Decades ago, finding a river on which you could be pretty certain of an exciting experience used to be dependent on recent rain or the melting of the previous winter’s snow. The ‘season’ for reliable bouncy and fun river recreation was during the late winter, spring and early summer months.
That’s still the case today on many rivers: you can enjoy whitewater in the spring and return to the same river for a lazy summer float during the summer when flows are lower and slower. You may not know exactly how much water will be in the river on a given day, but you’ll have a good idea based on the season and recent weather.
Many rivers now flow with uncanny consistency and at the same level of flow, whether you paddle in early May or late July. They may ‘run’ on certain days of the week, and sometimes provide a slightly higher level, predictably on Saturdays vs. Sundays: it’s sort of weird when you think about it!
Well, this predictability is great for rafters, canoers and kayakers who have jobs during weekdays. Being able to head to a river for a rafting trip at say, 10 a.m. on a specific Saturday knowing the water will be at predictable level is pretty darn great. This predictability can be a result of an agreement with the owner of a dam that collect water for either flood control or the production of hydropower. In Colorado, several towns have secured a Recreational Instream Channel Diversion or RICD, which is a type of water right that guarantees flow on specific days, as long as there is sufficient supply available upstream of the town.
Autumn is an excellent time to take to the water. While early months are times when melted snow and spring rains make for exciting whitewater fun, autumn brings the drawdown of major reservoirs to create space for the next winter’s snow. One of the most picturesque and exciting examples of this ‘drawdown’ release arrangement is the Gauley River in central West Virginia. The Gauley runs often throughout the year, but you can pretty much bet on finding rootin’ tootin’ whitewater fun there from early September to the middle of October. Beginning the Friday after Labor Day, the Army Corps of Engineers administer controlled releases specifically for river recreation below its Summersville, West Virginia dam on six successive weekends through the middle of October. These releases bring paddlers travel from all over the United States due to the high quality and reliability of the whitewater.
The Gauley includes two commonly run sections: the Class IV-V Upper Gauley and Class III-IV Lower Gauley. Day trips can be run on the Upper or Lower or in combination with the in-between Class III-IV Middle Gauley section. Some outfitters offer overnight trips that span all three sections, just over twenty-six (26) miles in all.
Rafting the Gauley River is a definite ‘must do’ weekend trip to this part of the country from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York DC, Philadelphia in the Midwest and Northeast, Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, Charlotte and Chattanooga. The Gauley and its neighbor New and Bluestone Rivers are protected from further development by being part of a National Service Recreation Area. They offer spectacular beauty and excitement amidst their majestic gorges, and are even prettier as the leave turn.
Once you discover the beauty and good times of paddling on easy going black water rivers or through tumbling whitewater rapids you’ll never forget the experience, and will hopefully return for more! And, as grand as the paddling you’ve experienced may be, you can jump from awesome to life-changing by paddling a wilderness river.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that ‘wilderness‘ means “a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2): an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community.”
When paddling a wilderness river you can’t help but focus on the river’s viewscape and its critters, unaffected by the audio-visual distraction of buildings and vehicle-laden roads and bridges. Wilderness paddling may require a long ride or even a flight to get to the river outpost and your outfitter and you’ll probably spend a night (or two, or three, or ….) camping. Your investment of time and effort will be rewarded many times over!
‘Wilderness’ rivers are ‘wild’ due to laws that protect rivers and immediately adjacent land from further development. The nation’s treatment of our environment changed dramatically in the 1960’s with the passage of the Wilderness, Clean Air, Clean Water and National Environmental Policy Acts – and the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
In the past 50 years, we have learned—all too slowly, I think—to prize and protect God’s precious gifts. Because we have, our own children and grandchildren will come to know and come to love the great forests and the wild rivers that we have protected and left to them . . . An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development. – President Lyndon Johnson on signing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968.
Wild River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America. WSR ‘Wild’ rivers include the Allagash River in Maine, Wind (and over two dozen others) in Alaska, North Fork American in California and Owyhee in Oregon.
Scenic River Areas – Rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and are largely primitive. Their shorelines are largely undeveloped, but they are accessible in places by roads. Federally protected Scenic Rivers include the White Salmon River in Washington, Bluestone River in West Virginia and Wolf River in Wisconsin.
Recreational River Areas – These are rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, may have some development along their shorelines, and may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past. National Recreational Rivers include the Manistee in Michigan, John Day in Oregon and Lamprey in New Hampshire.
For more information on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and rivers ‘the Act’ protects, visit www.rivers.gov. Find a wild rivers you’d like to paddle, then search our Outfitter Locator by those rivers!
States also have protected rivers with their own or additional designations. If you are interested in learning more about state Wild and Scenic Rivers, contact the office of your state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Get the family out on the water this summer! When considering the venerable canoe as your boat of choice, no better place to learn about their value and versatility than the folks who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota! Actually, there are 11, 842 lakes 10 acres or larger, and Minnesotans have been getting across and around them in canoes for a long time. This is what you’ll find from demonstrations offered iwith the Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources to familiarize fans of the outdoors with the fun of canoeing:
Learn paddling skills from experienced guides, while exploring some of Minnesota’s most stunning lakes and rivers.
Designed especially for first-time paddlers, so no experience or equipment is necessary. Through firsthand experience you’ll develop all of the skills necessary for a lifetime of paddling. Programs range from 2-hour basics on a lake to 4-5 hour excursions that cover basics and beyond. Safety tips, what to pack, and resources are covered.
Small group sizes mean you’ll get the attention you need to become a paddling pro in no time. Canoes, paddles, and personal flotation devices are provided. Kids are welcome! Learn more at this link.
Other states host canoeing, kayaking and other paddlesports introductory events on their waterways through DNR and state parks… and many of the programs are conducted with our outfitters!