George Winter County Park to Kimmswick
Jefferson County, Missouri
Saturday, February 20
So far, 2016 has had plenty of warm days perfect for winter floating. Back in January we shook off our cabin fever with a short float on the Meramec near home that we do fairly often. In February we were able to finally finish the last section of the Meramec that we have never previously floated. This is not the most scenic or exciting stretch of river, but it was something that needed to be checked off the list. Now all 193 miles of the Meramec has been recorded on this blog!
It was a warm and sunny day with highs in the 60s. DW and I put our boats in at George Winter County Park in Fenton, which is a small lake that merges into the Meramec. The previous couple of days had been very windy with gusts near 40mph. Fortunately, on this day the winds were much more calm, gusting to only 10mph.
Putting in at Winter Park
Hwy. 21 bridge
I-55 bridge in the distance
You may have heard of the epic flooding we experienced around late December/early January. The Meramec was the main cause of that. The waters have been back to normal levels for a while now, but the flood debris, mud and property damage is still visible along the river. All the debris and mud made the normally brown winter scenery even more brown and dreary. If we had brought the canoe we could have scored quite a haul of usable debris. We saw a couple guys in a john boat doing just that. They had stacks of lumber, patio chairs, and other things in their boat.
A water treatment plant
Hwy. 61 bridge
DW checks out an old foundation
There are a lot of bridges on this stretch of river, as it winds under several major highways and railways. At one point during the flood, every single one of these bridges was underwater, effectively cutting off Jefferson County from the city of St. Louis. It was crazy, floating underneath them and imagining the water being so high. You can still see pieces of driftwood and debris stuck in the bridge girders and treetops.
Even though this part of the Meramec is very close to several towns and neighborhoods, it wasn’t too industrial or civilized along the riverbanks. There were a couple of spots that almost looked the same as farther upstream where I live, which is pretty rural. But other than the bridges, one small bluff, several old foundations, and a few gravel bars, there isn’t much to look at. We took our lunch on one such old foundation. There seem to have been a lot of houses that were flooded out over the years. The trees, sand and mud have reclaimed the area and all that’s left is the concrete. The river was surprisingly not as wide as I thought it would be this far downstream. We even managed to catch a couple of riffles in some narrower spots!
DW, an old boxcar, and a sycamore
Bald Cypress trees
Lines near a power plant close to the Mississippi
Flood debris stuck in the underside of the bridge
We saw several birds on this trip including a falcon, hawks, herons and two bald eagles. We even saw an eagle nest, which was not something I expected to see this close to the city. I also saw the first turtle of the year, just the one though. Soon enough they will all be out soaking up the sun.
1.5 miles above the confluence we passed Flamm City, which is the last access before the Mississippi river. Even without that landmark we could tell we were nearing the big river. We passed a power plant, several fishing camps (now flooded out), and we could hear the trains moving along the bank. The most obvious sign was the smell of Mississippi river mud, at least a mile before the confluence we could smell the muddy water! It’s not a bad smell, but it’s unique.
Confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi
Paddling up Rock Creek into Kimmswick
Once we reached the confluence we only had about a mile to paddle on the Mississippi before we reached our takeout at Kimmswick. The Mississippi was very calm that day and the water was smooth and glassy. We experienced a strange optical illusion as we were paddling. As there was a cold front coming in that evening, there were a lot of hot and cold air currents mixing over the surface of the water. I could see the air shimmering on the water, like it does on pavement during a hot day. As we looked downstream, past Kimmswick, we saw what appeared to be a huge tsunami size wave go from the east to the west side of the river. Not only have we never seen a wave that big on the river, they don’t usually travel east/west, and the water was dead calm where we were paddling. The only thing I could logically assume is that we were seeing the hot and cold air currents bending the light, making it look like a huge rolling wave on the surface. If it were real, we probably would have heard a crash from that much water! It was pretty freaky all the same!
The Mississippi was higher this day than the last time we accessed at Kimmswick, so we were able to paddle up Rock Creek into town instead of hauling our boats up the muddy river bank. Once we arrived DW pulled our boats up and we relaxed with a beer at the Blue Owl, while waiting for my aunt Marcia to finish her shift and run us back to our car. It was a good day on the river and it felt great to finish that final leg of the Meramec!
Critter Count: 2 Bald Eagles, 1 Falcon, Herons, Hawks, 1 Turtle