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Float #141: Meramec River

24 Feb

 

Onondaga State Park to Sappington Bridge

F92_Meramec

Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Sunday, February 19, 2017
15 Miles
Temperature: 75˚/35˚
Wind: S at 9mph
Water Level: 2.85ft. at Sullivan gage

Another warm weekend in February means another float trip! This makes 45 miles so far this year. This trip DW and I were joined by my sister Emily, her husband Henry, and their two children Celia and Silas. Celia and Silas are some of my favorite canoe paddling friends. They are both preschool age and love to help their Dad paddle their big aluminum canoe, Marge the Barge. We all met up at Onondaga State Park at 8am and DW and Henry ran the shuttle to our take-out at Sappington Bridge, while Emily and I waited with the kids. Shuttle for this float takes about an hour round-trip. There are two other accesses we pass along the way (Campbell Bridge and Blue Springs) so there are shorter options on this stretch of river, but we enjoy this 15 mile stretch when we have the whole day to paddle.

Meramec River

Meramec River

Henry, Celia, Silas, and their dog Lucas

Meramec River

Celia and Silas paddle Marge the Barge

The Meramec was beautiful and clear, as it always is in winter. The day started out kind of chilly, but a few minutes after we started the sun came out and it warmed up quickly. We spent the day mostly paddling and picking up trash, with a leisurely break for lunch. No one went swimming, on purpose or otherwise. We didn’t see many other paddlers, but there were several motorboats toward the end of the afternoon. Celia and Silas regaled us repeatedly with their knock-knock jokes (they only know two). There wasn’t much wildlife to see beyond the usual birds. It was an uneventful yet pleasant day on the river, just as it should be.

Meramec River

Meramec River

Emily paddles Stable Maybel

Meramec River

Cave in the bluff

Meramec River

Critter Count: Hawks, Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles

Bonus Prizes: A Yeti Tumbler, a Rubbermaid trashcan and a 5 gallon bucket (with lid)

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Float #132: Meramec River

3 Mar

George Winter County Park to Kimmswick

F132_Meramec

Meramec River
Jefferson County, Missouri
Saturday, February 20
13 Miles

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.

Meramec River

Putting in at Winter Park

Meramec River

Meramec River

Hwy. 21 bridge

Meramec River

Meramec River

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.

Meramec River

A water treatment plant

Meramec River

Hwy. 61 bridge

Meramec River

Railroad bridge

Meramec River

Meramec River

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!

Meramec River

DW, an old boxcar, and a sycamore

Meramec River

Bald Cypress trees

Meramec River

Lines near a power plant close to the Mississippi

Meramec River

Railroad bridge

Meramec River

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.

Meramec River

Confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi

Meramec River

Nearing Kimmswick

Meramec River

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

Float #116: Meramec River

26 Jan

Castlewood State Park to George Winter County Park

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Meramec River
St. Louis County, Missouri
Sunday, January 18
11 Miles

Our first float of the year kicked off on a warm weekend in January. We floated the next section of the Meramec down from Castlewood State Park, which is where we left off last year. Our friends Richard and Jake joined us for this stretch. After this float we only have one section of the Meramec left that we have never done.

We met up at Castlewood around 10:30am. DW, Richard and Jess ran shuttle while Ocoee and I waited with the boats. Ocoee got to say hello to lots of dogs and kids, so he wasn’t too bored with the wait. We set off shortly before noon with sunny skies, a slight breeze and mild temperatures.

Putting in at Castlewood

Putting in at Castlewood

Meramec River

Chocolate Milk Stout: Winter's Kayaking Beer

Chocolate Milk Stout: Winter’s Kayaking Beer

Hwy. 141 Bridge

Hwy. 141 Bridge

There are a lot of bridges on this stretch. The first one we crossed under is Hwy. 141. There is a gravel bar on the left side that makes a swift curve and a nice little rapid leading up to the bridge. It was the only swift water we encountered on this stretch. DW headed straight for the wave and got soaked (of course)! Luckily it wasn’t too cold so he was fine.

