Reflections on Chasing the 173-Mile-Long Channel

Reflections on Chasing the 173-Mile-Long Channel

Photo by Lisa Grossman

When we arrived at beautiful Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, there were so many emotions. I was thankful that we all made it, thankful that everyone was healthy, thankful that my own body completed the tasks, and thankful for 9 days of memories that will see me through the coldest days of winter.

I was also very grateful and overjoyed to see so many people at Kaw Point Park. This beautiful park only became a park thanks to the efforts of a non-profit (Friends of Kaw Point Park), started by our very own Mike Calwell, and a board of dedicated river lovers. Mike would have loved our arrival at Kaw Point.

We were greeted by many of our long time members, staff and board members, but the one that made my heart so happy was to see former Kansas Riverkeeper, Laura Calwell, there to greet us. She worked long and hard for the Kansas River for so many years. She has continued to support our work and continued, to this day, to be a mentor to me in our work for the Kansas River.

Photo by David Sain
Eagle tracks, dragging a carp. One of our daily investigations on the sandbar!

If I was to be totally honest here, I was not ready to get off the river. I enjoyed the peacefulness of no news and the absolute bonding of friendships that occurred on our journey. I did not want to leave the sandbar fire talks, the investigation each evening of animal tracks, the laughter, the sharing of joy and frustration, sleeping in my little tent with everything I need tucked inside, paddling along the banks of the Kaw and observing wildlife peacefully living in their home, and the absolute freedom of paddling a river and going wherever you want. No, I did not want to leave…but I did miss my husband, family and my labrador retrievers. My husband and I joke that it’s really about the dogs! But I’m truthfully ready to go back and get lost in the peacefulness of the Kaw once again.

I enjoyed every minute of the KAW 173….and I hope that you did too. Thank you for following along. Our hope is that you saw the beauty and that you saw that the river is more you ever imagined. We hope you saw that there are still wild spaces in Kansas and most of you drive over it every day. We hope that you will plan your own adventure on the Kansas River – and we hope you give us a call or send an email – and let us know how we can help you connect to the Kansas River. Our tag line is…protect, advocate, discover…and that’s what we hope you do too.

Thanks for following along…join me sometime to “Chase the Channel”…until then, I’ll be on the river.

For the river,

Dawn Buehler

Kansas Riverkeeper & Executive Director

KAW 173 – Day 9

KAW 173 – Day 9

River Mile 19 and kayaked 19 miles to River Mile 0 on the Kansas River Water Trail.

I woke early and couldn’t sleep. I think the anticipation of the day ahead kept my mind from settling down. We had stayed on a beautiful, big sandbar with trees and the morning sounds were amazing as we were also greeted with a gorgeous sunrise that blanketed the sky.

Today was going to be epic, at least for the 7 of us. We spent a lot of time planning, discussing, and preparing our mind and bodies for this trip. Everyone on this team is between the ages of 40 and 62. I think one of the best stories of this trip is that we all made it and so can you. You don’t have to be 20, you can do it at any age if you prepare and have a good mindset. It helps to have great teammates too.

I know that when I reflect on this journey in the future, I will remember how strong I felt, how determined, and how proud I am of myself and my river friends. We did it. We kayaked all 173 miles of the Kansas River Water Trail!

I need to thank my teammates. They pushed me, themselves and each others when we needed it. They put up with my incessant planning and organizing and drive to not miss an opportunity for advocacy and awareness. They participated in the public events like champs and dealt with all of my nit picky details. All of us have our quirks and I’m thankful they put up with mine!

We would not have had such a successful outreach, media campaign, food stops and execution of our plan if it wasn’t for our Program Manager, Kim Bellemere. She not only went above and beyond every single day, but she did it with a smile. Thank you to her husband for cleaning the mud on the Topeka boat ramp when no one else did and for helping nightly with gear and water checks.

Thanks to the FOK Board, for always supporting my crazy ideas. And to Marcia for being the glue stick and my soul sister. To Lisa, you make it all easy.

Last and certainly not least, to my husband Dennis, that does absolutely everything that I ask. You are my heart.

KAW 173 Team ❤️

To “Steady, My Favorite, Mr. Gadget, Sugar Cookie, Sherpa and my Soul Sister”…you have my eternal gratitude and love.

With love for my friends and the Kansas River,

Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

KAW 173 – Day 8

KAW 173 – Day 8

River Mile 43 and kayaked 24 miles to River Mile 19 on the Kansas River Water Trail.

