Mark Hughes will spend Saturday floating 14 miles of a slow-moving river. As he drifts he should be able to watch bald eagles and possibly ospreys, flocks with hundreds of migrating gulls, deer and vibrant wood ducks.
Towering cottonwoods along the Arkansas River may have a few yellowed leaves. Closer to the ground leaves of sumac, wild plum and ivy should be neon red and gold.
You are welcome to drift along.
The Arkansas River Coalition is hosting the float and will even furnish gear for those who request it soon enough. Participants can leave after Saturday’s float or camp on the river that night and float farther southward Sunday morning.
“It’s always an adventure. It’s a great section that we don’t paddle very often because access can be difficult,” said Hughes, the coalition’s float coordinator, “but it can really be a great float. Anyone with a little kayak experience should be able to come along and enjoy a nice, relaxing float.”
Saturday’s float begins at the Rainbow Bend launch, on Road 202 in Cowley County. That’s about three miles south and 5 ½ miles west of Winfield. Take out later that day will be at the new Chestnut Park river access point in Arkansas City.
The float is expected to last seven to eight hours, including several breaks.
The Arkansas River Coalition was one of several conservation groups and state agencies that helped the Arkansas River be named a National Water Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior, based on what it offers the public.
Nearly 200 miles of the river from Great Bend to the Oklahoma border are within that designation. Twenty-two access points are available to the public wanting to float, fish or just sit beside the river.
The Coalition often loans kayaks and gives lessons at various events along the river. Saturday’s float will take people to one of the most remote sections of the river south of Wichita.
Hughes said the flotilla will make several stops along the river for lunch, to rest and to explore.
This fall searching sand bars could lead to some special finds. Heavy flow from spring and summer rains have re-arranged all elements of the river. Several recent floaters have found arrowheads and other native artifacts. Skulls of grizzly bear, elk and bison have been found partially exposed on sand bars in recent weeks.
Saturday’s main goal is for people to gain a better appreciation for the special river.
“Our primary mission is to protect the river and its watershed,” said Hughes. “We have the floats to get people out and enjoy the river, so it will mean something to them when the call comes to help us protect it.”
Arkansas River fall float trip
When: Participants need to be at the launch site no later than 8:30 a.m. Sat., Oct. 26. Take-out time down river is expected to be between 4 and 6 p.m. Those wishing to camp overnight on a sandbar need to bring their own camping gear.
Where: The float begins at the Rainbow Bend launch, where Cowley County Road 202 crosses the Arkansas River. Road 202 intersects Highway 77 about a mile north of Hackney. Travel westward until the river is reached. Vehicles and drivers will be ferried to the take- out spot at Chestnut Park in Arkansas City and returned to the launch site. The launch area is rugged. Coalition members will assist participants.
Requirements: Liability waivers must be completed and signed before arrival. They can be downloaded at www.arkrivercoalition.org. Youth 14 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Approved personal floatation devices are mandatory while on the river.
Need a kayak? Participants wanting to reserve gear furnished by the Coalition must contact Hughes by 1 p.m. on Friday. He can be contacted by text at 316-253-7438 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use of the gear is free, though a $15 donation is suggested. There is no cost to participate in the float.
Participants must furnish their own lunch, snacks, water and other supplies. Those wishing to camp Saturday night must furnish their own camping gear.