River.  David and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten led a fleet of 16 kayaks from the put-in just above the Grandview Bridge to the Klondike Rapids, a distance of about 8 miles.We gathered at the public access area along the Big Sioux River at the Grandview Bridge at 1:00 p.m. and arranged a shuttle of drivers downstream to the public access area just above the Klondike rapids.By 2:00 p.m., we were underway for our cruise downstream under sunny skies with little wind and a temperature of about 60 degrees.  A day like this is such a blessing at this time of the year.  I believe that most of us were eager to seize the day before the inevitable descent into winter.This stretch of river between the Grandview and the Klondike bridges is free of strainers or rapids; it is really a tranquil paddle along a varied landscape.  The water was deep enough for easy navigation, with only occasional shallows encountered when losing the channel.  Depth ranged from too deep to touch bottom with my long double-blade paddle to only a few inches across an occasional sandbar.There were some high cut banks that rose more than a hundred feet and some old trees in the waterway from floods of the past. We stopped along the way, as all of Dave Finck’s cruises do, for a stretch and a stroll up and down the hard packed sand shoreline. Sixteen colorful kayaks pulled up on the beach of a river present an attractive sight to me. These cruises are one way to make and keep friendships among the paddling community.  Cruising along in discussion groupings of two or three kayaks, standing around chatting at our rest stops, and assisting each other in launching and recovering kayaks from the river build shared experiences.As we moved downstream, we passed the remains of an old railroad bridge that once crossed the river between Grandview and Klondike.  Only the concrete support on one bank and some rotting pilings on the other bank remain of those days when the railroad played a more important role in area commerce.We paddled through a landscape in transition from a colorful summer to the drab monochromatic winter brown.  I was surprised to see so many trees that had yet to lose their leaves.  I suspect that will all change over the next week or two. The water was cold, but all of us were able to paddle without heavy clothing. The sun was wonderful.  By the time we had pulled out at Klondike, however, a chill was developing and a jacket would have been comfortable.In the lower section of this cruise, extending about half a mile above the Klondike rapids, the river gets wider and deeper as it backs up from the rapids.  There were even some wavelets on the surface during this section from a light wind that came up.There are take-out possibilities on both the Iowa and South Dakota sides just before the rapids, and we checked both sides out during our shuttle arrangements.  Neither side offered an easy exit from the river, but we felt that the South Dakota side provided the better of bad choices.  The river was about two or two and a half feet deep along the bank as we got off the river, so it was a deep-water exit. Dave Finck was wearing waterproof boots, and he arrived at the take-out first to take charge of assisting paddlers in landing their boats.  As each boat approached the bank, two people helped stabilize the kayak while one or two others offered assistance in getting out.  With this assistance, all of us were able to get out without tipping over and falling into the river.River cruises are a social occasion, and they are really not very feasible for the solo paddler.  The shuttle is important, and it is also unwise to paddle alone on moving water. We spent about three hours o[...]

Lost Lake – at last


People have often confused Loss Lake with Lost Lake, both along Highway 19 in northwestern Minnehaha County, South Dakota. Loss Lake is about 5 miles south of Humboldt, and Lost Lake is about 2.5 miles north of Humboldt, both located on the east side of the highway. Jay Heath and Dave Finck on Lost Lake, SDWhile I have often visited Loss Lake, today was my first visit to Lost Lake.  Lost Lake is very secluded and requires a passage along rough roads with little signage.  Dave Finck, DeDa Odekirk and I left Sioux Falls this morning in Dave’s van and trailer with three kayaks and one of his Kevlar Wenonah canoes, driving west along Interstate 90 to the Humboldt exit.From there we drove north on Highway 19 to 256th Street and continued east to 458thAvenue where we turned north and then soon turned west along a dirt track road leading through the woods to a launching spot.There was no signage directing us to the lake, although we could see the path on the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer.  GPS on a iPhone seems to give a good pathway to the lake, Google Maps mistakes Loss for Lost Lake. The entrance to the lake passes through a wildlife production area.The roads around Lost Lake are pretty rough; driving on them after a rain would probably be quite a challenge for a two-wheel drive vehicle.Lost Lake was so named because the surrounding hills hide it so well.  The surface area of the lake is about 163 acres, making it about 60% larger than Lake Alvin. The shape of the lake includes an irregular shoreline with several large peninsulas.  There is scattered woodland along the shore and a very few buildings within sight.  There is no evidence that the lake is frequently visited.DeDa Odekirk on Lost Lake, SDWe arrived at the lakeshore about 9:15 a.m. with the morning temperature about 33 degrees, clear sunny skies, and a wind of about 17 mph. There was no ice on the lake, but puddles along the road and in some of the ditches were ice covered. The wind was out of the southwest creating waves of about a foot as we set out.  It seemed to us that a counterclockwise circuit around the lake would move us across the wind and provide the best opportunity for a smoother cruise. Deda was in her kayak, while Dave and I took his canoe and left our kayaks on the trailer.  We set our moving around the eastern shore and headed toward the north bank.  Along the way we encountered a lone pelican and a few gulls.  Most of the bird life, I imagine, has already left for a warmer climate further south.As we cruised along the northern bank and headed west, we soon found ourselves in much calmer water and were able to move along while watching the landscape pass.  The lake shore is turning monochromatic as the winter browning continues over the next few weeks.In the distance, we could see some traffic moving north and south along Highway 19, but we were alone on the water and along the shore.  There was no sight of anyone else in the area.Moving into the southwestern part of the lake, we encountered a bay of submerged trees with a few feet of decayed trunk extending up from the muddy bottom. Obviously, the water level in the lake has risen over the past several years and destroyed this stand of trees.We continued along the southern shoreline in relatively calm water.  The shoreline ranged from rocky headlands to hard packed sand.  I was able to enjoy the cruise without even getting my feet wet.Unlike my cruise last week, this time I dressed warmly.  We all had on warm jackets, hats, gloves, and shoes. Last week, I got quite chilled; this week I was appropriately dressed.DeDa Odekirk Warmly Dressed for Chilly CruiseWe were out on the lake for about an hour and fifteen minutes today. By the time we finished, the temperatur[...]

