Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 17

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 17

KAW 173 Weekend #4 – Lawrence to Kansas City (52 Miles)

Our KAW 173 team for 2021…each person paddling all 173 miles!

Kansas can really take your planning for a wild ride. Have you ever tried to plan an outdoor event and hinged on every word of the meteorologist? How about events every weekend?  Whew…last weekend was one for the books. The front end of the week they called for a wash out, but no thunderstorms. I don’t like paddling and camping in the pouring down rain, but I can tough it out and do it. So, we marched forward with our plans for the final leg of our KAW 173 Journey for 2021. 

Cans left on the Kaw…pack it out!

We decided to push off at Lawrence a little earlier due to the potential for thunderstorms. This had us shuttling our vehicles at 11:00 am and on the river by 1:00 pm. We paddled about 8 miles in total on Friday and along the way we enjoyed discovering the river around Mud Creek, just east of Lawrence. We stopped on a sandbar, sadly to find that someone had a bonfire and left burned beer cans. I’m all for everyone enjoying the river, but not for leaving your trash. This river belongs to everyone, so it is our duty to take care of it for our neighbors to enjoy it too. Please pack it all out!

Kaw River Guide, Bill, and the team enjoying the sandbar.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Monarch’s are not only still migrating south, but are doing so right through the river corridor.  We were amazed how many we saw and it is even more amazing to realize how far they have yet to travel (and how far they’ve already come). Nature is pretty inspiring when you think about the mileage of a Monarch versus our little 52-mile paddle for the weekend.

Great Blue Heron on the Kaw.

We had a really wonderful sandbar camp for Friday evening, just upstream from Eudora. On Saturday morning we again wanted to get an early start because of rain forecasts, so we got up and out at daylight.  As we launched, a beautiful great blue heron patiently allowed me to quietly drift by and sit in amazement. I’ve never seen one quite that close and the detail of the wings, the feathers, even the feet was magnificent.

Tires hauled off the Kaw by our team.

We enjoyed the river as we journeyed to DeSoto and saw many bald eagles, some beaver and kingfisher. There is never a shortage of wildlife along the Kaw. We also stopped at the area that we call “tire island”.  This is an area of tons of tires that were meant as bank stabilized and they are now scattered everywhere.  We decided that since we were only a few miles from DeSoto boat ramp, that we could each grab a tire and haul it to the ramp.  One tire off the river is one less tire in the river! 

Yours truly and the superstitious kayak ornament that might have helped with the storms! :)) Insert Laughter!

We quickly had a lunch break at DeSoto and dropped off a couple of paddlers that could only join the first night, then off we were to our next sandbar just upstream of Bonner Springs.  We really did enjoy the paddle, but we were being chased by rain clouds and we could see them all around us.  At one point we heard far away thunder, so we picked up the speed as were really close to our sandbar. It is quite amazing that by this point we had not been drenched. We got to the sandbar and managed to get all of our tents up and still no rain!  We even had a made a plan for how we put up 12 tents in the rain….four people holding a tarp over the tent while being setup. I believe it was our excellent planning that kept the rain away (laughing), others seemed to think it was a certain superstitious kayak mount (probably so!).  No matter the reason, we stayed dry and enjoyed a really wonderful campfire. The fire felt great as the cooler temperatures came in and we all cuddled up in our tents with warm sleeping bags. Around 11:00 pm, a very light and gentle rain came and it maybe rained for 45 minutes and then was gone and left us with a dry Sunday ahead. 

FOK Board Member and super volunteer & Kaw River Guide, Marcia Rozell, after we portaged the WaterOne weir.

Sunday was the hard day; we had announced to our group.  20 miles is a long day, but we’ve done more than that in a day.  We did 22 on Saturday (we’ve done 30 in a day before).  But what made Sunday harder is that we had to 1) portage the WaterOne weir and 2) paddling the lower section of the Kaw that acts like a slug with no flow. This is often caused by the Missouri River backing up into the Kaw and slowing it down. There are no sandbars on the lower end of the river and almost no place to stop except under bridges.  We knew this would take us longer that normal, so we were all prepared for the push at the end.  It was a long afternoon with the sun peaking out, rising temperatures, sore bodies and slow moving water….but we did it!  We made it 173 miles of the Kansas River Water Trail from Junction City to Kansas City! 

