Notes from Hunter Creek #81– Roger Wall

Are Rivers Dangerous?

The short answer is yes! The long answer requires explanation.   

As I have previously reported, there are far more injuries and deaths that occur on the open water than on rivers. 

A couple of months ago, an overloaded island-hopping ferry in Indonesia capsized in severe weather resulting in approximately 240 deaths out of 400 people that were aboard.        

And then right here in the Ozarks, of course, the 1944-built amphibian “Duck” tragically capsized in stormy waters just 3/8 mile from shore on Table Rock Lake. The death toll was 17 including the captain. One poor mother lost her husband and all three of her children plus 5 other family members. Her later interview on TV, I’m sure brought tears to many viewers, myself included.  

Also, as I have previously mentioned, most deaths that occur on moving water involve people not wearing a flotation device while navigating a Class I river (remember: Class I – easy; Class VI – almost impossible) at or near bank full, or at flood stage.  

In my lifetime, I have witnessed several people on whitewater streams who were not donning a life jacket.  I have to admit, one time during the mid-80’s, I had ventured to an often floated Class III stream in Northwest Arkansas, The Piney River. 

When I arrived to meet my floating partners from Kansas early on a Saturday in April, I realized that in my haste to load up in the early-morning darkness I had successfully packed my canoe rescue rope, spare paddle, helmet, wetsuit, small first-aid kit, and baler jug. However, I had overlooked and forgotten my expert Extrasport life jacket.     

Of course, a prudent person would have skipped Saturday’s float and driven maybe 120 round trip miles to Russellville to locate a brand new cheap life preserver. But being an imprudent and over-confident floater, I chose the easier course, and floated without incident on the beautiful and thrilling Piney to the take-out. 

This was just prior to kids arriving in the world, and exceedingly STUPID. 

You may have seen a recent news story  about a whirlpool on the Spring River near Sadler Falls that trapped a couple of canoeists. The original one trapped was eventually released but the one trying a life-saving attempt was kept in the hole and drowned.  Life preserver use was not mentioned in the news story, unfortunately. Usually in a similar situation one should dive to the bottom of the chute and try to swim out at the bottom end. I don’t know if this would have been successful though.  This is risky also because you usually have to remove your life preserver to accomplish this goal.

The Arkansas Department of Natural Resources later attributed this death to a recently-occurring sinkhole in the river near Sadler Falls. I know that the Ozarks has many sinkholes that naturally occur every year, but this is the first one that I am aware of that occurred in a moving whitewater steam. 

The DNR Department later, after engineering studies, brought in an excavator to the roped-off area and “fixed” the problem. 

In conclusion, down river travels are exceedingly safe if ventured by knowledgeable and safety-conscious floaters. In fact, whitewater streams with boulder runs are relatively safe as water tends to pillow around and over mid-stream boulders. Just don’t try to stand up in the stream if you do capsize. Foot entrapment has led to several drownings in streams that were less than 5-6 feet deep. 

On your slower local rivers like Beaver and Bryant Creeks, root wads and occasional tree jams provide a much more dangerous environment, especially at high water. 

Why is this? Because a tree with branches in the water behaves like a great big strainer, letting water through but not boats and people. Beware!       

Note: The Spring River, in Arkansas 

Please be aware that there is a “Spring River” located on both the Missouri and Oklahoma Ozark plateaus also. 

The Spring River in Arkansas, at normal water levels, is a scenic and exciting Class II river that is heavily floated on summer and holiday weekends. 

The Arkansas Spring River is located in a beautiful valley that roughly parallels US Hwy. 63 and a heavily used railroad that both often flank the river. 

The river is watered by the largest cold-water spring in Arkansas, Mammoth Spring, just south of the Missouri State line, and the South Fork. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stock the river with rainbow trout at Cold Springs Dam just above the upper put-in. 

Trout fishing is excellent down to Twin Oaks Campground, and fairly good down to below Hardy, Arkansas. 

Although the river is floatable for 60 miles from the Cold Springs Dam down to Black Rock where it joins the larger Black River; the first 17 miles from Cold Springs to Hardy provide the primo floating experience for boaters. 

The Spring River is basically a Class I-II swift water stream for it’s first 17 floatable miles, with several 2-6-foot-high navigable water falls. 

Suggested float, April-November and avoid if high and muddy: 

Day One: Put in at the bottom of Dam #3, Cold Springs Dam Access on Rte. 342, just west off of US Hwy. 63. Float either nine miles to Many Island Resorts or 7-½ miles to Twin Oaks Campground.  I prefer Twin Oaks to Many Islands as Twin Oaks caters to private boaters with reasonable fees. Many Islands Resort does not. On Day One, you will encounter several  ledges and small waterfalls. 

Day Two (9-½ miles): Get ready for immediate excitement. In front of you are two large waterfalls separated by a brief pool of flat water, known as the aforementioned Sadler Falls. Each drop is about 4-ft. high. 

About ½-mile downriver is the famous Horseshoe Falls, a five-foot drop that safely capsizes many boaters. About one-mile later, you will float by the resort on your left known as Many Islands Resorts. They usually maintain around 1,000 rental canoes, tubes and rafts.  Several more waterfalls await you, among them Devil’s Chute  and Humphries Ford.

Finally, just before Hardy, Arkansas is the steepest falls yet, High Falls, on the Spring River, a good six-foot waterfall that is usually easily run on the left side slot.  Enjoy! 

One other note: Anyone doing any frogging? Any luck? I have been hearing big bullfrogs down at the creek lately. So, I went to check out my frog gig. That is when I realized that I had broken off one of it’s three prongs last year and meant to repair it over the winter. Oh, another oft-forgotten chore.   

Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!