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Floating is such hard work!

Floating is such hard work!

We stopped for lunch on a bank that was covered with flat rocks (and ice). Many of the rocks had fossilized shells in them, so we spent a while looking for some cool fossils and enjoying the sunshine. When we finished lunch it was about 2pm and we decided to actually paddle for a bit instead of just floating along with the current. With the days being shorter in winter you really can’t dawdle too much if you want to get off the water before dark.

I-44 Bridges

I-44 Bridges

Meramec RiverMeramec RiverMeramec RiverThe river takes a right hand turn just before running under interstate 44. This section of water was slower and wider than the previous few miles. Though you can see the bridges right away it takes a little while to actually get there, as the distance is longer than it looks. Then it is another long, slow mile or two to reach the Hwy. 30 bridge in Fenton. Immediately after that is the Fenton city bridge. There are a lot of houses and some businesses right along the river in Fenton, but it soon gets a little more woodsy after you pass the city. We saw a couple of large flocks of geese right before we got to our takeout. Ocoee perked up a bit when they took flight, but he didn’t let it disturb his lounging too much.

Pulling in to Winter Park

Pulling in to Winter Park

Icebreaking to the takeout

Icebreaking to the takeout

Richard walks on (frozen) water.

Richard walks on (frozen) water.

George Winter County Park is on the right side of the river just after you pass Fenton. There is a small lake that feeds into the river. DW mentioned that the lake was kinda frozen when he dropped the truck there in the morning, but he thought the sun should have mostly melted it by now (ha, ha)! Of course it was still pretty frozen. DW and Richard decided to try and break through the ice with their boats. Jess and I drug our boats along the edge of the lake, which was about 6 inches of boot-sucking mud between the ice and some scrubby trees. I don’t know which option was better as we arrived at the boat ramp about the same time. Although I was much more muddy.

Just as I pulled my boat up the ramp, Ocoee decided to walk on the ice right on the edge of the water and of course he fell in. He was only in the water for a second, as he quickly leaped out onto the boat ramp. Lucky for him he has labrador fur and didn’t seem too fazed by the cold.

The sun was just beginning to set as we exited the park and headed back to Castlewood to get Jess’ car. This float was pretty uneventful, but it felt good to get one more section of the Meramec off our checklist. The only section we have yet to do leads into the Mississippi, so that will hopefully be a little more interesting.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Hawks

Float #114: Meramec River

31 Oct

Allenton to Castlewood State Park

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Meramec River
Jefferson & St. Louis Counties, Missouri
Sunday, October 26
15 Miles

We have been busy lately doing other fun things not related to floating and preparing our home and property for winter. October is a beautiful time to be outdoors, but it is also a month of frantic chores to get the garden harvested and the last of the firewood cut and split. The weather this past weekend was beautiful with highs in the 80s, so we figured we better get out on the water while we can. We chose this stretch of the Meramec because we have not done it before, and with this section completed we only have the last 25 miles of the river to float in order to have paddled the entire Meramec River. We were joined by our friend Rob and his twin boys Robbie and Charlie, and our new friend Joe, who had never kayaked before. Another newbie is our new puppy, Ocoee (named after the river in Tennessee), a small lab-mix who is an aspiring float enthusiast. We haven’t had a paddle dog since our old lab, Zoe, passed away two years ago, so it is nice to have a canine companion again!

We met at the Allenton access at 9am and unloaded all the boats. The boys and I stayed behind while DW, Rob and Joe ran shuttle down to Castlewood State Park, which took about an hour. We pushed off shortly after 10am with the sun shining brightly. I took my new boat (Wilderness Systems Tempest, 17′) on this trip and got some good practice leaning into my turns. Unfortunately there isn’t much room in the cockpit for a dog, so DW took Ocoee in his boat.

