Fort Smith paddlers jump on Little Buffalo River for first run of spring

Fort Smith paddlers jump on Little Buffalo River for first run of spring
Paddlers (from left) Chris Williams, Saskia van Mourik, Genevieve Coté (in boat), Rick James, Jason Panter and Karl Cox brave the chilly water to take advantage of the Little Buffalo River while water levels are high enough for kayaking.Photo: Don Jaque.

The ice has been pushed away and water is rushing over the falls at Little Buffalo Falls Territorial Park near Fort Smith - an early spring draw for local paddlers.

The first run of the season on the Little Buffalo River has become a tradition for Fort Smith kayakers during the few days when the river is high and the water is pumping over the falls. Seven stalwart paddlers took advantage and enjoyed their first springtime run down the winding, picturesque river mid-last week.


Photo: Don Jaque

Water rushes over the Little Buffalo Falls announcing the start of paddling season.

The most difficult part of the adventure is carrying kayaks down the steep and somewhat muddy bank to put in at the large pool below the falls. Water was thundering over the falls, the pool was surging, there was a cool rain-like mist and foam piles collected all along the shoreline as the six launched their little plastic boats. The water in the narrow channel is a bit “pushy” at this level, cold but not icy, and the river is unusually wide, lapping into the willows along the shore.

The crew picked its way gingerly down the river, with two experienced paddlers in the lead, scouting, especially careful at blind turns. These springtime ventures down small rivers can be dangerous due to “sweepers” – trees that have fallen across the river. Kayakers can usually roll up if they are flipped by a wave, but if a sweeper is involved they can be held against it upside down, pinned by the rushing water, or get their gear hooked on a branch as they struggle vainly to get out.

Caution and smart paddling is the best defense.

There were no sweepers in this case and the high water actually made the run safer and easier, washing over two beaver dams. The swift current created standing waves and tight corners, and a worry free and easy run all the way.

The Little Buffalo is a pretty river winding through limestone hills. There were water fowl, including a big white loon. A bear having a drink was frightened off by the sudden appearance of these strange creatures on his river. The paddle lasted about 40 minutes to the takeout, the end of the road from the campground, and the adventure was over.

“That was fun. Let’s do it again,” was the enthusiastic cry as the boats were pulled out of the water. Off they went, back to the campground in the shuttle vehicle and down the bank below the falls again. The second time, with the way known and safe, was much faster, and the little boats bobbed swiftly through the standing waves with confidence.

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