By Dan Valleskey - 11/19/2013
Yesterday on the river I was asked by a paddling beginner where he could go to find more chances to paddle. He fit in well with
our group, he has learned quickly, in spite of being of retirement age. He bought the right gear, and has spent the time to find some help using it. Now he needed some help learning WHERE to use his new skill. Composing an email to him, it occurred to me that other people might want to know WHERE to go and WHO to paddle with. I see people looking for trips, I also see paddlers in one group that may very well fit better in a different group.
There are basically three types of groups that can help you get to the river. Formal clubs are sometimes incorporated and insured, usually with dues. Email list groups can be either through yahoo groups, or just a list of addresses on an individual's machine. And conservation groups often paddle recreationally. There is no reason not to be involved in several groups at once. And lines blur between these groups; many paddlers belong to more than one group. All groups use email now, most stop to pick up some trash now and again, and they all love to paddle.
Every group is different, of course. Some concentrate on a certain geographic area or river system. Some cater to beginners, some lean towards including the most experienced paddlers. Some are open to the public, some are invitation only, and a few lists are almost hidden. Most are friendly to new faces, at least to some extent, if the newbie knows how to paddle, and behaves within the paddling societal norms. Which may lie somewhat outside the bounds of usual societal standards!
Some groups seem to have trouble figuring out shuttles. One group ignores shuttles, and just uses a huge van and boat trailer to run everyone around. One or two of the groups have (possibly well deserved) reputations for running unsafe trips. If you are inexperienced, or taking tiny steps in your paddling, pay attention to the skills and equipment of the group. Look for paddlers with a whitewater background. Even if you have no intention of ever dipping a paddle into "Classed" waters, seek out those who do. Like it or not, that is where skills are learned and polished. Some coastal paddlers, those who venture offshore in long boats may claim advanced rescue skills, but until I see them direct a boat over boat rescue in the middle of a rapid, I will withhold judgment.
The list that follows is not static, it changes over time. I am writing this in August of 2013, keep that in mind. The advent of the internet, and more recently the increased presence of Facebook, has been the biggest change ever in deciding who paddles where with whom. I look forward to further future improvements in communication.
Hoosier Canoe Club Celebrating 50 years. Not the biggest group in Indiana (any more). Reliable trips, monthly online newsletter. Weekly year round skills practice (rolling) in partnership with Indy Parks. Best bet for whitewater paddler wannabes. Seasonal meetings often with interesting and fun program speakers.
IYAK Indy Kayak Meetup group. They started as an email group, with dues. Only a few years old, they have had great growth. They now offer rental kayaks for trips. Not many canoes in this group. Sloppy shuttle practices, as they often do park and paddle events on still water. Skill levels are low, but they have an instructor working with them. Seem to attract a preponderance of middle age single folks.
East Race Kayak Club. It is what it says. Basically a vehicle for trained paddlers to use this South Bend public park feature.
Indiana USCA racing. Nice folks that practice religiously 3 to 6 times a week to win long races populated by as many as 8 other people. Yawn.
Wildcat Guardians. Best bets- Indiana Paddlers Rendezvous, mid to late Summer. Wildcat Creek cleanups. Discover Wildcat Creek floats in June, at Adam's Mill near Cutler Indiana.
Friends of Muscatatuck River. Famous for the Wayne Durbin/ Dan Shade/ Kevin Jayne Memorial Rendezvous and the Orlo Blomquist Memorial race in early May. Do not overlook this group, they have some very nice rivers down that way. Down-home bunch of folks, wonderfully warm and friendly, with some damn good paddlers in their ranks.
Friends of White River. Often looking for weekday volunteers to help with River School in Indy. Recent partnership with Leinenkugels Beer adds some very fun cleanups and social events to their calendar. Talk to Kevin Hardie.
North West Indiana Paddlers Association. They do a great job of blurring the line between Conservation and just paddling for fun. Featured trip: Sandhill Cranes at Jasper Pulaski in the Fall. Kankakee marsh. They work to promote and develop the Lake Michigan Water Trail- a sea kayaker's version of the Appalachian Trail. They also offer some good classes. Dan Plath is the man in charge of this dynamic group.