Meramec River

DW and Ocoee

DW and Ocoee

Big River confluence

Big River confluence

Meramec RiverMeramec RiverEven though this section of river is fairly close to the metro area, the view is mostly forest and hills. Fall colors were in their peak, making for beautiful scenery. About four miles from Allenton, the Big River joins the Meramec. The confluence is on the right side of the river, but it can be easily missed as it comes in on the other side of a large gravel bar. Just before the Big River you will float under the Hwy. W bridge near Eureka and then two miles past the Big River is Hwy. 66 State Park and the I-44 bridge. We stopped for lunch between the interstate bridge and the two railroad bridges just downstream.

Meramec River

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

I-44 Bridge

I-44 Bridge

Floating under I-44

Floating under I-44

Meramec River

RR Bridge

RR Bridge

Another RR bridge

Another RR bridge

The section between Hwy. 66 State Park and Castelwood State Park has a lot of train traffic. We passed under several railroad bridges and tracks ran along the river in several places. I think we saw at least four or five trains pass through. The bridges were especially busy with only minutes between trains crossing the river.

Shortly after lunch Ocoee decided to take his first swim. He hopped off DW’s boat and doggie paddled around in that splashy way that puppies do, before deciding that maybe it was a bad idea and DW came to his rescue and plucked him out of the water.

Meramec RiverMeramec RiverMeramec RiverMeramec RiverWe saw a lot of birds on this trip including Osprey, Hawks and two Bald Eagles. There were a couple of turtles out, but most of them were gone for the winter. As we neared Castlewood park we began to see a lot more people out on the riverbanks and the park trails. We didn’t see any other paddlers though.

Ocoee rides the deck

Ocoee rides the deck

Meramec River

More trains

More trains

Ocoee

Ocoee

We pulled off the river just before sunset, loaded everyone and all the boats in the Subaru and drove back to Allenton to drop everyone at their vehicles. Robbie and Charlie were asleep as soon as their seatbelts were buckled and Ocoee snoozed peacefully in my lap. It was a good day on the water (as usual) and a surprisingly pretty float for being so close to the city!

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Green Herons, Osprey, Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles

Float #97: Meramec River

17 Apr

Blue Springs Creek to Meramec State Park

F97_Meramec

Meramec River
Crawford & Franklin Counties, Missouri
Saturday, April 12
12 Miles

This trip was part of SLAG’s (St. Louis Adventure Group) annual Spring Blossom campout. Every April the group camps at Meramec State Park and does a float trip nearby. Meramec Park is pretty close to our house and a float trip on the Meramec this time of year is always enjoyable. We camped out Friday and Saturday nights in the group camp at the park. The group camps are very nice and a little bit excluded from the main campground. We didn’t take much gear since we were close to home, but we did bring an extra canoe and a kayak for some other group members to use. After an enjoyable Friday night of fun around the campfire we woke up on Saturday morning, grabbed our float gear and headed to Blue Springs access. After a short 20 minute drive we arrived at the put-in, unloaded our gear and everyone drove their vehicles back to the park. They then carpooled back to the access. I waited with the boats along with a few other members of the group. After about an hour everyone else arrived and we set off.

Launching from Blue Springs

Launching from Blue Springs

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A week earlier we had some flash flooding, so the Meramec was still on its way down and a little muddy. The water was much more clear at the put-in than it was down by the park. I thought about bringing my fishing pole, but didn’t and ended up regretting it as it was a beautiful day for fishing. The river was running a little faster than normal and there was a brisk wind at our backs the whole time, so we didn’t have to paddle at all to easily cover the miles. The early signs of spring were evident in the emerald-green grass in the fields and the buds on the trees.

The group stops at Green's Cave

The group stops at Green’s Cave

Green's Cave

Green’s Cave

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all stopped for a leisurely lunch on a gravel bar in the early afternoon. Our next stop was at Green’s Cave just above the park. Last August we did this same float and camped at the cave overnight. It is always a good place to visit. Green’s Cave is only accessible by river or by hiking the Hamilton Hollow trail. As you approach the cave you will see Hamilton Creek enter the river on your right. The river then splits around a large island and the cave is just behind the island where the river rejoins into one stream. DW and I paddled the channel on the right hand side of the island as there was just enough water to get through. Usually that channel is too shallow to paddle. We parked our boats on the gravel bar and hiked back the trail a little bit. This area is so pretty in the spring when the meadows are green and the brambles have not grown over the trail yet.

