Rural Missouri - June 2017 - 34
Running the River Trail
photo courtesy Mike Kircher
Members of the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance and the Missouri Master Naturalist, Lake of the Ozarks chapter ﬂoat the Big Niangua River Trail.
by Zach Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
and the budding branches are dotted with about 40 nests. On each, an adult
stands sentry while unseen babies screech for food. Flocks of mates ﬂy around
the trees like bees around a hive, delivering ﬁsh and croaking at the little ones.
While they are the most numerous birds on the river today, the herons
aren't alone. A Canadian goose, too, is feeling the maternal instinct, choosing
to hunker down on a point shrouded with greenery that's likely serving as a
nest. Bald eagles and buzzards soar overhead, while American coots burst from
hiding places when a kayak ventures too close to the bank.
With help from U.S. Bank, Ameren Missouri and Lake Printing, Donna
says the organizations were able to print signs and brochures so paddlers can
navigate the river's features. Along the route, springs, ﬁshing holes, an old
gauge house and Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative's hydroelectric generator
bear the distinctive white BNRT signs. The markers also tell ﬂoaters the
ofﬁcial lake and river boundaries, creek branches and a notable fork in the Big
Niangua. As we pass the sign, Caroline Toole and Beti Pearson check each to
make sure none have been washed away by high water.
In order to install the signs on private river and lakeside property the paddlers
researched landowners and sought their permission. All but one granted
access, and with the LOWA members along for the ride no brochure is
needed to point out Susie Rocks. The series of slabs is named for a
widowed woman who during the early 20th century could often be
seen sitting there on the river, ﬁnding solace in the lapping rapids
after her husband was murdered.
Although the Big Niangua River runs swift in the spring
months - particularly after a few weeks of consistent rainfall
- the course is easy, with only a few tight turns and fast rifﬂes.
More trying are the last several miles of still lake water. Paddlers
who want to do the whole trail in one day will do well to conserve
their energy as the potential for a head-on breeze make moving
across the wide distances even more daunting. Onyx Cave is a good spot to take
a breather and a few pictures before the big ﬁnish across this arm of Lake of
the Ozarks. Once the tower is in view, the ﬁnish is only a few hundred paddle
strokes away. At the end of the grueling lake stretch of the ﬂoat, the launch
ramp is a welcome sight for sore arms.
Donna hopes the collaborative effort on the BNRT serves as an example
for others who want to establish new water trails around the state. To Mike
Kircher, a member of the State Parks Trails Advisory Board, they are another
way to highlight Missouri's natural resources and recreational opportunities.
"Missouri is known for our commitment to great trail systems, and water
trails will be an extension of that," Mike says. "Anything we can do to create
greater awareness of our lakes and rivers will only help to preserve them."
If a trip to Ha Ha Tonka isn't on your summer itinerary, there are more water
trails to be found in Missouri. Nearby Lake of the Ozarks State Park as well
as Stockton and Finger Lakes state parks have designated water trails that
are popular among boaters, paddlers and anglers alike. Whether or not your
river's course is marked, make it a point this summer to get out on the water.
t seems Missourians can't get enough of trails, so much so that a few
enthusiasts are bringing new paths not to dry land but rather to the lakes
and streams. Roughly three years ago, the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed
Alliance - with the help of other organizations - started blazing the Big
Niangua River Trail: a 13.3-mile stretch of the river starting at Whistle Bridge
near Tunnel Dam and Mack's Creek that runs to Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Twenty white markers dot the riverbanks, denoting everything from wineries
and campgrounds with river access to historical remnants and natural features.
LOWA Executive Director Donna Swall says the trail ﬁts perfectly with the
group's mission of protecting the watershed and educating lake-goers on the
importance of healthy water.
"Part of that is getting them right down on the water and developing their
appreciation," Donna says. "We're residents, we love the lake and we know it's
important to protect that asset."
In addition to water-quality monitoring, LOWA also holds
events to get more folks involved in water sports. These
include the group's second Saturday kayak meet ups where
the general public is invited to come try out kayaks from local
outﬁtters and paddle around on the lake at Ha Ha Tonka free
of charge. It was at one of these events where Donna says Ha Ha
Tonka's superintendent, Nancy Masterson, ﬁrst pitched the idea
of implementing the river trail.
"Having those wonderful discussions coming out of the meet
ups, why not take it to the next level and have a trail instead of
paddling around in a cove?" Donna adds.
Since many of LOWA's members are also members of the Lake
of the Ozarks chapter of the Missouri Master Naturalist program, the
collaborative effort between all three groups to create the trail was a perfect ﬁt.
Armed with a copy of "The Big Niangua River" by Conway native Glenn "Boone"
Skinner and the extensive knowledge of LOWA-Master Naturalist members
Kathy Fayant and Barbara Fredholm, the group chose points of interest.
Visitors who want a quick dip into Lake of the Ozarks can paddle around
below the ruins of Ha Ha Tonka. The westernmost parking lot contains a stretch
of shoreline where LOWA has installed wide native stone steps to the water and
a launch to help paddlers put in and take out with ease. For river rats and
history buffs who want a little more of a challenge and a lot more to see, there's
a longer ﬂoat calling from upstream.
LOWA's Paddler's Club is pretty serious about having fun on the water, and
LOWA doesn't like to let the grass grow under its collective feet, according to
Donna. Well known for the annual 2 Dam Days event where paddlers traditionally
race 92 miles from Warsaw to Bagnell Dam, the group is scheduled to introduce
a new race on June 10-11. The Osage Howler - a moonlit, 61-mile run down
the Osage River - runs from Bagnell Dam to Pike Camp near Westphalia. But
it's not all about racing with this group, nor are members particular about what
they paddle. On this trip, seven kayakers, a canoeist and even a paddleboard
For maps and information on the Big Niangua River Trail, visit www.
descend the Big Niangua.
Stout sycamores, their bare trunks blanched in the spring sun, are alive lakeozarkmasternaturalist.com/bnrt. For more information on LOWA, visit www.
with cacophonies of birdcalls. The three largest are serving as heron rookeries, lowatershed.org.
RURAL MISSOURI | JUNE 2017