The three that paddled all 173 miles for the first time! Super proud of Scott, Jason & Joe! (PS…Joe also did the MR340 this year!)

I am really proud of this crew.  We had three people that did all 173 miles for the first time – Jason, Scott and Joe. These three are all Kaw River Guides and work hard for the Kansas River.  They had tons of river experience, but really wanted to complete the 173!  Congratulations to all of you, job well done!  Five of our original seven from last year also completed the 173 again – no small feat!  A few of our guides (myself included) paddled all the way out to the Missouri, touched a paddle before landing at the ramp at Kaw Point Park. 

Our team for weekend #4 – what a great crew and so much fun!

We had many people join us along the way and paddle sections of the river.  We really enjoyed getting to know so many wonderful people – river lovers and outdoor enthusiast – we all learned a little from each other and it was a wonderful way to spend the season. 

So, now we’ve showed you how to do it all at once or in four weekends.  Now it’s your turn!  Next year, we are challenging YOU to take the KAW 173 Challenge!  We will share more details early next year about how you can take the challenge – all at once or in four weekends or however it works for your schedule.  Explore all 173 miles of the Kansas River and discover every nook, watch wildlife, enjoy the sandbar, and sleep soundly in nature. 

Canoe with a river find strapped down to the front on the Kaw.

Reach out to me if I can help you discover the Kansas River.  We are a phone call or email away to get information about anything to do with the Kansas River.  Need help planning your trip?  Give us a call, we are happy to help you discover the river! 

My sidekick, Kim (our Program Manager). She is truly one of the best things to ever happen to Friends of the Kaw! You deserve a winter rest 🙂

Now it is time for me and my trusty sidekick, Kim and our hard-working Kaw River Guides, to take a slower pace into winter.  We will still be monitoring the Kansas River all winter – kayaking when the conditions are right or using our jon boat, but it’s time for a slower pace so that we can all reconnect with our families and read a book or two. If you want to get involved next year, you know where to find us.

I truly hope you always have sand in your shoes.

For the river,

Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 16

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 16

KAW 173 Weekend #3 – Topeka to Lawrence (42 Miles)

Our team of adventurers for the KAW 173 Weekend #3 Topeka to Lawrence. Photo by Dawn Buehler/Fred Bellemere

I pulled out of my driveway in the FOK truck loaded down with my gear.  My husband pulled in behind me with our truck and an empty FOK trailer.  Shuttling 15 people takes a bit of planning, but after years of this routine, we’ve got it down.  We pull into Lawrence and load up the folks from the east and head towards Topeka to meet up with the rest of our team.  Thanks to an FOK Board Member and my husband, we’ve managed to get all of the vehicles in Lawrence for the end of our trip.

True to a Kansas summer, it was hot out.  We’ve all learned how to prepare and how to acclimate to the heat, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel that instant thick air of humidity.  Our team found a great sandbar spot and camped for the night.  The evening was quite pleasant and the sunset was amazing.  We knew we had two long days ahead of us, so we tried to get a good night’s sleep in the heat.

KAW Sunrise on Saturday from the sandbar, looking towards downtown Topeka. Photo by Dawn Buehler

When planning out the KAW 173 last year, we knew that the stretch of the river from Topeka to Lawrence was one of the hardest to do from a technical navigational standpoint and sheer endurance.  We knew that this trip would provide all of that coupled with the extremely low river levels at 1700 cfs.  When the river is that low, you better know how to read the channel or you will walk.

Our first challenge ahead was the new Topeka Weir chute, but the hardest part was getting there is low river conditions.  We had a great team of Kaw River Guides and together we made a plan, got to the chute and everyone enjoyed the splashing water for a change of pace!  We even stopped on a sandbar in downtown Topeka for a snack and enjoyed the scenery, which had been a rare occurrence for FOK before the new chute was designed. 

Off we headed towards Lecompton, knowing we still had to deal with the Evergy weir at Tecumseh.  Our Program Manager, Kim, was joining us at the Seward Ramp so we set our navigational paddles to Seward and arrived by early afternoon. 

The Tecumseh Evergy weir is a very dynamic and often dangerous section of the river for novice paddlers.  We have never felt it was safe enough to bring a group through here, so we don’t and probably never will until something changes here.  The river was very low, but we managed to get through it with a few folks getting a little wet, but overall, we did great.  We also saw a very healthy looking softshell turtle! 

