State 27 of 50: New Jersey – Wallkill River NWR

A surprisingly beautiful flyway in New Jersey
Date Paddled: June 2, 2017
Nearest City: Sussex
Put-In:  Glenwood Road
Take-Out: Bassett’s Bridge
Duration: 3.5
River Miles: ~7
Shuttle: ~7 on country roads
Weather: 65 sunny becoming partly cloudy, breezy
Difficulty: flatwater, quickwater, minor riffles
Cfs: not available, medium-high water

The Walkill is one of few National Wildlife Refuges in the northeast. It’s importance is to migratory birds as well as more stationary threatened  species like the bog turtle. We were treated to the always welcome sight of a duckling skedaddling across the water – a sure sign of the transition from spring to summer:Along with the ducklings, three bald eagles as well as hawks and kingfishers were trolling for a tasty lunch. Finches, cardinals, tree swallows, warblers, and red-winged blackbirds among others, were part of the aural and visual choir.

The Walkill River reveals a number of faces based on different color schemes. The variety of vegetation, depth of the water, and stream-bed composition play a roll.

green
green
blue
blue
brown
brown
orange
orange

I’ve paddled the Walkill perhaps ten or twelve times as it’s not too far from home. Most of the year, it’s filled with birds but especially in the early spring when huge flocks of geese and ducks use this area to rest and replenish. Always present are the great blue herons who have a rookery of 25-30 active nests. I’ve never encountered any other paddlers and seen only the occasional fisherman at the take out. When one thinks of New Jersey, it tends to be in derogatory terms, but the Walkill easily dispenses the images of smelly oil refineries and congested toll-filled roads.

Most of the river corridor is lined with mature silver maples. A lovely site any time, but especially as the wind reveals the leaves silvery side:It’s fascinating to watching the wind combing through the fresh leaves on it’s way upstream – perhaps heading all the way up the Hudson to the Adirondacks…..

State 26 of 50: West Virginia – South Branch Potomac River

Called “The Trough,” hugged by mountains, filled with wildlife
Date Paddled: May 24, 2017
Nearest City: Moorefield
Put-In: Clover Road
Take-Out: Trough General Store
Duration: 2.5 hours
River Miles: ~8
Shuttle: 6 miles, 2 of them gravel
Weather: cloudy, low ceiling, 63
Difficulty: some class I rapids, calm stretches
Cfs: 120

Somehow a name like “The Trough” doesn’t inspire me with much enthusiasm. Images of mud-filled waters and breeding mosquitoes filled my mind even as the verdant hills rose in protest. Slipping our kayaks into the water dispelled any disparaging thoughts.
The gentle current allowed for lots of time to see and hear the many birds, fish, turtles, and deer that made this paradise their home.  Four eagles, two pileated woodpeckers, mergansers, four heron, kingfisher, cormorant, many sandpiper-types, cardinals, blue jays, grackles, yellow throat,  to name a few of the bird family!

We also came across a deer enjoying a mid-day snack who seemed quite undisturbed at our presence.DSCN5882Interestingly, we saw no signs of beaver here. This is quite unusual and left us puzzled as this seemed a wonderful habitat for them.
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DSCN6573No muddy thoughts left in this Eden of beauty!

 

State 25 of 50: Tennessee – Little River

 

Sweet smell of the Little
Date Paddled: May 20, 2017
Nearest City: Maryville
Put-In: Route 411
Take-Out: Alcoa City water facility
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: 8.5
Shuttle: easy roads ~ 6 miles
Weather: sunny to partly cloudy 80+
Difficulty: quickwater, steady current, class I
Cfs: 274

The sweet smell of privet lined the Little River. While an invasive plant, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that wonderful smell. As we paddled along, the Little was a cornucopia of live with osprey, bluebird, kingfisher, wood ducks, mallards, cardinals, robins, swallows, herons, three types of turtles, and a water snake all enlivening the journey.DSCN6536Beautiful outcroppings of rock provided sharp contrast to the dreamy green of trees and water.DSCN5807 The great blue heron had nested above the river – unusual for a bird that generally builds in community. Our presence kept off the parent, but not for long as we slid under and downstream.DSCN5793Sometimes a paddle is wonderful for so many reasons, the color of the water, the fun rapids, the cliffs, remoteness, and so many others. The Little was a paddle filled with small details that added up to a big paddle!DSCN6514

