Paddling into the New Year...

This New Year’s Eve I was fortunate to attend the Third Annual Winter Paddling Clinic at Echo Bluff State Park.  The clinic is put on by Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the Ozark Trail Association, The American Canoe Association, paddling Clubs from around the state, including Ozark Mountain Paddlers and other recreational and outdoor organizations. Even with the ongoing government shutdown, which prevented ONSR personnel from actively participating, the clinic went ahead as planned, with some 100 individuals attending the various sessions, the first and last day floats, and hikes along a new proposed portion of the Ozark Trail near Round Spring.

As I listened to the presenters, I was struck by the fact that much of the clinic had a tie into our own portion of Ozarks waters.  Mark Van Patten, Missouri Stream Team’s first member and fly fishing instructor, presented a fly fishing basics session and made sure to mention that in order to be a successful fly fisherman, you need to have a knowledge of macroinvertebrates  and understand their behavior, as trout and other game fish have thousands of years of instinct on their side. A fly that doesn’t mimic its namesake in behavior isn’t going to catch fish.  If you want to be better at fishing, join a stream team — and we can help you with that! (We just don’t recommend fly-fishing in South Creek!)

And speaking of Stream Teams, Mark’s discussion of the Missouri Stream Team’s 30th anniversary this year was also very enlightening. Did you know there are now 5,800 individual stream teams in Missouri? If each of those teams has an average of 20 members, that’s almost 120,000 individuals that are involved in volunteer water quality monitoring, litter pickups, storm drain stenciling, or any combination of the three. Mark discussed his own involvement with the Roubidoux Fly Fishers Stream Team No. 1, which was started partially due to the fact that he kept losing flies among the litter along and in the river!  As Mark told the story, it reminded me of JRBP’s own grassroots origins responding to the infamous Table Rock algae bloom in the 1990s.

The James was even mentioned in a presentation by Rick Mansfield, who has been attempting to recreate Henry Schoolcraft’s journey from Potosi to the lead mines along the James 200 years ago.  Rick recently the historical marker near the site on Pearson Creek where Schoolcraft discovered the fabled lead deposits that inspired his expedition. Today Schoolcraft’s descriptions of the springs and streams of the Ozarks, especially their clarity, are a benchmark of our mission to preserve and protect them for future generations.

John Muir once said, “When one tugs at the single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”.  While the paddling clinic was largely aimed at outdoor recreational pursuits, every time I “pulled” at a topic, I was reminded of JRBP and its mission. Outdoor enthusiasts are our first line of defense, so to speak, in the battle for water quality. They are the forward observers who note potential and real problems – and they benefit in that knowledge by improving at their pursuits, as Mark so eloquently stated.

Both Kathie Brennan of the Ozark Trail Association and Dave Tobey of Ozark National Scenic Riverways (although he attended as an OTA volunteer due to the shutdown) presented on a new “hike-float” concept that was put into practice this weekend on the first day float, when a number of paddlers hiked from Echo Bluff to Current River State Park along a new spur trail of the Ozark Trail, then put in on the Current and floated to Round Spring.  Could this be a potential opportunity for folks in the James River basin at some point in the future?

The basin was well represented with 15 members from Ozark Mountain Paddlers in attendance, plus others from Paddle KC and St. Louis Canoe and Kayak Club. ACA Instructor Ivan Bartha from One Planet Adventures talked about winter paddling Gear “lifehacks”, and Jennifer Hahn from Team River Runner presented on their efforts to empower disabled veterans to get out on the water.

At the end of the conference, Dave Tobey told the legend of the sassafras paddle – apparently in Ozarks folklore, a sassafras canoe paddle means good luck for life, but only if it is freely given, and not asked for. Dave just happened to have his sassafras paddle with him at the clinic as a visual aid. As Dave told the story, it reminded me of how fortunate we were to be able to enjoy our Ozarks waters, but only with a great deal of responsibility and stewardship. Andy Ostmeyer spoke of such volunteer water guardians in his recent article in the Joplin Globe on the James River – the folks attending this year’s clinic were certainly examples of that. As I hiked on the Round Spring spur of the Ozark Trail on New Year’s Day, I thought about the awesome responsibility we have to protect those waters, and how much fun we have doing it!

We’ll see you downstream in 2019!


(Cover photo by Paddle KC)