A Nippy Cruise on Lake Alvin


With the season quickly slipping away, it seems imperative to take advantage of any reasonable opportunity for another cruise.  So, with a decent forecast ahead, last night I loaded up my kayak in readiness for a rendezvous with Dave Finck and DeDa Odekirk this morning at Lake Alvin.I arrived at the public access area on the south end of the lake first and gazed out over a smooth body of water with no wind and a midst drifting off with the early sun. Soon, first Dave and then DeDa arrived, and we set off heading south toward the entrance to Nine-Mile Creek.It was chilly as we set off; the temperature was in the low 30s, and we were wearing hats, jackets, and gloves.  We moved up into Nine-Mile Creek through water deep enough to make it an easy passage, even around the left bank and into the main channel of the creek.We saw only a few birds along the way, mostly ducks or small duck-like birds that quickly few off upon our approach.  Otherwise, it seemed as though much of the bird life had departed for more a more agreeable climate further south.The effect of a frost was evident in the grasses along the bank.  This was my first sight of frost this year, although we have already moved delicate plant life away from our yard and deck in preparation for the deepening chill of the fall. We passed under the bridge and continued upstream until the normal blockage at a small rapids about a mile up the creek.  I continued upstream until grounding my kayak on rocks and had some trouble turning around for the return downstream.The trip back downstream went smoothly, and soon we found ourselves entering back into the main body of the lake.We moved north on the lake along the right bank and continued up to the north end by the fishing pier.  From there, we moved across the lake and paddled up the channel leading to the spillway.  It seemed to us that there was about 18 inches more water in the channel than this time last year.  The water was flowing across the top of the spillway today; last year, Dave Finck and I were able to rest our arms on the top of the spillway and look down the precipitous drop of 30 or 40 feet.Backing out of the channel, we continued our return to the public access area on the southern end of the lake.We spent about two and a half hours on the water this morning.  By the time we pulled out our kayaks, the temperature had risen into the 40s and a light wind had begun blowing across the lake.  While paddling, I did not notice the cold temperature or any wind.  Standing around as I loaded up the kayak, however, I began to feel a deep chill throughout my body.  I have often repeated the old saying: “There is no inclement weather, there is only inappropriate dress.”  Well, I was wearing only a thin long sleeved shirt and a thin nylon jacket.  That was inappropriate dress, and I experienced a penetrating chill.  Next time, I will be better prepared!A complete set of the photographs taken on this cruise can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: [...]

Windblown on Loss Lake


After cruising with the pelicans yesterday on Grass Lake, Dave Finck and I headed a few miles west to visit Loss Lake.  This is another of the area lakes that I have tried to visit once a year, but it had now been two years since my last cruise there.Upon arrival at the nicely developed launching area, I walked out onto the fishing dock to look over the state of the water on this windy day.  While the surface was riffled with wind, it didn’t look too bad, and we felt no real concern about conditions.So, we pushed off and moved west down the south shoreline.  Looking out into the main body of the lake, we noticed white caps and wind powered rollers moving down the lake.  Still, those conditions seemed offshore and unlikely to cause us difficulty.  We just continued paddling west with the wind and following waves behind us. Before long, we found ourselves racing west with the wind and two-foot waves chasing us.  The wind was driving us down toward the western shore, and in the distance we could see an electric fence along the western shoreline. The wind was too strong and the waves too big to turn away from the shore, and soon we found ourselves onto the shore and jumping out of the canoe to hold it while avoiding the electric fence.We were unsuccessful in launching the canoe to return into the wind through the waves.  The only reasonable option at that point was to carry the canoe along the shoreline for a couple hundred feet and make another attempt in slightly less windblown conditions.Dave Finck - windblown on Loss LakeWith great effort, we were able to make slow headway east, back toward the launching area.  This was one of those situations where I would count 100 strokes, check for progress, groan, and paddle another 100 strokes.  It was a challenging trip back, and we were beat with the effort.  It took us about 20 minutes to make it to the west end and over an hour to get backA few years ago, my paddling pal Jarett Bies told me about he and his wife, Laura, getting windblown on Loss Lake and finding it very difficult to return to the put-in.  I was incredulous and just could not envision that this small lake could become a challenge.  It has always been a slow, tranquil, and contemplative cruise for me, often with a flat calm on the surface.  I am no longer incredulous!  All lakes can turn savage, and paddlers just have to be aware of how current conditions do not always mirror our recollection of past cruises..Jay Heath at Loss LakeFor a description of past cruises on Loss Lake, the reader can access the appropriate link on the right side of the blog in the area waterways section. Photographs of this cruise can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: [...]

