The water of the Missouri River was calm on Saturday morning as canoeists and kayakers prepared to travel down its muddy waters.
Currents traveling around 5 mph carried their brightly colored boats to Cooper’s Landing, where music and food awaited. It’s easy to tell that these people are experienced boaters. They own their equipment and know what to expect from the sport. They are bogged down with life jackets, coolers full of bottled water and dry bags. Many have stories of other rivers and streams they’ve floated on.
But, despite all their experience, for a majority of those floating, this is their first time down the Missouri River.
On Saturday, the Missouri River Communities Network held “Rollin’ for the River,” a part fundraising, part awareness-raising event, in which participants had the chance to float over 14 miles of the river. Participants could also bike along the Katy Trail.
Until recently, the Missouri River has been ignored by outdoor sports enthusiasts, who favor Lake of the Ozarks or the Current River in southeast Missouri.
“The river is dangerous and dirty,” joked Steve Johnson, executive director of the group. “And it’ll suck your boat to the bottom of the river, and giant snakes will attack you. Or that’s the perception of a lot of people.”
His joke isn’t too far off. David Keller and his 14-year-old son Andrew have been boating for years, but they’ve never tried to tackle the Big Muddy.
“You don’t know for sure where to put in or out,” David Keller said.
David Keller also said that until Saturday’s event, he didn’t know of any livery services on the Missouri River. He believed that in order to float on the river, one would have to shove off by themselves and come in by themselves.
“It takes a lot more preparation,” he said.
Brett Dufur, founder and river guide of Mighty Mo Canoe Rental, thinks the river just has a bad reputation. He has the only canoe rental business serving the Missouri River this side of Montana.
“The only time we hear about the river (in the news) is when it’s in flood stage,” he said. “So we have this perception that it’s too dangerous to be around.”
But both Dufur and Johnson believe recreation on the Missouri River will continue to grow. Johnson believes rising gas prices will help, too.
“Instead of traveling 75 miles to the Lake of the Ozarks, (people can) travel five miles to the Missouri River,” he said.
The network hopes to hold this event every year. The money raised by the event pays for the group’s other outreach activities, which promote the history of the Missouri River.