Most De Soto residents' only glimpses of the Kansas River are from the steel bridge spanning the waterway on Wyandotte Street. Taking a closer look they might see wildlife, sand dredging and lake-like pools as the waterway winds its way east to the Missouri River.
Such sites are visible during canoe trips from Nelson Island, near Interstate 435, to Cedar Creek, east of De Soto, said Kansas riverkeeper Laura Calwell of the organization Friends of the Kaw.
The group is planning such an excursion Sunday, and Calwell said a few boats might be left for those interested in gaining a new perspective on the local waterway.
"It kind of pools up from K-7 to Nelson Island," Calwell said. "It's more of a lake-like section. You have to paddle a little harder."
The 10- to 11-mile trip takes about three to three-and-a-half hours, she said. Travelers take two half-hour breaks like a sandbar weenie roast and an educational seminar on the sandbar.
The shallow, smooth water makes the Kansas River ideal for beginners and families, Calwell said.
"It isn't very deep -- many times that's part of your problem," she said. "If you turn over, you can stand up."
Moreover, she said the average flow was 3 mph.
"(With water) there's always some danger, but the Kansas River is relatively safe," she said. "It's been getting cleaner."
The river was at its worst after a rainfall, she said, and as with any water recreation, Calwell said participants were urged to wash their hands before eating. Yet the Kaw is becoming more popular as a recreation spot, Calwell said.
That was in part because of increased access to the river, including the brand-new access point at St. George near Manhattan, she said. The group organized a floating trip on a 10-mile section of the river near St. George on Saturday.
"While we were there we saw a trailer full of canoes in Manhattan and St. George," she said.
An access point planned for De Soto has its permits and is awaiting construction.
"It's a good time of year, because the water level is low," Calwell said.
City Engineer Mike Brungardt is currently compiling a list of materials in preparation for volunteer days to construct the ramp. It is hoped volunteer labor will make the project a reality.
In addition to giving people a closer view of the river, Calwell said it was hoped increased recreational use of the river would raise awareness of Kansas history, too. She pointed out that the river could take people past historic spots in Lecompton, Lawrence and Ft. Riley, where Calwell said boating groups had stopped to take in the sites.
Travelers on Saturday's trip from Nelson Island to Cedar Creek will get to learn about the ecological aspects of the river during the sandbar seminar. Calwell said the discussion usually centered around the organization Friends of the Kaw and the group's position on sand dredging.
"We talk about problems on the river; talk about recreation and how it's starting to pick up because of the access," Calwell said.
The riverkeeper said she usually did some water testing, too, taking measurements of temperature, the pH and dissolved oxygen level. The testing kit wasn't extensive enough to be used as scientific evidence, she said.
"It's something that I just like to record to see the trends of the river," she said. "If one is out of whack, I can get more information."
The Saturday trip to Cedar Creek is $50. The group will meet at 9 a.m. at the Nelson Island parking lot, 4731 Wilder Road. A shuttle will bring river-goers back from Cedar Creek by about 1 p.m. The Friends of the Kaw is also planning an excursion Saturday from Mud Creek east of Lawrence to Eudora.
For information about availability for the trips or to inquire about a waiting list, call Calwell at 312-7200. More information about Friends of the Kaw and the trips can be found at www.kansasriver.com.
The group puts its river trips on hiatus during the late fall and winter months, Calwell said, except for experienced people with proper gear for traveling the water in extremely cold temperatures. She said the main trip times were in spring, summer and fall.
"The Kansas River is really a perfect river for novice canoers and families," Calwell said.