Pelicans on Grass Lake


 We have had a great couple of days here in Sioux Falls for this time of the year, and a change seems to be coming beginning tomorrow.  The forecast for today called for “breezy” conditions, with winds from 15 to 25 mph and gusts to 30 mph.  Still, Dave Finck and I decided to take advantage of an otherwise really fine day. He picked me up with his van and kevlar Wenonah canoe strapped on top at 8:00 a.m., and we drove west on Highway 42 and north on 459thStreet to Grass Lake. I have normally visited Grass Lake a couple of times a year, but I think that it has been at least a year since my last cruise on it.  It seems to have been unchanged since my last visit.Grass Lake has a rough launching pathway that is just a rocky trail.  We went down the trail and then over to the right side of the shoreline to launch in a smoother spot.  A strong wind was apparent as we shoved off and headed west along the northern shoreline.  The wind was coming from the southeast, so we made a rapid passage down the lake in a following sea with waves of about a foot in height pushing us along.As we cruised west, it occurred to us that the passage back to the launching spot might be a bit more challenging.  Still, we pushed on toward the western end of the lake – about 1.5 miles from the put-in.The landscape is quickly losing its color and reverting to the brown cover that will last until next spring.  Many of the trees are changing color now, and the sight is beautiful even though it signals a return to the dreaded winter months.Our cruise this morning was highlighted by a very large flock of while pelicans.  It seemed to us that there were upwards of 200 of these magnificent birds lounging around a rocky outcropping extending out from the northern shoreline about a mile west of the put-in.  This is the spot where I have quite often come across large groups of waterfowl, especially pelicans.We cruised in as close as possible, and they seemed to tolerate this approach.  Eventually, they decided to move a couple hundred feet toward the southern shore.We continued on another quarter mile or so and then cut across the lake to the southern side.  As we turned and faced into the wind and waves, we found ourselves straining to keep on course heading east.We decided to keep inshore and paddle within a lee formed by the high banks on the south shoreline.  This eased our passage markedly, and we thought that moving on down the lake to the east end and then across to the north side would be the best option.First, though, we passed by the old windmill on the southwestern shore that has been one of my most photographed sights on the lake.  After all this time, it still stands, although perhaps a little more worn each year.As we moved along the southeastern shoreline, we spotted a sign that had been peppered with bullet holes.  I felt a great need to land the canoe, climb the steep bank and check out the sigh.  I hoped that it would read:  “no shooting.”  No luck!  It was a sign identifying the collaboration of agencies to manage some aspect of the lake.  The sign has apparently become a target of sorts for people with a great need to blast away.The climb up the bank was hard enough, requiring me to grab brush and grasses to help get atop the slope. I thought that I had found a better way to get back down to the canoe, but I fell into an unseen hole in the brush and got scratched on my neck and hand. Worst, though, I cracked a bent-shaft paddle of Dave’s that I was using as a walking stick of sorts.  But, I got the photograph!We spent about an hour and a half on this windy lake today.  It was a strain[...]

McCook Lake, North Sioux City SD: September 3, 2013


I have received another guest narrative from "Patricia from Omaha" describing some of her paddling activity in waters in or near South Dakota.  This time, she offers a look at McCook Lake, a body of water that I have known about and even driven past many times during the years I taught at the University of South Dakota.  The lake is in far southeastern South Dakota, on the west side of I29 at North Sioux City.  I visited McCook Lake on my way home after a great Labor Day paddle on the Big Sioux with about twenty SDCKA members and friends.  I didn't know where the boat access was, but the helpful staff at the Adams Homestead nearby gave me a map.  If you're looking for it, take exit 4 from I-29, turn west and make almost an immediate left onto Streeter Drive (it parallels the southbound on-ramp).  Make a right onto either Wycoff or Alcoma followed by a left southbound on Lake Shore Drive.  The ramp will be on your right.  The parking lot seemed severely posted for vehicles with trailers only, so after I unloaded my kayak, I parked on a nearby side street.McCook Lake is shaped like an upside down letter J.  The outer shore is crowded with houses and boat docks for the most part, while the inner shore is all reeds and trees.  It's an odd contrast.  I'm betting the lake was crowded on Labor Day but this being the day after, there was only one other motorboat and three paddle boarders.  I put in about 10:45 with sunshine and very little wind.I started to the left on the short end of the lake because, well just because.  I paddled past the houses, sharing the water with several noisy Canadian geese and was amused by a heron walking about on someone's boat ramp (too fast for me to get a picture).When I reached the end of the lake, I turned to follow the inside shoreline.  It was mostly reeds, with another heron who kept moving along in front of me.  As I paddled along I came upon an opening that turned out to be the backside of an island along the shore.  I paddled along the back of the island, where I caught up with the heron, and then returned to the main lake.Proceeding along the inner shore, I came across another parallel island.  Behind this one were three paddleboarders, one of whom was still learning.  The wind was picking up, making their task harder but keeping the bugs away.  I pressed on, wondering why anyone would choose to stand up with one paddle when you can sit down with two.Further up the lake there were two lines of yellow balls that looked like runway landing markers.  I'm guessing they were for the water skiers.I passed a boat ramp belonging to a private club; someone had said they carried their kayak from the road down here, but I didn't see any advantage to doing that.  The public access worked fine, and the lake isn't that big.At the other end of the lake, I ran across more wildlife: a green heron and a turtle in the same bunch of dead trees.I turned around at the end of the lake and was escorted part of the way back by a column of Canadian geese.  The wind was picking up even more now, so I was glad to get back to the ramp about 1:15 pm.  It was a nice lake for an easy paddle on a quiet day, with more birds than I would have expected given all the homes and boat docks on the other side.  [...]