Floating past Meramec State Park

Floating past Meramec State Park

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The campground access

The campground access

After we left the cave the sky started to cloud over a bit and water became murkier. The river was much more brown at the park than it had been up at Blue Springs. Most of the group took out at the main boat ramp which is just above the Hwy. 185 bridge. Those of us in the know took out two miles further downriver at the campground boat access, right near our camp. But maybe the joke was on us, because the campground boat ramp was covered in thick, smelly flood mud. There was no way to avoid it and my shoes were covered up to the ankles! Luckily there was a spigot nearby to wash the worst of it off.

We loaded up our boats and drove across the road to our camp. DW and I made beef stew in our dutch oven over the fire, which is always fun when you have a few hours to kill. We crashed out early that night and awoke to the sound of thunder early the next morning. We jumped out of our sleeping bags and hurried to break camp before the rain. We made it with minutes to spare before the rain and lightning came. Fortunately it was a short drive home!

This coming weekend is our annual Easter float trip. We plan to do a couple of days on the Jack’s Fork fishing and taking it slow.

Critter Count: Geese, Ducks, Herons, Turtles

Float #96: Meramec River

2 Apr

Bird’s Nest Park to Onondaga State Park

F96_Meramec

Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Sunday, March 30
18 Miles

At the start of every float season DW and I try to develop some general goals of the rivers we want to float in the coming year. Some of these include floating rivers we’ve never visited before or completing a whole river from mile zero to the end. This year we are contemplating finishing the entire Meramec. We have floated most of the river until it gets to St. Louis County, but I looked back over my blog posts and discovered this 18 mile stretch that was missing! Last Sunday was a warm and sunny day, so what better time than now to close up this gap?

This stretch of river is not far from our house, so we both drove to Onondaga State Park and dropped the truck there, then continued on to Bird’s Nest Park. It was a short drive of 12 miles between the two access points. Bird’s Nest Park is right across the river from the private campground of the same name. This is a public access maintained by the county and has no fees. We unloaded our gear and set off by 10am.

Old bridge at Bird's Nest

Old bridge at Bird’s Nest

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Taking a side channel

Taking a side channel

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The day started out chilly but warmed up fast. The weather was very warm in the sun and cold in the shade with a cool breeze. As soon as we hit the water I was ready to peel off a few layers of clothing! We paddled at a steady pace with few breaks. The sun goes down around 7pm this time of year and you never know how long it will actually take to float a new stretch of river. It turned out we could have gone a little slower because we tore through about 2/3 of the trip before lunch! This was our first long float of the year. My arms were tired the first half of the trip, but I soon warmed up and by the end of the trip I felt great!

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Saranac Spring branch

Saranac Spring branch

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We saw a juvenile Bald Eagle flying downstream ahead of us, but he didn’t stick around for a photo. We also saw a deer on the bank who thought he was hiding, but we could see him watching us float past. The turtles were out in full force, their backs still caked in mud, sunbathing on the logs and boulders.

About half way through the trip Saranac Spring flows into the river on the left side. We stomped around here for a few minutes, but the mouth of the spring appeared to be up far up a creek, so we didn’t stay too long. Lunch was taken on a small gravel bar next to a bluff. We stopped for about an hour and then we were off again to tackle the last part of the paddle.

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Turtle pile

Turtle pile

Bridge at Onondaga

Bridge at Onondaga

There are quite a few long, slow pools on this section and at times there was a headwind that made paddling a little more difficult. There are also many oxbows, so sometimes the wind was at our back, which is always nice! Many of the bluffs we passed appeared to have cave openings, but we didn’t have time to check them and see if they were caves or just holes in the rock.

