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:  https://fok30yearsandbarblast.eventbrite.com

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,

Dawn

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

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 13

Chasing the Channel – Blog No. 13

KAW 173 Weekend #1 Junction City to Wamego (45 Miles)

We rolled into the parking lot at Junction City and I checked the radar for the thousandth time.  Thunderstorms were forecast for the eastern part of the state, but in Kansas you just never know what it’s going to do.  I was hoping the west side of the river would be spared. 

Part of the team that launched in the first wave. Photo by Marcia Rozell

The humidity was high as we unloaded our boats and gear and shuffled up and down the boat ramp.  We still had another shuttle run to make, but half of us would stay and gear squared away.  We finally launched the 173 team off of Junction City in two waves and arrived at our sandbar 6 miles downstream in time for the edge of a small shower to just clip us.  Yeah, we got wet but let me tell you, it was refreshing! 

After the brief shower, the clouds parted and the sun came out for a beautiful evening.  We enjoyed getting to know each other around the campfire, sharing funny stories and the bonfire question:  what was your favorite river to kayak and why?  We learned about many different river experiences around the campfire that night. We also did a little sandbar CSI….where we find animal tracks and try to figure out which creature created the tracks and why! 

KAW Sunset after rain. Photo by Dawn Buehler

Up early the next morning and we know we’ve got 21 miles ahead to Manhattan, so we shove off and enjoy the beautiful Kaw morning.  The sounds of the song birds, quiet trickle of the river, shade of the banks, and the coolness that comes off the Cottonwood trees in the early morning.  It’s a spectacular place to be. 

Napping on the Kaw after an early morning. Photo by Greg Zolnerowich

People often ask me, “what is your favorite section of the river?”  Well…you see, my heart lives in the section from Eudora to De Soto…my home and the place of my childhood farm.  There is something so special about that section…yes, it is beautiful, but I think for me it’s the memories.  My second favorite place on the river, though….is Ogden to Manhattan.  Have you ever seen the Flint Hills from a kayak on the Kaw?  If you have, you know what I’m talking about.  The crisp color of green rolling hills with the Kansas River woven in between in the valley.  This lush green tree canopy that creates a path in between and a vessel for me to travel through this most magnificent place that I can only see from the river.  You can literally feel yourself in the Flint Hills…. the river behind you is above, the river in front of you is below…and you are riding the river down the hill.  To feel it and realize it, is an amazing experience. 

Camping on the Kaw Night 2. Photo by Dawn Buehler

We arrived at Manhattan in the late afternoon, resupplied with water and bid farewell to a couple of friends that were ending at Manhattan.  The rest of the crew went on to the sandbar for the night and again enjoyed a beautiful evening around the campfire.  I can’t explain what happens around a campfire, but if you’ve ever been there, then you just know.  Magical friendships form and experience cemented together that forever bind you to that day.

Along the entire KAW 173 weekend, we saw bald eagles, blue heron, deer, turtle tracks, otter tracks, racoon tracks, and a pretty little sand frog that seemed to perfectly blend in with the sandbar.  We are always grateful for the time spent in their home. 

On Sunday, we decided we would get on the river early because we heard that the coffee shop in St. George had donuts and it was open until 11:00 am according to Google.  However, Google failed!  We arrived at St. George and no donuts, but the memory of paddling for donuts lives on!  We had a great time joking about who would get the donuts and who would not….and if there were only a few, how we would split them and many other moments of fun and laughter.  We went on to enjoy a wonderful day of paddling all the way to Wamego, arriving in early afternoon.  Just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the local deli or a cup of coffee at the coffee shop before heading home. 

Our KAW 173 Weekend #1 was a success – thanks to great flows, great weather and even better team of folks to enjoy the experience.  We made new friendships and enjoyed spending time with old friends too. 

Part of the team that finished at Wamego. Photo by Jason Keilman

Our next adventure along the Kansas River Water Trail is the last weekend in July.  We will depart Wamego and paddle 38 miles to Topeka – right through one of the most gorgeous and quiet sections of the Kaw.

In the meantime, we’ve got a few public paddles (actually a lot) …and a bunch of events to tend to.  Oh…and advocacy, there’s always advocacy!

See you on the river,

Dawn

You Kansas Riverkeeper