Open email groups:
kayakfw. Busy group, based in Ft. Wayne. Friendliest bunch I know! They do a little of everything; biking, skiing, sea kayak touring, swimming, hiking, river trips, and occasional social events. No dues, no hassles. Loosely led by the brothers Koontz, Jay and Dan seem to keep the ball moving. Calorie alert- trip's end often marked by passing around a huge bag of delicious homemade cookies. I told you- friendly. Makes me I wish I still lived in Fort Wayne.
Cincy paddlers. Huge group, very active, with trips slipping into Indiana rivers, and trips including Indiana paddlers. Be prepared to see your email inbox filled with posts. Headed by Henry Dorfman, a retired/ professional/ friendly/ event promoter. Who loves to paddle. They cover every aspect of paddle sports, due to their sheer size. Sad to say, I have never personally participated in a Cindy Paddler trip, (I think).
Michiana Outdoors Recreation Enthusiasts (MORE)
Paddle Michiana (FB group)
Those three- Michiana, SB, Paddle Michiana, are all somehow connected. In spite of usually paying attention, I have never quite figured out the hierarchy and interaction of these groups. They seem to be centered about Steve and Kim Shuran, and Mark Spurrier (AKA Great White Bear, GWB). Nice folks, they are quite active, and have their own way of doing things. There is great commonality of trips between these folks. They actively promote the Michigan Paddlers Rendezvous. Ignore the large number of monikers, and just jump in and paddle with them if you want to see some rivers in Northern Indiana/ Southern Michigan.
Indy Kayak Fishermen On FaceBook as (Indy Yaks Kayak Fishing ) It is what it says.
Private Email groups: by invitation only:
It is okay to ask to be included, but it really helps if we already know you. If you never get an answer to your request to join- well, that may be your answer. Try again next year.
Garry Hill Wildcat Expeditions No surprise- this is an offshoot of the Wildcat
Guardians, with paddlers left from the defunct Wildcat Canoe Club.
Nick Norris Boater Bunch Awesome Memorial Day and Labor Day trips to Michigan. Loves the Pigeon and the Eel.
Dan Valleskey Sometimes I get ambitious, and actually include others on my trips, I like "Play hooky from Work" trips. Fall Cr., Pigeon River, and the White River get a lot of my attention.
Usually a subset of one of the above lists.
Whitewater Warehouse, Dayton OH
Earth Adventures, Fort Wayne
Fluid Fun, Bristol
Elkhorn Paddlers. Somewhat focused on the Elkhorn (Class2) Creek, Frankfort KY.
Dayton Canoe Club. Dayton- as in, Ohio. Touring trips, mostly.
Viking Canoe Club. Louisville group.
Prairie State (Illinois). Awesome active large bunch, paddling a little of everything. I wish someone would explain to me why Illinois has such a cohesive state group, while Indiana is fragmented. Illinois based, but they paddle all over. Very friendly, with some very highly skilled paddlers and instructors.
Not fitting neatly into these categories is one particularly busy forum, the Paddling.net Message Boards.
There are a few good posting paddlers that will work with people on doing trips in our part of the world. Additionally, the big national organizations may one day sponsor a trip, who knows. Watch the American Canoe Association, American Whitewater, and the United States Canoe Association.
Again, any or all of the above listed groups can have varying levels of safety on trips. Rules differ, some don't allow drinking, some encourage it! At least one bunch makes people wear PFD's. Some groups have more canoes, some feature kayaks. Don't get hung up on the NAME of the group, the words 'canoe' and 'kayak' can often be used interchangeably. I think all groups allow any suitable craft on trips though. Only one or two require participants to be members. Many require you to sign a legal waiver.
