Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why don't more Missourians paddle?

Until the Missouri Department of Tourism switched it's slogan over to "Close to home. Far from ordinary," the catchphrase on our license plates was "Where the rivers run." Our state is actually named after the river, not the other way around, and do you know what the river is named for? It's name comes the word "ouemessourita" which was the Illinois Indian tribe's name for the Siouan people. It translates to "those who have dugout canoes."

For a state who's past and present are so closely tied to rivers, why is it that we have so few true paddlers?

Don't get me wrong, I've been on the Meramec and Huzzah and other Ozark streams and rivers on a Saturday during the summer. I know people use the rivers and have a great time on them. And that's great. But there's a big difference between the "paddler" whose idea of "paddling" is seeing how far he can get down the river before he flips and loses all of his beer, and the paddler who is out on the water to simply enjoy the river, or to fish or to introduce his kids to the art of piloting a canoe.

I've loved paddling all of my life. I've gone from my first trips in an aluminum canoe on the Black to paddling a Kiwi Kopapa down the Russian River in California to an Inazone whitewater kayak to too many other whitewater boats to list here, and on to a Bell Northwind canoe that I take out with my family. I love to paddle, and I'll even deal with the crowds on the weekends just to be out on the water. But, for the life of me, I don't understand why this area - with so many year-long opportunities available to paddle - doesn't produce more world-class paddlers.

Things look like they may be beginning to change, though. The relatively recent addition of the Missouri River 340 to the paddle scene has dramatically affected how Missourians (and other Americans) are viewing our namesake waterway. More people than ever are viewing the Missouri and Mississippi as important recreational vehicles, instead of just things we have to cross over on bridges.

With the economy tanking on us over the past year and a half, many families decided to pick up kayaks and canoes as inexpensive modes of both entertainment and exercise for the whole family.

And organizations like the Missouri Whitewater Association and the St. Louis County Canoe & Kayak Club continue to produce some of the most skilled paddlers for miles around.

If you already are a paddler, I think you know what I'm talking about. If you're not, why not give it a try?

This weekend, Alpine Shop Kirkwood will host it's 10th Annual Great Canoe & Kayak Event. There will be hours and hours of clinics, programs, films and trip reports all designed to get more people a chance to get out on the water. There will also be some great deals across the paddle department on everything from the boat, the method of paddling and the way to get it to the river.

Best of all, nearly everything about the event is free. You've got nothing to lose for coming out and seeing what's out there for you to enjoy.

1 comment:

Bill in Wisconsin said...

Two reasons:

1) Missouri lacks lakes for beginners to cut their canoeing teeth on. I had canoed for years but was ill prepared for the first time I canoed the Current downstream of Baptist camp. Ninety-degree bends into cliff faces with strainers is intimidating to all but the drunk college students in the summer. It was not until I took the white-water classes from the MWA that I felt comfortable on Ozark streams.

2) Most streams in Missouri are not very canoe friendly. Especially for families or those seeking solitude. Unless it is a very small stream with limited access, inevitably canoeists are sharing the rivers with john boats and jet skis. Sometimes in very limited quarters. I did the majority of my Missouri paddling in the late fall, winter and spring to avoid the crowds. Perhaps you could have a class on winter canoeing to introduce people to a new side of the rivers.

After 8 years in Missouri, I have moved and have enjoyed 154 continuous months of canoeing outdoors in Wisconsin. For my February canoe, my wife, daughter and I canoed a small spring fed stream while beautiful snow flakes fell.