When dawn broke this morning, we all agreed we really had the best night of sleep of the entire trip. The temperatures last night were a cool 71° and I think we were all so tired we just passed out. We did have a great evening on the sandbar, with a bonfire and my friends brought sparklers to celebrate my birthday! We stayed up a little later than normal and stared at the stars. Lisa had brought along a pair of binoculars and we used those to enjoy the stars. Along the way we’ve all learned so much from each other….from the ones that know birding the best, from the entomologist, about sandbar tracks, and about the stars in the sky!

We departed a little later than normal, because we had come far enough the night before that we didn’t have very far to go to meet up with the Eudora Paddle group. So we enjoyed a little longer to linger around a morning campfire and breakfast. We took our time getting our things together knowing it was the second to last morning of our journey.

We got on the river a little after 9 AM and paddled downstream just a few miles to Eudora, my current home. We waited on a sandbar because we knew a lot of folks were coming. The Dirty Girls Adventure group did a fundraiser to join us for the KAW 173. About 30 of their friends came along, and the money that they paid for the trip was donated to Friends of the Kaw! We stopped on a sandbar about halfway between Eudora and De Soto and they presented us with a check for $1600! We are so grateful for this donation to our work to protect and preserves the 173-mile-long Kansas River! We love our River partners!

We had to leave the sandbar and get going onto our next community visit at De Soto. We took off and everyone else stayed back and enjoyed the sandbar, which is exactly what we want! We paddled on to De Soto, and when we arrived we were greeted by the De Soto Rotary Club. The De Soto Rotary Club has a special relationship with us… They have funded our Kids About Water Program over the years, we’ve partnered with them on the pop-up Paddle at Lexington Lake, which is coming up in August, and they also have adopted the De Soto boat ramp in our Adopt-A-Boat Ramp program. We are so blessed to have such a great river partner in the city and the Rotary. When we arrived, they had set up a tent in the shade with tables and chairs… and tons of food! We were treated to pizza from KJ‘s in De Soto as well as fresh salads and fruit! I think they knew exactly what to feed us when we got off the river because it was perfect! The Mayor of De Soto joined us and talked about the river and the relationship to the city. We really appreciate all of the people that came out today to greet us and to show how much they appreciate the river trail! We stayed for a while and lingered, it was such a great place to stop there at the park. But soon we knew that we needed to get on down the river. Thank you to my hometown for the warm welcome!

We had a community Paddle scheduled from De Soto to Cedar Creek and we needed to get going. We took off from there and enjoyed the spectacular scenery. So many bald eagles that there are too many for us to count. We also saw beavers today and once we got to the sandbar for the night, we found signs of a big turtle that had been on the sandbar! The wildlife that we see, that we witness, and that we find signs of, is the best part of the journey for me.

I’m sitting here on this sandbar (above) looking out over the river, just west of Bonner Springs. We found a beautiful spot under a shade tree and are enjoying each other’s company. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when I got to Day 8. I honestly worried that I would be physically exhausted, or that I would have an injury such as tendinitis. These are the things that kept me working out all winter to make sure that I kept myself healthy. What I’ve learned, on Day 8… is that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. Both mentally and physically. Because it takes both to do this. You have to stay mentally strong to make it 173 miles in a kayak with thunderstorms, rain, heat warnings, wind, and the elements. And you always, always, have sand in your shoes.

When I think about the six people that gave up their vacation to come with me on this crazy journey, it brings me to tears. They are all good people. Some of the best that I know. Good hearted, strong, the kind of people that will do anything for you. There’s no better group to go through this with, I found that is true. We’ve all become stronger together and I am incredibly grateful for this day, for this journey, and for these people. We are all a bit sad that this is the last night…the river time has been good to us.

19 miles to go. We’ve got this,… I’ve got this. I’ll see you at Kaw Point!…and may you always have sand in your shoes .

Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

KAW 173 – Day 7

KAW 173 – Day 7

River Mile 67 and kayaked 24 miles to River Mile 43 on the Kansas River Water Trail.

We woke up this morning at Beaver Hollow about 4 miles upstream from Lecompton. When we went to bed the night before, it was muggy and hot and the mosquitoes were in full force. Somewhere in the middle of the night things cooled off and this morning was perfectly beautiful. We affectionately call this spot Beaver Hollow because we’ve stayed here before, and there is great beaver activity. All night long, you can hear the splashing in the water. And in the morning you can see that they’ve been there.