Some allow trip leaders who may not know what the heck they are doing! Inexperienced leaders bite off more than they can chew, with unrealistic expectations about their groups ability to travel efficiently and safely in a watery environment. They have little if any background in rescue or first aid. They may not understand river distances and travel times required. An experienced leader will understand how to use a lead boat and a sweep boat. He has likely been trained in river rescue, and knows when to 'red flag' trouble spots or potentially troubled paddlers. You will have a better day on the river with experienced leaders and established groups or clubs. Pay attention to what is happening around you, it doesn't take long to spot a less qualified leader.
It is about 10.5 river miles from take out to putin. There are several bridges that can be used to shorten the trip. It is run above Camden at times, but it takes higher water, and there will be more log jams. You can leave a car or two at the end of the guard rail on SR75, but it is best to ask permission before doing so. The takeout is safe, easy, and legal.
This is the pertinent gage for Deer Cr. It is located downstream of most of the river, so the numbers may appear artificially high. I would not want to paddle here much under 200 CFS.
It is too low to paddle for much of the Summer. But when it does run, the bluffs and small waterfalls that trickle into Deer Cr. make the trip special. Knowledgeable Hoosier paddlers generally rank Deer Cr. as one of their favorite, it is one of the prettiest rivers in Indiana when it flows. It requires some maneuvering skill in moving water at lower levels. At higher levels, there are some waves to surf. It is not one of the toughest places to paddle in Indiana, but neither does it let you pass until you show off some of your boat handling skill.
Shuttle is straight forward, however long waits for the train crossing on SR218 are common. If you get caught by a train, consider CR 300 (on the South side of the river valley) as an alternative that misses the train crossing.
On the day we last ran it (6/22/2013) there were two significant portage points. One was a downed tree, the other was a construction site for the new SR25 bypass. Neither were particularly tough. Either one may disappear at some time. Deer Cr. is remarkably clear of log jams at most times, due to the shale rock formations and narrow width of the river.
On the Water with Dan Valleskey: May 16, 2013 Fall Creek, Indianapolis
Put In: 79th Street Bridge west of Courageous Drive, US RL**
Take Out: Fall Creek Parkway North Drive, Woolens Gardens Trail Head west of Shadeland Avenue
Fall Creek is a 57.5 mile long tributary of the White River in Central Indiana beginning near Honey Creek, Indiana. Its watershed drains 318 square miles of rural, suburban and urban land including the northeast section of Indianapolis. In central Indiana it has three main sections. The Upper Fall Creek headwaters originate near Pendleton and it runs to the Geist damn. (*See Dan’s comments regarding damn dams below.) The creek then disappears beneath Geist Reservoir. The middle section starts below the dam(n) at Geist, and runs to the dam(n) west of Keystone Avenue. Lower Fall Creek runs from Keystone Avenue to the White River, the confluence is just north of 10th Street in downtown Indy.
The Upper section is best run at times of higher water. Parts of the Upper run behind the prison at Pendleton. The best take out is near Olio Road. Other paddlers with more knowledge on this section of Fall Creek are invited to add their experiences here.
The Middle section is my favorite for paddling. The access is on the north side of 79th Street just west of Courageous Drive at the 79th Street bridge, US RL (Up Stream, River Left) is a great starting point. One time, just to say you have been there; take the opportunity to paddle upstream to the dam that forms Geist Reservoir. It is less then a mile upstream. There is most always enough water to paddle here, thanks to Citizens Energy (the water company) releasing Indy's water needs from Geist. If you are concerned, check the USGS (United States Geological Survey) gauge at Millersville http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?03352500. Fall Creek can be paddled even at 70 CFS (cubic feet per second).
There can be log jams at any time; the small size of Fall Creek means a tree can easily fall across, blocking your way. Be prepared to portage. This section of the creek through Fort Harrison State Park is not maintained much. Caution should be taken at the remains of a damn above 71st Street; at some river levels it is fun to surf the middle chute. The right side path can be a challenge, the left is generally blocked. In this section, it is against park rules to get out of your boat and hike.
