Wichita never sounded so good.
A few feet from the gritty streets and roaring traffic on a winter day, the Arkansas River was quiet enough to hear the water trickle and the birds call.
About 20 people kayaked or canoed the river for a few miles in south Wichita as part of a trip by the Arkansas River Coalition. The coalition has been leading monthly trips on the river for decades and has made a special New Year’s Day trip the past seven years.
The temperature was in the upper 20s, cold enough that a slight wind felt cutting on the face. And there was worry about the possibility somebody might get dunked.
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At the put-in, at Herman Hill Park near Pawnee and Broadway, paddlers joked about the cold and their sanity.
“It’s invigorating, a little cold, maybe,” conceded Wally Seibel, 82, one of the coalition’s founders and leaders.
“If you’ll go today, you’ll go any day,” said Rick Rhodenbaugh.
The river was partially frozen, with only the deepest channels, less than a foot deep, still running. Trees and a steep bank masked the view and sound of the surrounding city.
The kayakers saw bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as a betrayal of the urban surrounds: a tent on the river bank where a homeless person stays.
Nobody got dunked, but the river ran shallow enough that the paddlers had to labor over several sandbars.
And when they pulled their boats out at Garvey Park, everyone looked exhilarated.
“It was a little chilly, but I do it to set a precedent for the rest of the year,” said Randy Pulec. “It means I’ll keep getting out.”
Andrew Colt said he was thrilled to see the eagles, geese and ducks.
“This is an experience my kids will never forget,” said Rob Colt, who brought his sons Andrew and John with him. “They tend to stay inside by the fire on days like this. Instead, how fun.”