Prof. Greg Z shows the team a softshell turtle on the Kansas River. Photo by Dawn Buehler

Along the way, we saw a part of the river that has very little activity and so it was quiet and peaceful.  We saw many Great Blue Heron and Bald Eagles, a few beavers along the shore, and listened to the sound of cottonwood trees along the banks.

We stopped on our sandbar for our second night of camping. The sandbar that we stopped at was beautiful on the far end, but on the shallow side of the sandbar it was completely littered with trash.  It appears to be from an old dump site scattered with more modern-day trash and a large pile of tires!  We’ve had this sandbar on our list, but due to the low river levels we were able to see the magnitude of the future cleanup.  We found old household items from the 1950’s and 1960’s era, we found modern day plastic bottles, toys, a trash dumpster, a TV and much more.  It’s really sad to see a TV embedded in the sandbar with otter tracks next to it.  This is their home and to see it trashed is heartbreaking, no to mention the leaching chemicals from trash into our drinking water supply. 

Otter tracks next to a TV on a sandbar downstream of Seward Boat Ramp. Photo by David Sain

We will be back for this cleanup but it will take some time for us to find landowners willing to work with us to get the trash out.  If any of you own land about three miles downstream from Seward boat ramp, give us a call and maybe we can work together to make our river cleaner and healthier for all. 

Sandbar littered with tires downstream of the Seward Boat Ramp. Photo by David Sain

We awoke on Sunday morning to the cold front and rain system bearing down on us.  We shoved off earlier than normal to get ahead of the system and our plan provided to be the right decision.  We stayed ahead of the rain most of the day and made it into Lawrence by late afternoon with little problems other than a few times paddling against a strong south wind. 

We had a great group of adventurers and our Kaw River Guides that made it a wonderful trip.  We are blessed with a lot of talent among our volunteers to help us navigate the river, assist paddlers, start the fire, help fix anything that breaks and many more skills.  I always say that my goal is to surround myself with really smart and resourceful people and our Kaw River Guides certainly fill that role!

Wonderful group of adventurers – so much fun around the campfire! Photo by Jason Keilman

Up next is our final weekend of the KAW 173 from Lawrence to Kansas City!  We will kayak the remaining 53 miles of the Kansas River the first weekend of October. 

Throughout the last two summers, we’ve shown everyone how to paddle the entire Kansas River all at once and how to do it in 4 weekends.  So next year, we will challenge you to do the KAW 173 Challenge!  More details to come…but start planning now for your own adventure!

In the meantime, we are finalizing plans for the 30 Year Anniversary celebration of Friends of the Kaw with our Sandbar Blast at Kaw River State Park in Topeka.  We look forward to sharing our new documentary about the last 30 years so be sure to get your ticket here:

We are also gearing up for Beers of the Kaw – more details to come!  We have big plans to hold the event both indoors and outdoors at Abe & Jake’s Landing – with vaccinations and masks required.  We will do everything possible to make this event safe for everyone.  We hope you will consider joining us as this is our biggest fundraiser of the year!  Tickets go on sale September 10!

Until next time….

For the river,
Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 15

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 15

KAW 173 Weekend #2 – Wamego to Topeka (38 Miles)

Our team of adventurous souls! Photo by Jason Keilman

If you are a native Kansan, well…you know that planning anything outdoors is an hourly challenge.  This trip proved to be right in line with a typical Kansas July with a heat warning to start the weekend, followed by a cold front, rain chances and cooler temps. 

A few of us arrived at Kaw River State Park to pre-shuttle cars and boats.  I stepped out of the FOK truck and immediately felt the Kansas humidity.  I sure hope everyone heard our pleas to bring enough water, because if there is one thing you need on a Kansas River trip, it is enough water.  I’d rather lug 5 gallons down the river and only use 4 gallons that the other way around.

Our group convened at the Wamego Boat Ramp after shuttling cars.  Thanks to Board Member, Mike, we had all vehicles at Topeka for the end of the trip.  We launched about 3:30 PM under hot and sunny skies and planned to make it about 6 miles to one of our favorite sandbars at the bend before the Vermillion River.  Let’s just say, it was a gorgeous evening and sandbar experience, but we all sweltered in our tents!  But that is the great part of an outdoor experience – the good, the bad, and the challenges of being immersed in the outdoors. 