There is a heron rookery in the State Park north of 71st, and you will be surprised at the many pump houses associated with the well fields here. Indy’s drinking water comes in part from these wells that pump the ground water up to the surface. http://www.indyh2o.org/
Killer Falls adds some excitement for most everyone. It comes about a half mile after crossing under Boy Scout Road. The traffic noise of Shadeland and Interstate 465 crossing over the creek alert you to the ledge. The falls are located between the two bridges. Right after going under the first bridge, work left, the best path usually starts left and works toward the right. This also foretells the end of the prettiest, quietest section of Fall Creek.
Here at a distance of about five miles from the put in at 79th Street Indy Parks has built a paddler access at the first Fall Creek Greenway Trail Head on Fall Creek Parkway North Drive, west of Shadeland and south of Fall Creek Road at Woolens Gardens. It is still a fine paddle below the first Fall Creek Greenway trail head, but you will usually be in sight of the road and the houses. As you paddle down toward Emerson Avenue the urbanization accelerates.
Another constructed canoe access and mandatory take out for down stream travel is located at the Keystone Avenue Trail Head of the Fall Creek Greenway trail, just east of Keystone Avenue, off of Binford Boulevard on Fall Creek Parkway North Drive. I strongly suggest taking out just before Keystone; the water company damns located immediately west of Keystone prevent easy passage there.
There is a treat in store for paddlers who wish to venture below Keystone. Indianapolis's only aqueduct is located in that section. An aqueduct is a man-made structure carrying one body of water over the other without mixing. In other words- a bridge of water! In Indianapolis, the water company canal is carried over Fall Creek upstream from 16th Street.
In Lower Fall Creek, south of Keystone, be aware that the water is highly polluted from the urban sanitary sewers that dump effluent into the creek after even very small rain showers. The city is working to fix this century–old problem with underground holding bladders and even a deep tunnel, but it will still take many years for this project and the cleaning of Fall Creek to be effective.
Enjoy the cleaner, quiet solitude of Fall Creek south of 79th Street to discover one of the few natural water treasures located in Indianapolis.
*Dan’s Damn Dams: Dams are a hindrance to canoe travel. They are viewed unfavorably by paddlers and most of Mother Nature’s group. It is as much an ecological issue, as a barrier/ safety thing. Some damns get paddled occasionally, I have done it myself, but if you do not know what the hell you are doing, a dam(n) will kill you. And they always kill the river behind them. Other contributors will also submit reviews with the word "damn" when they mean dam.
Paddlers need to know two things for access- before or after the bridge, on the left or right side of the river. One convention that is not widely used, but I feel strongly should be used with paddlers, is the US RR or DS RL thing. Or US RL- DS RR. Upstream/ Downstream, River Right, River Left (right/left defined while facing downstream). This also tells paddlers which way they will be heading.
We are happy to announce that Dan Valleskey has started to collaborate with HRTC to help create informative maps of the water trails system available in Indiana for canoeing and kayaking.
Dan brings in his extensive experience of paddling rivers in Indiana and other states, and his wide connection with friends with deep knowledge of specific rivers throughout the state. Our goal is to present to a wider public the beauty of this activity that in addition to being physical, allows us a complete new connection with nature, and particularly with that element we rarely deal with here in Indiana: water.
HRTC began this project by creating some water trail maps with put-ins, take out points and access points in between. With Dan’s help we can overcome our limited resources, to fill in all the information needed to have a safe and enjoyable ride on these rivers and streams. This is an ambitious project that will require some time to accomplish but can be enriched even further. We would appreciate any help or information from the community of paddlers who would like to share info, photographs, videos, etc. of their water trail experiences. You can contact us here.
To celebrate this new project Dan, with his friend Frank Tinsley, invited us to paddle roughly five miles through middle Fall Creek to have a direct feeling of what the experience of canoeing is. The weather was perfect, the water was clean and transparent after all the rain we had and the nature of May gorgeous. With the confident expertise of Dan and Frank guiding the canoes, we maneuvered safely through some exciting situations, (we got through rapids, also!). We can now state that paddling in that unique part of nature that is a river can be magical.
From this experience we produced a video which we hope is able to deliver some of that magic.
Happy trails, I mean water trails, to you!