It was a beautiful spring day. I had picked Wednesday, April 12, about a month before, not knowing what I would get.
It had rained quite a bit the week before, and we worried about the water being too high to float. The river turned out to be up a couple feet, making most of the trip an effortless float, using paddles mostly for steering.
I have been following the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance (LOWA) for several years, always wanting to get involved. The Big Niangua River Trail (BNRT) has been on my to-do list for several years. Now that I am a full-time resident of the lake, it gives me the opportunity to get involved.
LOWA began with several local, state and federal agencies joined together to start a citizen-led watershed group for Lake of the Ozarks. This group has grown to be one of only two Missouri watershed plans approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
As part of their mission to keep the lake healthy and create awareness, the LOWA, in partnership with the Missouri Master Naturalist program, Ameren Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri State Parks, created the Big Niangua River Trail.
When I first connected with LOWA Executive Director Donna Swall, we decided a float trip was in order. We were joined by 8 members of the LOWA.
The Osage Indians called this river the Niangua, which means Big Winding Stream of Many Springs. We started our float at what the locals call the Whistle Bridge, which is off of Highway U near Edith, Mo. From there to Ha Ha Tonka is a 13.3 mile float.
The river trail is a self-guided tour of historic and natural features along the way. Each stop was marked by a sign with a capital letter, A through T. Both Q-Flat Rock Hole and R-Nettie Hol, were known fishing spots along the way that some locals surely wish they hadn’t published.
Two of the stops, L-Tie Bank and G-Roofenner Tie Chute, are historic from the late 1800s and early 1900s as settlers cut lumber for railroad ties. Stop J was Rodger Ford, where early settlers looked for shallow sections of the river to cross, or “ford” the river.
The most historic stop on the trail is O-Power House. Constructed in 1929 by Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, Tunnel Dam is an 800 feet long tunnel constructed through the ridge by manual labor. It still produces electricity today.
Of course, the two most popular stops would have to be K-Casa de Loco Winery, a fishing and hunting retreat in the 1930s, and Sugarloaf Vineyard, which features wine tasting, food, music and more.
I would have to say the most unpopular stop on the way has to be H-Boundary of Lake of the Ozarks and the Big Niangua. This is where the river current stops and the serious paddling starts. The last four miles was pretty tough against a strong headwind.
Our group arrived at Ha Ha Tonka State Park by about 4:30 in the afternoon on what turned out to be a beautiful spring day. I would like to thank the members of LOWA that came along for sharing their day.
I would encourage you to check out the exploits of the Lake Ozark Watershed Alliance. Their next big adventure is the Ozark Howler 2017, a full moon float on the Osage River. Visit them at www.lowatershed.org. For more information on the Big Niangua River Trail, visit www.lakeozarkmasternaturalist.com.
By Mike Kircher