In this edition of Paddler’s Post, we follow seven adventuresome volunteers as they float down the Illinois River from Fisher Ford Bridge to the Oklahoma state line during the Illinois River Watershed Partnership’s fall float and cleanup event.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
It was the peak of leaf-gawking season. Reds and yellows and vibrant oranges painted the hilly landscapes of the Ozarks. The incessant rainfall in the week prior had brought the river level up and the air temperature down. When I spotted sunshine on the morning of the cleanup, I knew it was going to be a great day to get outdoors.
Our voyage began at Fisher Ford Bridge near Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Two of the seven participants brought their own kayaks, and the rest of us decided to play it safe and rent a whitewater raft from the Arkansas 59 Outfitter. We were glad we did. Construction has really taken off at the future site of the Fisher Ford Whitewater Recreation Area, so the water is being channeled in a way that augments the speed and intensity of the rapids. As we were pulled closer and closer to the standing wave of whitewater, our raft slowly swiveled sideways until the starboard side hurtled into the trough. With an explosive splash and a brief zero gravity experience, we launched over the wave and completed the roughest portion of the float.
Chuckles of relief and remarks of disbelief (“Dad, can you BELIEVE we just DID that?!”) abounded for several minutes following our grand feat at Fisher Ford. Hearing the reactions of the children in our raft reminded me of the euphoria I experienced when I first scuttled down those rapids as a kid—the anticipation, the adrenaline, the unrelenting desire to go again—and then I remembered. This is what it’s all about. By preserving the natural integrity of this river and its watershed, we are also preserving the opportunity for future generations to enjoy this same experience. We’re not only passing on a legacy of clean water and ecosystem health; we’re passing on an understanding that the coexistence of man and nature requires a delicate balance of give and take. It is our responsibility to protect those resources that sustain us.
Without a doubt, the thrill of whitewater had further motivated us to beautify the river.
Volunteers from Walmart and Fayetteville School District Collect Litter Along the Illinois River
We trekked lazily along for about two miles before spotting the first piece of trash on the riverbank. We picked it up, noting that the recent rainfall and subsequent rise in water levels had likely washed a lot of litter farther downstream. In fact, we came within 500 feet of the end of our float trip before we saw another piece of litter. We were becoming pretty discouraged at how little we had picked up along the way, but then we spotted that infamous flash of metallic blue on the gravel bank up ahead. Excitedly, we shored our boats and discovered an enormous deposit of scattered cans, bottles, shoes, scrap metal—all carried here by a blameless, meandering river. We had ourselves a heyday.
What actions do you take to improve your watershed when you’re in the great outdoors? Tell us in the comments below.
On Sunday, November 17th, join us for National Take A Hike Day at the Watershed Sanctuary in Cave Springs! Our trails will be open to the public from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, and we’ll have some volunteer opportunities available on-site.