We knew we had an early morning, because we had scheduled an early morning public paddle. So we were all up before the sun and on the river by 7 AM. The paddle in the early morning as some of the most perfect times on the Kansas River. The river is still, often there’s mist and the sun is slowly rising. This is the time of the day that you can see the most wildlife activity if you quietly paddle along the banks. We’ve seen so many beavers that we’ve lost track of the count. This morning was no different between beavers and deer… what a glorious place we live in!

We paddled just a few miles before we reached Lecompton and met a great group of people for a public paddle. It was great to see so many of our friends and members, what a wonderful way to come into this part of the watershed and to see the folks that really helped us make this organization what it is today. It was great to see so many friends. We departed and headed towards Lawrence, with a quick stop on the sandbar to cool off. We went ahead and left and some folks stayed back and enjoyed the river for a little while longer. When we arrived at Riverfront Park in Lawrence, we had arranged for a group of our volunteers to come and help us unload all of our gear so that we could portage our boats empty through Bowersock dam. We got back on the river after unloading, and paddled another 2 miles to Bowersock portage. This portage was put in by Bowersock Power and Mill Company and we are so grateful. And it addition to that, Sarah and her crew at Bowersock all came and met us at the portage and helped us get all of our boats to the other side. It’s great to have so many wonderful partners up and down the river. I think one of the things that’s really made me proud and happy about this experience is all of the help along the way. We have so many people that love the river and so many people that want to help and make it so much sweeter.

After portaging the dam, we paddled another 2 miles down to 8th Street boat ramp. When we arrived, there was a great group of people there to meet us including two city commissioners, folks from the Kansas Water Office and the Chair of the Kansas Water Authority. These are people that we have worked with regularly on connections to the city and on solutions to water issues. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to have the support of all of these people that we’ve worked with over the years. We talked about Lawrence and the connection to the Kansas River Water Trail and about future projects below Bowersock that can give even more opportunity for Kansans to enjoy their river.
It has been an incredibly busy day with lots of community visits and interaction.

Special visits from my parents and in-laws as today was my 52nd birthday. What a great way to spend it…and I’m so grateful that I am physically able to do this journey!

Once we got done at 8th Street with the community visit, we all needed some time to rearrange our gear and get loaded up with water for the next leg of the journey. We spent some time getting settled and we also enjoyed lunch courtesy of Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence! We have been so spoiled on this journey but we are so grateful for all of the local connections to the water trail. Next time you’re in Lawrence… you can get off the river and simply walk over the bridge and go to Free State and have a beer and dinner. And this is really at the heart of this entire advocacy for the river trail. How are these communities connected to the Kansas River? Do people just simply drive over the bridge and never think about the connection? We are trying to highlight that you can enjoy the river trail, and stop in these communities along the way and enjoy the local flavors. There are so many wonderful things and all of these little river towns that people often don’t even know about. If you love to kayak, canoe, paddle board, fish, boat, or whatever you can think of to enjoy the river trail…there is a town along the way that can also offer wonderful places to stay along the way and great food to eat to refuel.

Friends of the Kaw started in the basement of a house in North Lawrence and this is our home. It was great to bring the water trail journey back to Lawrence. Thank you to all the people that joined us for the public paddle, the community visit, and just to cheer us on! We are grateful to everyone who has joined us on this journey.

On the note of wildlife, today was spectacular. In between all of this visiting, we did see tons of wildlife. We saw at least seven Bald eagle‘s between Lawrence and our camp spot west of Eudora. Of course we’re not sure if it’s the same bald eagle or different ones, but we spotted them seven times. We also found lots of tracks on the sandbar, and many birds including red headed woodpeckers, indigo buntings, and cuckoo. Early this morning as we paddled towards Lecompton, we saw a deer run across the river and another deer off in the distance.

There is never a shortage of wildlife on the Kansas River. This is their home and we’re just dropping in for a visit.

Tonight, we’ve settled in at the sandbar just near Eudora. Tomorrow we will do a public Paddle from Eudora to De Soto and again from De Soto to Cedar Creek. We also have a Community visit at De Soto, which is my hometown. I was born and raised on the banks of the Kansas River in De Soto and graduated from De Soto High and I’m proud to say that I am forever a Wildcat! I look forward to seeing you all in my hometown tomorrow!

Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper