***Disclaimer This article is in no way intended to be taken for instruction on how to kayak or canoe in the Ozark region. Before beginning any kayaking or canoeing, the author took a Red Cross approved course in Small Craft Safety, first aid, CPR and had many years of swimming experience. Always wear your life vest. Never kayak or canoe alone.*****
Canoeing and kayaking, floating-in other words-is a great Ozark pastime. Floating here can be beautiful in any season as well as dangerous. Spring rains can mean fast running water, changed watercourses, debris such as downed trees, and displaced wildlife such as snakes, poisonous and non-poisonous. When floating in winter, you may likely be the only person on the water enjoying the beauty and stillness the rivers have to offer. You will also be far from help if anything goes wrong, your canoe or kayak overturns, or you have a medical emergency. Cell phone service on the rivers is sketchy at best if you don’t manage to get your phone wet at some point during your float.
Jack’s Fork, the North Fork, the Current, Niangua River, Hemmed In Hollow in Arkansas-there are plenty of great floats to be had in the region. My goal with this article is to guide you to one of the great places to learn how to canoe and kayak before you take on that float trip with all your friends. Fellow’s Lake, a small fishing lake north of Springfield, MO off of Hwy 65, is a perfect spot to practice your kayaking moves, learn how your watercraft responds to other motorized boats, and is small enough and usually populated enough to guarantee help is nearby if needed. A Corp of Engineers lake, Fellows is pretty, well kept, and comes complete with marina, fishing dock, hiking trails and multiple spots to park and enjoy the views of the lake. One unfortunate caveat is that there is no swimming allowed in this particular lake. Of course, if you’re kayaking or canoeing, you can beg your friends to splash you until you cool down or you can just dip your hat into the water and let it run down your back like I did.
The marina will outfit you with one of three options: sit upon kayak, sit in kayak or a canoe. Kayaking is a solo sport, there is no one to help if and when you get tired. Canoeing has challenges all its own, usually in how well someone knows how to steer which is handled from the back of the craft. Steering a canoe is tricky and takes practice to become proficient, which is why learning in the relative safety of a small lake is a good idea. Taking a canoe out on a fast running river with no experience (which happened to me 3 years ago) is a recipe for disaster, and is a story for another day. Make sure you and your friends know what kayak or canoe option you want before you go.
I, personally, have no preference for sit upon or sit in kayaks. Since I was carrying more gear with me on this kayaking adventure, I chose a sit in kayak as there seems to be more storage space by my feet than with a sit upon. Due to my goals of taking pictures for this article, having enough water to last me in the July heat, and carrying my phone and car keys-the sit in was a good choice. My daughter, Em and I checked in at the marina, paid our deposit and collected our life vests and paddles. A staff member helps you as you slip into and out of your kayak or canoe so no worries there, though leaving the kayak at the end of the trip made me feel as graceful as a walrus on the beach.
The best part of a float, even this type where you are almost constantly paddling, is the wildlife to be seen on the edges of the lake, in the trees and flying overhead. Sunbaked turtles, Blue Herons, largemouth bass and sunfish all turn up consistently and close enough to almost touch. We paddled around the east side of the lake, turning into the small tucked in cove areas to check out the wildlife and to ask the fishermen if they’d had any luck. Even though it was a weekday, the lake was busy with small motorized craft and people fishing on the accessible ADA fishing dock.
We were planning on a two hour session, but ran out of drinking water after only an hour due to the heat. This was unexpected as I had brought quite a bit of water and so had Em. Being on a lake, you have wind to help you but no real current. Constant paddling gets you where you want to go and that works up thirst and an appetite. We pulled into the marina after an hour, my daughter gracefully standing up in her kayak right into the waiting hands of our helpful staff member while I flopped out of my kayak onto the deck, knowing if I tried standing up, I’d soon be ticketed for swimming in a no swim zone.
It was a fun trip, though short. I did get slightly sunburned even with spray on sunscreen, so make sure to take some with you to reapply frequently. Sunlight on an open lake hits from all sides so it’s not unusual to get burned even under your nose. Wear a hat! I got to spend time with Em, get some good pictures, and get a good workout. A few things to remember before any water adventure: be prepared, take enough water, make sure everyone in your party knows how to swim, or is wearing a life vest and most of all have fun.
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