Trails in Indiana

Indiana Paddle Clubs

By Dan Valleskey - 11/19/2013


Water Trail Maps

 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.


Organized clubs:

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.


Conservation groups:

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)

SB Paddlers/ South Bend Paddling Club GWB

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.


Commercial "Groups": 

Usually a subset of one of the above lists.
Whitewater Warehouse, Dayton OH
Earth Adventures, Fort Wayne
Fluid Fun, Bristol


Nearby groups:

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 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.