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To float, you need water, kayakers discover at Arkansas River

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, at 10:49 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, at 6:26 a.m.

For the past five years, the hardiest members of the Arkansas River Coalition have bundled up on New Year’s Day and embarked on a kayak/canoe float – to get the year started off right.

Each year offers its own challenge, from blistering wind chills to frozen river water.

This year, another obstacle presented itself: not enough water to float in.

“It’s not very deep, is it?” one floater shouted to another as he waded into the shin-deep water.

“That is an understatement,” was the reply.

The Arkansas River Coalition, a group of about 170 local conservationists, nature lovers and water sport enthusiasts, spend the year monitoring water quality and organizing group floats. Tuesday’s annual New Year’s Day float was originally scheduled for the Little Arkansas, where water levels are watercraft-friendly.

But it’s frozen over, so the launch site was moved to the Arkansas River, just south of the Lincoln Street bridge.

Because of drought, the Arkansas River is anything but, at the moment. A little channel only about 15 feet across proved difficult for the 13 kayaks and one canoe to navigate.

Just after launching, several floaters had to get out of their boats and drag them out of the mud and into water deep enough. The floaters, all wearing wading boots, gloves and hats, were encouraged by float organizer Vince Marshall to aim for water that was “knee-high to a goose.”

“If it only comes up to their ankles, it’s not very deep,” he said with a laugh. “It needs to come up to their knees.”

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