 

 

State 24 of 50: Missouri – Eleven Point River

Dramatic display of the destructive power of flood waters!
Date Paddled:  May 18, 2017
Nearest City:  Alton, MO
Put-In:  State Route 19 access
Take-Out:  Whitten Landing
Duration:   4.5 hours
River Miles:  11 miles
Shuttle:   long (30 min.) road shuttle; 3 mile tough gravel road to Whitten Landing
Weather:  cloudy to PC, windy; 80 degrees.
Difficulty:  Strong current, no significant rapids; numerous hazards from flooding (downed trees, roots, misc. strainers)
Cfs:  approx. 2500

Less well-known than many of the Ozark waterways in neighboring Arkansas or Oklahoma, the Eleven Point is a good-sized river that traverses a lovely, if undramatic, landscape of foothills in south-central Missouri.  Our visit came on the heels of a massive rain event about two weeks earlier that had caused severe flooding on many rivers in the region, including the Eleven Point, and much destruction in towns and cities in the region.

The USGS gauge on the river went off scale for more than 24 hours, indicating flows well in excess of 30,000 CFS reaching perhaps a dozen or more feet above flood stage.  The devastation that this kind of flooding is capable of was apparent as soon as we got to the river.

DSCN5745The scope of the damage became truly clear only once we set out on the still-swift current of the Eleven Point.  The speed of the water, combined with the numerous hazards left by the flood’s surge a few weeks earlier, required constant vigilance to avoid being swept toward the river’s banks that were, in many places, strewn with debris.  Often the tangle of uprooted trees and flotsam extended both many feet out into the river channel and many feet up the steep wooded banks.  In places it seemed like the destruction was concentrated on one side of the Eleven Point, extending for hundreds of yards.  In other places the devastation was equally distributed on both sides – no part of the river seemed to have escaped Nature’s fury.DSCN5726Despite this dramatic backdrop, we had a lovely and scenic paddle on the Eleven Point.  Animal life, especially birds, seemed to have returned to normal, and we saw eagles, herons (including three rare green herons), kingfishers, a few ducks, and many songbirds that were heard more often than seen.  We also saw a few turtles near the beginning, a hopeful sign that the smaller aquatic animals had managed to weather the floods.DSCN5753

 

 

State 22 of 50: Arkansas – Buffalo River

Scenic, small river with lots of character  
Date Paddled: May 16, 2017
Nearest City: Jasper
Put-In: Steel Creek
Take-Out: Kyle’s Landing
Duration:
River Miles: 8
Shuttle: difficult gravel road to Kyle’s Landing
Weather: sunny 80
Difficulty:  class I, I+
Cfs: 250

The Buffalo is the definition of a perfect paddle. With clear waters morphing into emerald green right from the put in, my heart filled with expectation.  I was not disappointed. Even though the Buffalo is designated a Wild and Scenic River, there were regular access points.
DSCN5663The first class I rapid was causing some issues with less experienced paddlers, notably an elderly man who end up dumping and swimming while his wife on shore filled us in on the scratches and bruises he’d already sustained as she worriedly wrung her hands saying, “A man his age shouldn’t be doing dat!” in a soft German accent. We passed him and his son again further downstream bailing Dad’s boat yet again.
We came into a tight meander ending at a cliff wall sprouting from the cool green waters. It seemed as though we were in a miniature version of many of the western rivers we had run with shallow, clear to green water, steep cliffy areas, followed with a tumbling class I or II rapid and entry into a deep emerald pool. The difference here on the east coast is that our former Himalayan scaled mountains have eroded into the rounded Appalachian chain, settling into the landscape with grace.DSCN5620DSCN6430

DSCN6407It was a true joy to see a river so beautiful, tended and loved as the Buffalo.