Our hikers at Belvue getting some treats! Photo by Greg Zolnerowich

On Saturday, we shoved off our camp and made our way to Belvue.  We had decided the night before that a few from our group would walk into Belvue and get treats for the group from Loretta’s Artisanal Bakery and Café.  David, Greg, Steve and Andy came back with a load of goodies!  We enjoyed cinnamon rolls, lemon bars, donut twists, and bread!  It was a perfect treat before making our way on the 30 mile stretch to Topeka. 

Braided sandbars of our prairie river, the KAW. Photo by Dawn Buehler

The section of the Kansas River between Belvue and Topeka is spectacular.  Is there a better, brighter word to use?  Perhaps, but let’s just say that the word ‘spectacular” is the most perfect word to describe this section of the Kansas River that is still a bit wild – and truly a prairie river – with beautiful braided sandbars that are the hallmark of the Kaw.  If there is a peaceful slice of Kansas heaven, it is here around the halfway point that I think I’ve found it.  The braided sandbars are everywhere – no escaping the adventure of trying to “chase the channel” – and navigating between watching the river and watching the scenery.  Did I already say it is spectacular?

The afternoon showed a few light rain showers in the area, so we got off the river and found the backside of an island to protect us from any potential storms and hunkered down for about 20 minutes.  It was just rain and it passed, and then we were on our way. 

A perfect Kansas River sandbar camp! Photo by Dawn Buehler

We found a perfect -yes, perfect – sandbar around the halfway point in the 30-mile stretch.  We had a beautiful bend bar for camping, lots of driftwood for a fire, plenty of places to explore, and signs of wildlife.  The temperatures dropped that evening into the upper 60’s after the cold front and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we slept well! 

Sunday morning was a leisurely shove off at the campsite.  We enjoyed exploring the rest of the braided sandbars, chasing the channel, and picking up trash along the way.  I’m so proud of our group – always trying so hard to keep our river clean and helping others discover the Kansas River, sharing stories, gear do’s and don’ts, and the beauty of this special place.

The hallmark of the Kansas River….sandbars! Photo by Dawn Buehler

We arrived at Kaw River State Park boat ramp in Topeka in the late afternoon.  A little tired from a long weekend of paddling, sun kissed, but otherwise fulfilled from a weekend immersed in nature. 

We will all gather again the last week of August to explore the 3rd section of the KAW 173 from Topeka to Lawrence – we hope you will follow along.  Thanks to everyone that watches our Facebook Live stories and follows our journey.  It keeps us motivated to know that there are people out there following along.

If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, do me a favor?  Share the story of the Kansas River with a friend of family member?  It takes all of us to protect our river, and we believe it starts with helping people discover it.

Protect. Advocate. Discover.

Until next time…

For the river,


Your Kansas Riverkeeper

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 14

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 14

Getting ready for KAW 173 Weekend #2 Wamego to Topeka (38 Miles)

Field Ecology class from the University of Kansas

It’s been a whirlwind month at FOK.  Summer is always busy for us and we love very bit of it.  We’ve had many public and educational events to round out the month on top of advocacy and grant writing.  And in the middle of all of that, I tried to take a few days off to recharge.  We are grateful for many press opportunities lately with a podcast from Kansas Reflector, as well as an interview with KCUR’s Steve Kraske and the “Up to Date” show!  What a highlight for FOK to be on the local NPR station.  Our little non-profit is still chugging along, thanks to all of you and opportunities like this to share our story. 

Kansas River from Junction City to Ogden through the Flint Hills.

It’s hard to believe that the end of July is almost here and we are embarking on Weekend #2 of the KAW 173!  We hope that you will follow along on our Facebook page as we do LIVE posts on the sandbar.  We will leave Wamego on Friday afternoon and go all the way to Kaw River State Park in Topeka.  This is a 30 mile stretch between Belvue and Topeka with no access ramps.  It’s a quiet, peaceful and wild stretch of the Kaw with many opportunities to see wildlife and immerse yourself in nature.  And the stars!  The stars are so bright that you can feel the river and prairie in a magical way.

So, follow along…and next time, join us!

For the river,

Dawn Buehler

Your Kansas Riverkeeper