A couple miles before our take out we passed the Huzzah Creek confluence on our right. There were another couple of kayakers with their kids enjoying the day and doing some fishing, which reminds me I need to renew my fishing license. We arrived at Onondaga around 4:30pm, completing our trip in a little over 5 hours of paddle time, not bad for the second trip of the year! We loaded our gear in the truck and headed back to Bird’s Nest to pick up the car and then home. We were back home with ample time to finish some chores, which is always nice for a Sunday float.

April will be busier as the float/camp season ramps up. Hopefully we will start to see some more rain, or we won’t be doing any creek floating this spring!

Critter Count: 1 Juvenile Bald Eagle, Herons, Ducks, Geese, Turtles, 1 Deer

Float #94: Meramec River

30 Dec

Robertsville State Park to Pacific

F94_Meramec

Meramec River
Franklin County, Missouri
Saturday, December 28
11 Miles

Looks like that float in November wasn’t the last trip of the year after all! This past Saturday, DW and I did not have any plans and the weather was looking good with highs in the upper 50s and sunshine all day. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get one last float trip this year. It has been almost two months since our last trip, so we were suffering float withdraw! We dropped our truck at the Pacific Palisades access and drove to the boat ramp at Robertsville State Park; our boats were on the water by 10:15. The temperature was still rather chilly and I felt like a toddler in a snowsuit, all bundled up and hardly able to move.

F94_01

A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

A couple of miles down from Robertsville is Calvey Creek, a large creek that comes in on the right side of the river. Just before the creek we saw a Bald Eagle flying upstream. He stopped in a sycamore overlooking the water and watched us float by. We saw another Bald Eagle, not far downstream from the first one. I noticed that Calvey Creek was still frozen over, so we paddled into it to break up some ice. Ice breaking is one of DW’s favorite winter activities. The ice was a couple of inches thick and broke off into large rafts. Just past Calvey Creek is a rocky riffle called Fish Trap rapid. There’s not much to it, but it does make for a fast little run on an otherwise flat and slow paddle.

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Erosion: it can happen to you

Erosion: it can happen to you

The perfect blue sky and calm water made for a lovely, relaxing day on the river. We saw a couple other people in john boats and several people on the riverbanks enjoying the sunshine, but we were the only paddlers. As we approached Catawissa we saw several river cabins. One of them had not been built on solid ground and was slowly tumbling into the water. Another flood or two and it will be washed downstream.

Approaching the railroad bridge

Approaching the railroad bridge

A train crosses the river

A train crosses the river

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Six miles from Robertsville is the Catawissa access. If you don’t know it’s there you will miss it, as there is no ramp or sign. Catawissa access is a lake that drains into the river on the right side. Directly after the access is the St. Louis – San Francisco Railroad bridge. As we passed under the bridge I heard a train horn, so we waited around for a few minutes as the train passed overhead. Three more miles downstream is the Hwy. F bridge in Pacific, a sign that our trip is almost over. There aren’t many gravel bars on the lower section of this float. There is a large gravel bar right before the bridge, but it is surrounded by houses and a lot of people; not a good spot for lunch.

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The bluff over Pacific

The bluff over Pacific

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We ended up eating our lunch just before we finished the float. There is a very small island between the highway bridge and where the river bends around Pacific. We stopped there and enjoyed our lunch. There were many deer tracks on this island. I don’t know why they would ford the river just to get to that island, there didn’t appear to be much food on it. I left them my apple core anyway.

A mile later we pulled up to the Pacific boat ramp, just as two other kayakers were putting on. It was only 3pm, so there was a couple hours of daylight left for a short float. These paddlers had a large black lab that rode on the back of one of the kayaks. That dog must be well-trained and the paddler must have good balance!

DW bought me a new camera for Christmas, a Olympus Tough. It is waterproof, so no more clunky waterproof camera housing for me! I took all of these photos with it and I think it did a great job. I’m really excited to put it to the test in the coming year. It was a good end to another year of excellent floating. Getting out on the water felt really good after such a long break and the river was beautiful. Now it’s time to crunch those numbers for the year in review!

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Herons, Kingfishers, Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles