Archive for Thursday, October 7, 2004

Searching for a river revival

Kansas Riverkeeper inspire new hope for waterway

October 7, 2004

A group of 14 paddlers learned a lot more than how to navigate their canoes Sunday during an 11-mile journey down the Kansas River.

While the group did get plenty of exercise and gain plenty of paddling knowledge, they also exercised their brains by gaining knowledge of the Kaw courtesy of their three guides from the Friends of the Kaw. The trip was one of several day and weekend trips that riverkeeper Laura Calwell and other Friends of the Kaw members run to help promote awareness of the river.

The Friends of the Kaw is a non-profit organization that advocates responsible use of the river, and seeks to protect the river as a natural and recreation resource.

One of the priorities for members of the FOK, a body of 450 members and volunteers, is fighting to eliminate or reduce sand dredging in the river. Companies are allowed to dredge, or mine, for sand along the river to use in concrete mix. Currently, they can mine 250,000 tons of sand each year. However, members of the FOK and other river protection groups are asking those companies to reduce mining and seek alternate means of acquiring the sand. Callwell said many companies are listening and looking at alternate methods.

"The problem is it does damage to the morphology of the river and the biology of the river," she said.

Callwell said if too much sand is removed, the width and depth of the river will be altered. Signs indicate that may already be occurring, and if it continues, the river will not flow like it used to. At that point habitats will be in danger and the river will be less conducive to recreational users.

One option dredging companies may start exploring is the possibility of using pit mines.

Calwell, whose husband Mike is a member of Friends of the Kaw and served as another guide for the trip, said her organization is hoping to secure a grant that will allow them to purchase a boat. The group will find out late this year if the grant will be available. If the FOK receives the grant and is able to buy the boat, Laura Calwell said it will be easier to survey the river and lead tours.

Shawnee resident Sandy Karcher said she decided to take her husband and daughters on the trip after reading about it in her local newspaper. She said her family planned the excursion so they could spend some time together out on the river. She said learning the information that the Friends of the Kaw provided was an unexpected bonus.

"I thought it was interesting," she said. "A lot of that was new. It's not something I had thought too much about."

As far as the trip itself, each of the participants, who had varying levels of experience, completed the nearly five-hour journey safely.

The jaunt down the river began at an entry point at Cedar Creek in Olathe and the canoeists entered the river shortly thereafter. The paddlers cut a windy path through the wooded bluffs on each side of the river and were sandwiched between railroad tracks above opposite banks for much of the trip. The water was often slow moving and ranged in depth. At times, the sandy bottom was more than three feet below the 10 boats and at other times the water barely tricked above the silt. In those few instances, the boaters got out and dragged their canoes and kayaks along the river for short distances.

The journey was split up into three shorter jogs down the river. In the cool mid-morning hours, the group stopped to allow everyone to catch up and let the children in the group comb a sandbar for crustacean shells. At noon, the group stopped again to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the bank and let the Calwell's two dogs who made the journey as boat passengers roam.

In the afternoon, the boaters completed the final stretch through Bonner Springs, under Kansas Highway 7, passed the sand dredge and up Mill Creek to their destination. Most agreed the last stretch, under the warming sun, was the longest.

"It seemed a lot longer," said Christie Karcher, a sixth-grade student at St. Joseph's. "But, I thought it would be harder and it was easy."

The trip provided five-year-olds Owen Kapfer and Brianne Coats and chance to spend time with their respective grandfathers, who are friends and enjoy canoeing. The two younger friends didn't get to do any of the paddling, but they both got an up close view of the river and enjoyed helping prepare lunch and searching for shells.

"I liked getting to look at the water and going down the river," Owen said.

The other boaters enjoyed the same experience, and some of them felt the challenge of completing the 11-mile journey was a reward in itself.

"I enjoyed it, it was a good challenge," Lea Ann Shearer, Lees Summit, said. "It had been awhile since I went paddling and I found out just how long it had been."

For more information about the Friends of the Kaw, visit www.kansasriver.com.

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