Third Big Sioux River Clean-Up this Fall


Earlier this week, Cory Diedrich, the secretary of the SDCKA, put out another call for the third Big Sioux River clean-up in three weeks.  Last week a fleet of eleven kayaks and one canoe spent a couple of hours cleaning the river as it flows through Sioux Falls from 26th Street upstream to the bicycle trail bridge, a distance of about 2.5 miles round trip.Last night, four of us answered the call and assembled at the Minnesota Avenue bridge on the eastern end of Yankton Trails Park in Sioux Falls for this latest phase of the project.There is no designed put-in at the Minnesota Avenue bridge, only a steep rock-strewn and weedy slant down to the water’s edge from the bike trail. Mary Finck and Cory Diedrich were in the kayaks, and Dave Finck and I were in the canoe.  Last week, Dave and I cruised down the channel of the river and served as the hauler for debris gathered by the kayaks.  I was assuming that we would have the same role, the geezers just gathering the junk picked up in the river and along the shoreline by the kayaks.  With only four of us, though, that role changed.  Instead, we were also collecting debris as well as transferring loads from the kayaks. We worked the shorelines from Minnesota Avenue nearly up to Western Avenue, a distance of about a mile.  There was a significantly larger amount of debris in the water, stuck in tree strainers in the stream, and along the shoreline than we found on the section downstream last week.The current was surprisingly fast in the river, although the depth ranged from a few inches to about three feet.  The river is about 50 to 75 feet in width along the section we worked, and the channel was sometimes difficult to locate.The kayaks had no difficulty with water depth, but in the canoe we sometimes scrapped along and had to backtrack to get into water deep enough to continue.  As the debris load increased to three hundred pounds or more, the canoe settled into a deeper draft, making the passage more difficult at times. We thought that we would move upstream, turn around, and then head back down, picking up litter and debris as we went.  As it happened, though, we were unable to resist grabbing trash on our way upstream as well.  The big items remained for the return trip, including a plastic swimming pool, one tire, a big section of lawn edging, and larger pieces of plastic.By the time we made it back, the canoe and kayaks were heavily loaded.  We figure that we picked up about 500 pounds of debris in this short section of the river. All of us were beat with the work of paddling upstream, fighting through strainers to collect plastic bags and bottles, and hauling the debris back downstream.  At times, we had to drag the loaded boats across shallow sand or gravel bars. We finished our work as night was falling with lightening flashing and thunder rolling across the northern skies; we had spent about two hours on the river. Even though we were all tired, we still felt good about our river clean-up project.   The complete set of photos of this clean-up event can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: [...]

Big Sioux River: North Access of Big Sioux Recreation Area to Madison Street Bridge


Today was a beautiful day for a cruise on the Big Sioux River.  The weather was nearly perfect with sunny skies, temperatures in the 60s, and low wind conditions.  In addition, there was the satisfaction of going canoeing on a weekday morning rather than going to the work place.  Retirement is good!I met Dave Finck at the Madison Street take-out this morning about 8:30.  He had left his canoe at the north end of the Big Sioux Recreation Area (BSRA), just down from the Rice Street Bridge on the northern edge of Brandon.  He parked his van alongside the river on a dirt track leading down from Madison Street.  Although I understand that this is a state-owned access point to the river, there is no signage to indicate a river access point. Coming from Sioux Falls along Madison Street, there is an entrance to the road on the right, just before the Madison Street Bridge over the Big Sioux River.We got into my car and drove back to where he had left his canoe and carried it down a very rocky pathway to the sandbar put-in.  As we shoved off, the day just seemed wonderful.  The river had adequate water depth all the way downstream.  It was just a matter of finding and staying in or close to the channel.  There was generally two to three feet of depth, although sometimes it was five or six feet deep, and sometimes only inches across a gravel bar. The scenery along the river was spectacular.  The trees are just now changing color, and an array of fall colors is apparent in the grasses, bushes, and trees all along the shoreline.  Still, though, the majority of trees retain their green leaves for the moment.  All too soon, though, the fall will deepen into winter.  Already, there is a nasty forecast for the weekend.At this point in the year, the strainers seem pretty fixed at their point in the river.  The current was not fast enough to cause any real navigation hazards with strainers or rocks.As the season wears on and the river flow diminishes, the river just seems to narrow.  There is still plenty of depth to float a canoe easily downstream.  We had only one occasion in which we had to get out of the canoe, and that was largely because of taking the wrong side of a sand/gravel bar in the middle of the river.  We just had to jump out of the canoe and float it over a shallow spot for a few feet before clamoring back aboard to continue.We came across one guy fishing between the two access points within the BSRA.  While he was not having any success this morning, as Dave Finck told him:  “A bad day of fishing always beats a good at work!” We seemed to quickly pass the three miles between the north and south access area of the BSRA.  Our canoe was moving nearly directly into the sun for most of the trip as the river flowed southeast before turning more westerly.The river passes under the footbridge leading from the disc golf course of the BSRA to the archery range and the trail that leads up onto the ridge overlooking the Big Sioux valley.  My wife and I along with our little dog Finnegan have crossed over this bridge so many times on our walks on the Prairie Vista trail through the BSRA.Our last canoe trip on this stretch of the river was in the spring when we had to skip the south end of the BSRA take-out because of mud.  It looked good this year, but we wanted to continue downstream another mile and a half. There are some efforts at bank stabilization along this section of the river through the use of old cars embedded in the banks.We easily made our way downstream and under the Madison Street Bridge to a large sa[...]

Big Sioux River Clean-Up: September 2013


Clearing debris from the Big Sioux River as it flows through Sioux Falls is one of the public service activities of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association.  In the past two weeks, members gathered twice with their kayaks and canoes to pick up debris from the stream and along the banks.  On each occasion, about 400 pounds of litter were gathered for pick up by the city.  The first section of the river clean-up was from 57th Street to Tuthill Park.Last night, members met at the canoe launch area along 26thStreet to begin a sweep upstream to the bike trail bridge over the river, a round trip of about 2.5 miles.The group was made up of 11 kayaks, a canoe, and others who remained to clean the launch area, the woodlands nearby, and the parking lot and trails.Paddlers in the kayaks headed upstream to work the shoreline.  Most paddlers had attached a receptacle of some kind to their boat for refuse collected.Often paddlers got out of their kayaks in shallow water to more effectively collect items along the shoreline.The canoe moved upstream to collect full cargos of refuse from the kayaks and transport it back downstream to the launching point.   Along the trip upstream in the canoe, we came across two deer that were in the woods between the bike trail and the river.  One crawfish was found among the debris in the bottom of one of the kayaks.There was ample depth to the river as we all moved upstream.  The kayaks were able to get up to the rapids under the bike trail bridge, but the loaded canoe ground to a halt in the shallows about 50 yards from the rapids.The kayaks set off upstream about 5:45 p.m. and the canoe followed about fifteen minutes later.  The job was finished at twilight, about 7:30 p.m., and the debris was stacked for pick up later by the city.In addition to the public service, an event of this sort builds a narrative of shared experiences and reconnections among the SDCKA members.  The association holds only one general conference a year, in January at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, so opportunities to build relationships take place on organized cruises and at public service events of this sort. We all get to know each other a little better through these reconnections.Although we all got a bit dirty in the activity, it was also a beautiful early fall evening on the Big Sioux River.  As we all packed up our boats and gear in the deepening darkness, it seemed to me that there was a general feeling of satisfaction with doing something good with our paddling friends on a fine evening.A full set of the photographs from this clean-up cruise can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: [...]

Scott Lake: September 2013


It has been a year since Dave Finck and I last visited Scott Lake, and this seemed like a good time to return.  I had some anxiety last night as I saw a forecast for winds of 25 mph and thought of waves cresting on the lake, so we made a fairly early start of it this morning and left Sioux Falls about 7:30 a.m. for an arrival time of 8:00 at the lake shore. The only hope for a good cruise on one of the area lakes facing that sort of forecast is to arrive early.Scott Lake was known as Scott Slough until being reclassified at some point in the last several years.  The lake is just north of Hartford, SD, and is oriented roughly east and west.  The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks has developed a good public access area with plenty of parking off a gravel road, a fishing pier, a launching ramp, and a vault toilet. It is a popular fishing spot for people in the Hartford area.The lake is about .75 miles long and perhaps .25 miles wide.  There is a slough-like area on the southeastern side, just east of the public access area, with a lot of bird life, including great blue heron. The wind was nearly 20 mph out of the south as we set out on the lake.  The south side of the lake is fairly sheltered with trees, so there was quite a variation in surface conditions on the water, ranging from nearly calm in the extreme lee of the shoreline to rolling waves out on the north side away from any sheltering landscape or trees.For a variation this time, we took one of Dave Finck’s canoes with a side-mounted electric outboard motor.  We thought that we would try “geezer canoeing” with the motor and just cruise along the shoreline.  As we cruised along within the lee shore, I felt like I was riding on a motorcycle rather than a canoe.  My seat was in the bow, so I was just holding on to the gunwales with my hands and keeping my knees on the side of the canoe.As we did last time, we started out from the ramp and turned east, entering into the slough to cruise among tree and weed stumps and very calm water. There is a beauty to this sort of waterway with the underwater growth clearly visible, the bird life around the shoreline, and the tree cover.We entered the slough on the eastern end and paddled through this calm backwater to a grass-clogged slot back into the main body of the lake.Heading back across to the northern side, we encountered rolling waves.  Dave Finck engaged the electric motor, and we cruised silently along the northern shore. As we moved along, we came across a lone pelican on the water that did not fly away upon our approach.  Instead, the pelican remained nearly in place.  As we got closer, the great bird flapped off a few feet but did not fly.  It seemed that an injury prevented flight, and I wondered about its fate as the season deepens into winter.As we watched the pelican, we suddenly found ourselves “high-topped” on a large rock just below the surface in water a few feet deep. This is a situation that can easily result in a capsize, especially in a large flat-bottomed canoe.  Fortunately, we were able to inch the canoe off the rock and continue into the waves.  There is an island in the western end of the lake, and we landed the canoe for a stroll along part of the shoreline.  Last year, we were able to walk around the island, but this year there was more water in the lake and more growth along the shore of the island.Still, we did move about the shore and observed the tracks of birds and small animals, probably raccoons.  Fighting the wind, we made[...]

Split Rock Lake (MN)


It has been almost exactly one year since Dave Finck and I visited Split Rock Lake, an impounded section of Split Rock Creek – the stream than begins north near Pipestone and flows into the Big Sioux River south of Brandon, SD.The lake is the centerpiece of Split Rock Creek State Park along Highway 23 just outside of the small town of Ihlen (MN), between Jasper and Pipestone. The park is a jewel: beautifully maintained with campgrounds, a swimming beach, fishing pier, a 2.5-mile hiking trail, and kayak rentals.  This little park is really a wonderfully tranquil spot that seems to me like a hidden treasure.  A Minnesota park sticker or a daily admission fee is required for entrance. The fleet of rental boats available in the park is a special bonus.  The rental price is only $10 for four hours, and the park manager told us that midweek rentals are easy – they were all available while we were there.  Reservations for rental boats is not an option, they are first come, first served.We arrived to a deserted lake, just as with most area waterways on a weekday late summer day.  The weather was magnificent: no wind, sunny skies, and a temperature of about 68 degrees.  It was a great day to be retired!The lake is about .75 miles long from the dam at the southern end to the entrance of Split Rock Creek, then it extends north into the creek for another .75 miles.  At its widest spot, the lake is about .4 miles across.There is an inlet on the east side of the lake that extends eastward for about .3 miles into the reeds until reaching a bridge that we could not pass – the water level was too high to permit passage of the canoe.The lake gradually transitions into Split Rock Creek on the northern end.  We continued northwest until reaching a bridge on the eastside of Ihlen.  Passing under the bridge, we encountered the single wire of an electric fence, the same fence we found last year.  There was no passage possible under or around that fence.The chief attraction of Split Rock Lake is the serene setting and the pleasing range of trees, bushes, and aquatic reeds.  Last year, we encountered a deer standing at the water’s edge.  This year, we did not see much wildlife: there were a few birds, including a great blue heron that flew up upon our approach.  Also, we saw a few groups of carp swimming along in shallow waters on the northern end of the lake. There was plenty of depth to the lake this year.  The muddy eastern side and a rocky entrance into Split Rock Creek that we encountered last year were covered by much more depth this year.  We had no difficulty easily moving along the circumference of the lake, including the eastside inlet and the northern entrance to Split Rock Creek.A hint of fall was in the air with some trees and bushes changing their color.  Those first signs of fall are like an electric prod for paddlers:  we need to get out on the water more often because a big change will be upon us in only a few weeks.  With fall, the long winter is on the horizon!Our cruise this morning took us about an hour and a half, and we covered about five miles.  We stopped for lunch in Pipestone.  What a great way to begin the day!The full set of photos for this cruise can be found at the following URL: Finck on Split Rock Lake [...]

