Not all Missouri floating is on crystal clear and fast water
By Jo Schaper
On August 5, Eugene, brother Bill and I floated from Pacific Palisades to the Allenton access. A two inch rain the night before had muddied and freshened the river to about “normal” summer levels. A local teen-outreach agency, Camp Wyman, sponsored a “Paddle Poker Run” on this stretch of river that day, and we decided it was a good excuse to float a stretch of the Meramec neither Jo nor Eugene had been on.
Although the Missouri Ozarks are famous for mostly shallow, glass-clear, rock-bottomed float streams, many of Missouri’s streams have a different sort of character and attraction.
(For an album of lower Meramec float photos, go to this link.)
Our biggest rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri, are well-muscled, muddy workhorse rivers. North Missouri has the Grand, the Chariton, the Salt (which forms Mark Twain Lake), the 102, the Nodaway, Nishnabotna and the Platte…all mostly flat rivers flowing through gently rolling, once glaciated countryside.
The lower Meramec (from St. Clair on down) has more in common with these meandering farmland streams than its own cold, crystal blue origins at Maramec Spring near St. James. It’s been cleaned and greened up (and continues to be) from the efforts of the Open Space Council and Operation Clean Stream (this year August 25-26), and as a side effect of devastating floods which has convinced community after community that it might be smarter to leave the river corridor as green space: in parks, golf courses and other seasonal uses, rather than build right to the edge, only to lose that investment decade after decade.
In short, the lower Meramec is in better shape for recreation now than it has been in one hundred years.
Although the lower river is usually tea-green and murky in the deep holes, there was only two to three inches of visibility in the coffee-with-creamer colored river for the entire float.
In short, you couldn’t tell if you were over 6 inches or 6 feet of water. Other than at the bends, the river ran slow. The turns were lightly to moderately populated with snags and required a little assessment, but no fancy paddling. Foaming at the snags looked very much like cream on hot chocolate, but the number of floating sticks in the river reduced the idea to unpalatability shortly after it occurred.
We knew no one going, so we took puppet Trav along to help make new friends. Naturally, Trav had to have a lifejacket to canoe on the Meramec, even though he didn’t paddle a stroke.
The rise of the river kayak became obvious as soon as we arrived at the takeout for shuttle upriver. Bill paddles a 13′ Old Town canoe. Eugene and I share an 16-foot tandem, owned by Bill, that lives in our yard. Of the approximately 50 to 75 participants in the event, fewer than a dozen people had canoes; two of which were classic 17′ Osagian aluminum canoes with red trim. We felt a little like people clinging to our rotary-dialers in a world of smart phones.
Much of this part of the lower Meramec has been rehabilitated, revegetated and while not wilderness, looks amazingly remote. Only a few river cabins remain. I was surprised by the sandstone palisades at river’s edge; I always thought the name “palisades” came from the white “bathtub ring” 80 to 100 feet tall around the region, I never realized that water-shaped sheer bluffs still existed.
Because of rain the previous night, only one stop of the actual “poker run” was on the river, manned by some well-tanned river characters. “We love this place. We’re out here every weekend we can,” the man said. We believed him.
We passed a rope swing, and an old iron bridge over La Barque Creek. Who ever thought to place a bridge so close to the confluence of creek and river, we’re unsure, and no doubt the battering of many floods led to its demise.
Sooner than we expected, we saw the pile of kayaks on the left, marking the takeout. By then, the day had gotten very warm. The brown river wasn’t very inviting, but ice cream elsewhere beckoned.
It was a good day on a part of the river I’d never seen before. We’ll be back.