OLLI Paddling for Seniors


Over the past three years, I have been increasingly engaged in classes offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a national lifelong learning program offered primarily for seniors throughout the nation.  A center has been established under the sponsorship of University Center here in Sioux Falls, and a wide range of programming is offered to the membership.  Part of the programming is a range of activities to promote fitness, especially for seniors.  A contribution of mine has been to offer sessions on kayaking and hiking in the Sioux Falls area. This morning, I presented a two-hour session on an introduction to kayaking.  It was held in collaboration with the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, a program of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.  We began with an orientation to kayaking in the auditorium and then moved to the large pond on the campus behind the main set of buildings for our on-water segment.Ten OLLI members came to the session, most of them with no or very limited kayaking experience.  This was a first attempt in what seemed an interesting activity for them.Working with me in the activity was Derek Klawitter, a SDGFP naturalist who is an experienced instructor in watercraft operation and safety.Following the orientation, we all moved out to the boathouse by the pond.  Derek had already set out the kayaks needed for our class, and we fitted all participants with lifejackets and paddles. Derek and I helped all participants into the kayaks and launched them from the beach; they didn’t even have to get their feet wet. Soon all ten participants were on the water and padding easily about the pond.  There were small conversation groups for some, and others were happy to just move about the pond. While Derek supervised from the shoreline, I moved about the paddlers encouraging and coaching them.  Within minutes, the paddlers seemed to have picked up enough technique to easily move themselves along. There were lots of smiles and feeling of accomplishment, and a good time was had by all.We spent about an hour and fifteen minutes on the water.  As the session concluded, the paddlers drove their boats up onto the shore and we pulled them up so that they could just step out of the kayak. Nobody even got their feet wet throughout the cruise.This was a great opportunity for seniors to have a tailored introduction to kayaking, to try out the boats, and to consider whether they might want to continue with this fitness activity.We in Sioux Falls are fortunate to have the Outdoor Campus and the OLLI program available for seniors.  The Outdoor Campus, by the way, is a gem for the community.  There are lots of paddling opportunities for anyone through the facilities of the Outdoor Campus, including paddling classes and opportunities at the campus pond, Family Lake, and the Big Sioux River.  They are even willing to put together special group events for those wishing to have a paddling experience.  More information is available at the Outdoor Campus website and through contact with the staff there.   [...]

Lake Alvin: Mid-August 2013


Much of my kayaking of late has been at either Family Lake or the pond on the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls where I have served as a volunteer for paddling classes or events.  Today, however, the morning was overcast with temperatures in the 60s, and I decided to slip away to Lake Alvin for a morning paddle.  My paddling opportunities will be limited over the next three weeks or so, and I wanted to take advantage of the day.I found the lake quite full; the water was lapping over part of the dock as I put in within the recreation area on the northern end.  The water at the dock had a sheen of green algae for a couple of feet out into the lake, as it often does at this time of year. For the past several years, I have used a mat over the trunk of my car to slide the kayak up onto the rollers of the Yakama rack atop my Honda Civic.  When there is a contrary wind, the mat tends to fly off the car and complicate my loading routine.  I find myself sometimes trying to hold on to the mat to prevent it from blowing off while, at the same time, manhandling the kayak up over the trunk.  My pal, Dave Fink, has begun using a similar process to slide his kayak up onto his van, but he has improved my method by adding hooks to the mat that slip onto the rack and keep the mat in place despite effects of the wind.  After returning from a recent trip, he gave me a set of hooks to attach to my loading mat, and they are now in place and working well.There was a light breeze blowing out of the east, and I tried umbrella sailing for the first time this year.  As I set out from the dock, the wind was about 45 degrees off the bow, and I did make slow progress.  The wind was just too light to sustain my interest in sailing, so I put the umbrella under a deck bungee and took up the paddle.Heading south toward Nine Mile Creek, I passed a great blue heron along the eastern shore.  As I continued down toward the creek, a pair of these large birds flew just ahead of me.  Upon my approach, they would launch off into the air and move ahead of me for a couple hundred feet.  And so the relationship would continue as I moved up into the creek.Because of the high water, it was easy to negotiate my kayak over the bar that forms at the mouth of Nine Mile Creek. I continued up the creek only as far as the bridge upstream a half-mile or so and then turned back for the long slog back to the recreation area dock.As usual on a midweek morning, the lake was empty of any boat traffic.  The only people I saw were sitting in lawn chairs fishing on the public access dock.  Otherwise, no one was in sight either on the lake or on the shore.  Just me and the birds today!As I loaded up my kayak for the trip home, I noticed some new signage located up from the recreation area dock indicating the relatively new hiking trail that leads into the wooded area above that portion of the lake. There is a great view over the lake from this hiking trail.  Anyone interested in it can check out my hiking blog at http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.comfor a description and set of photographs that I completed last fall. I was out on the water for an hour and a half this morning.  It was a tranquil cruise over familiar waters, but then Lake Alvin is only 15 minutes away from my eastside Sioux Falls home, and I go there frequently over the summer.  A complete set of the photographs of this cruise can be seen on my Flickr page at the following URL:http://www.[...]

Renwick Lake in Icelandic State Park, ND: July 23, 2013


Patricia, a reader of this blog from Omaha who also paddles lakes and streams in South Dakota, has sent me a new guest narrative describing her recent cruise on Renwick Lake, located in Icelandic State Park, North Dakota.  This is Patricia’s third guest narrative this season; her observations and experiences closely reflect my own solitary cruises.Icelandic State Park, containing Renwick Lake, is located a few miles east of Cavalier, ND, near the Canadian border.  There is a dam at the east end, which is causing detours during work, and the Tongue River is somewhere at the other end.I was in search of the river and started out about 10:45 from the boat ramp.It was a clear and windless day, so paddling was easy.  I started to the left along the dam, and then came across a steep bluff filled with cliff swallow nests.  The bank was teeming with swallows darting in every direction and landing in the holes.  I paused to watch them speeding around.In the reeds that fringed most of the lake shoreline, I discovered these two fugitives from the park beach over on the north shore.  This being a Tuesday, there was no one else on the water, and only one family on the beach when I finally pulled out.  Their mom told me the park was often deserted on weekdays, but very busy on the weekends.Further along the south shore I came to the golf course.  It looked like a Grecian sylvan scene – with golf carts.  I stopped hugging the shore and paddled out to get a closer look at what appeared to be a large rock but turned out to be an equally large tree trunk.I was enjoying this paddle with the cool temperatures, calm water, and solitude.  The only human activity I saw was an occasional crop duster overhead, including one biplane.  I continued toward the west end of the lake, keeping an eye out for the Tongue River.  There were several areas of dense vegetation in the water along the shores that hampered my exploration.  I picked my way very carefully through these and found a den of some sort on the shore, but no river yet.There was lots of bird noise and activity around the lake.  I spied this pelican at the far north end and paddled toward him, hoping he might lead me to the river’s mouth, but found only more reeds and trees.  I was having a great day anyway.As I turned back, the placid water made for some impressive reflections of the great clouds overhead, adding to the splendor of the lake’s solitude and peace  (But still, no river.)I was beginning to feel like I would never find the river.  I paddled back along the west shore, getting stuck and freeing myself from the matted vegetation, when I caught a glimpse of the smallest break in the trees.It was barely discernable, but there was the river, finally.  It was very narrow where it flowed into the lake, but as I entered it became a decent-sized stream.  The banks were mostly reeds with groups of trees.I paddled up the twisting river about half an hour until I approached what appeared to be the beginnings of a beaver dam.  I didn’t want to disturb it, so I turned and headed back to the boat ramp.There were several spots in the banks that appeared to be where animals would come down to the water, but I never saw any.I pulled out of the water about 1:00 p.m.  Renwick Lake was a great kayak trip for me, with beautiful scenery and the potential for birds and wildlife sightings.  It didn’t hurt that the weat[...]

Lake Alvin: A Mid-Summer Cruise


This morning I decided to head out to Lake Alvin for an early morning paddle.  We have been through a long string of sweltering days here in the Sioux Falls area, so an early start seemed essential.  I have not been on Lake Alvin since late April and looked forward to seeing the transformation from spring to full summer.I arrived at the public access point on the southwestern shore about 9:00 a.m.  The sky was clear, the temperature about 80 degrees, and there was a brisk wind coming out of the south.As usual, I paddled across the lake and began my trip south into Nine Mile Creek.  When approaching the southern end of the lake and the entrance into the creek, it is critical to keep to the left (east) side of the shoreline to pass over the silted bar of mud and sand that comes down the creek into the lake.  I continued south into the creek and easily passed under the bridge and into the narrow stream than flows south.  There are a number of curves in the stream, and the channel tends to move from one side to another.  A paddler has to keep examining the flow and be ready to scoot over to the appropriate side as dictated by the bottom.  In the channel, the water depth is generally two to three feet and is generally a few feet wide. The creek is where I most often come across wildlife, including beaver and waterfowl.  Today, a great blue heron kept ahead of me; it would rise out of the bush upon my approach and move upstream until I approached again.After paddling upstream, I lowered my rudder and coasted down the current to the mouth of the creek.  I guess that the distance on the creek portion of the cruise was about 3 miles roundtrip.Even though the lake itself was a bit choppy from the brisk south wind, the creek was tranquil.  The bank and towering plant life provides a windbreak of about 8 feet, so the creek is nicely protected.After exiting Nine Mile Creek, I decided to explore the waters on the southeastern end of the lake.  Because of the shallow conditions and muddy bottom, I normally avoid that portion of the lake. I cruised over to the side and found myself fascinated by the many schools of small black fish.Looking over the surface of the water, these schools looked like shadows on the water that moved about.  Some of the schools were several feet in length and seemingly contained hundreds of fish.  They would approach my kayak and surface for a moment in a sparkling display as they came to the surface for a moment. These schools would move about that section of the lake, forming into various shapes.  At any one time, I could see six or eight groupings.  My attention was riveted on these fish for a few moments.After passing through the fish, I continued moving north and passed groups of carp swimming generally in the direction of the fish schools.  I wondered if the carp were headed for a meal of small fish!Heading north on the main body of Lake Alvin, I was traveling with the wind, and little paddling effort was needed.  As often occurs on a windy lake surface, the waves were sometimes outpacing my kayak, creating a following sea condition.  I continued north until I was across from the recreation area launching site, about two-thirds of the way up the lake.  From there, I turned and headed into the wind for my return trip to the southeastern access area. The wind created a healthy chop in the water, an[...]

Vermillion River – Catch It While You Can: Guest blog by Jarett C. Bies


The following guest blog was submitted by Jarett Bies.  Jarett has offered two previous guest narratives on this blog, and I always enjoy both the substance of his adventures and his writing style. He is a very experienced paddler and is the past president of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association.  The Vermillion River is one of the streams within our general area that I have not paddled, and reading Jarett's account whets my appetite for making this trip soon.I live about a mile from the Vermillion River and invited a couple of friends out for a Sunday run between 309nd Street and the bridge just east of University Avenue (at 312th Street) about one week ago.The river is declining in depth due to a lack of recent rains, but it still offers a nice trip and plenty of sights for canoe and kayak enthusiasts in the southeast part of South Dakota. This stretch is about two miles northeast of history-rich Spirit Mound, so if you've ever wanted to visit one of the few sites where Lewis and Clark actually stood, and fold a short paddle into the trip, this entry will help you.The river flooded in June due to heavy rains this year, especially near Centerville. It runs from Lake Vermillion to the Missouri River, and parts of it, including the stretch we ran, are man-made. I am hoping to get the chance to run the curvy stretches closer to Centerville before the summer is over. Jim, Brian and I were just out to have a jaunt on the water. We all live pretty close to the Missouri River but alas, sometimes the logistics of a Big Water op are not as appealing as a run down a smaller stream.Muddy would be an operative word for the Vermillion. I planned ahead and packed a pair of “mud shoes” for the put-in and such, then switched smoothly into my regular paddling boots so that I wouldn't have that muck in my fiberglass kayak. It worked well. We'd planned on starting in a back water channel just north of 309th Street, but upon arrival scouted the area and found a tiny patch of gravel near the water to use for a launch. This would require descending a short vertical face but it was less muddy.There were still spots where my weight led to ankle-deep SPLOTS into the mud, so don't go into a Vermillion River outing without the knowledge that you'll end up dirty. You will. This video shows the unique nature of the weather that day. I joked that it was obvious there would be no kayak racing in South Dakota that day because there was no wind (our annual Memorial Day weekend race on the Missouri is notorious for being a wind magnet) and the 90s temperatures with no breeze led to sweaty faces and plenty of gnats. But regardless it was still a great little operation. After battling with the heat and mud, we got everyone into the water and began our journey.Wildlife came into play almost immediately, and not in a good way. We all saw silver carp, the new invasive species that is here to stay, unfortunately, jumping and splashing in the shallow water where we started. Reading Jay Heath's account of these Asian explosions on the Jim River, we all knew they could be dangerous or annoying, but thankfully the four or five we saw at the start were all we saw. Only five minutes into the trip we began to hit bottom with paddles, but we never bottomed out in our craft and the flow seemed strong enough. A bit of rain would truly benefit both the river and the farmers who raise grains in the area.We saw a great blue heron in the [...]

Big Sioux Recreation Area (North) to Madison St. Bridge


A couple of Big Sioux River cruises took place over this past weekend that I missed because of family scheduling concerns.  So, today I seized the opportunity to cruise with Dave Finck down the river from the north end of the Big Sioux Recreation area in Brandon to just past the Madison Street bridge, a distance of about 4.5 miles.Originally, we had planned on the quick three-mile trip from the north end of the Recreation Area downstream to the southern end: the so-called Brandon-to-Brandon cruise.Dave left his kayak at the northern put-in and joined me at the southern end of the Recreation Area.  The mud at the “take-out” was discouraging, so he suggested that we move the shuttle point and the cruise ending to an area just downstream of the Madison Street bridge over the Big Sioux, just upstream from the confluence of Split Rock Creek with the Big Sioux. We left his van at the take-out and took my Honda Civic back to the put-in at the northern end of the Recreation Area.  The put-in there was muddy also and I nearly toppled over as I was approaching my kayak.  Dave was there, however, to provide a steady shoulder and a push-off through the mud.  It seems that the older I get, the more willing people are to assist the old gent on his way, and I take advantage of that sentiment.We easily moved downstream on the Big Sioux.  My last trip down this segment of the river was in November, and the river was much narrower.  As the water flow decreases over the summer months, the river seems to mostly just get narrower; there always seems to be a channel in the river that permits passage downstream.We had no problems cruising downstream.  The few strainers in the stream were easy to avoid, the water was deep enough so that we did not run aground, and the weather, while hot, was beautiful.  The growth of trees and bushes along the shore offered the notion of cruising through a deeply forested landscape.  There were scattered high cut-banks that provided a vertical perspective to the river.  Little evidence of the massive ice storm of April remains along the shoreline, and much of the old strainers have been swept downstream with the spring flood. We cruised under the pedestrian bridge linking the two shorelines of the Big Sioux Recreation Area, and I thought about how many times my wife, our little dog, and I have hiked over the bridge and up onto the long ridgeline that defines the Prairie Vista hiking trail.About 45 minutes into the cruise, we passed by the muddy take-out at the southern end of the Recreation Area and continued downstream toward the Madison Street bridge.Along the way, we passed a large turkey vulture sitting in a tree and giving us his full attention.  We also saw a deer moving through the undergrowth along the left bank, but it disappeared before I could grab my camera.Downstream, we passed one of the crushed classic cars that are sometimes seen in use as a bank stabilizer. A large herd of cattle were cooling themselves in the river as we passed, and I wondered what it would be like in a kayak should a crazed stampede send them dashing further out into the stream.By the time we passed under the Madison Street Bridge and approached the somewhat sandy unmarked take-out, we had been on the water about an hour and fifteen minutes and traveled about 4.5 miles. This is a nice segment for most people to cr[...]