In town after town
along the Missouri River this summer people turned out to see a reproduction
keelboat manned by volunteers celebrating the bicentennial of the
Voyage of Discovery, an 1804 journey up the Missouri in search of
a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.
|Emma Haenchen, 3, and her brother Jacob, 5, examine the rising
Missouri River during a Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration
event at Jefferson City. The voyage of a reproduction keelboat,
shown at left, brought many Missourians out for a rare visit to
the Missouri River. Not so the Haenchen children, whose parents,
Bill and Clara, live near the river in Hartsburg and fish the Missouri
The crowds turning
out to see these voyagers would have been a curious sight for Meriwether
Lewis and William Clark, the leaders of the original expedition 200
years ago. The river, too, has changed dramatically. But one thing
The re-enactors, like Lewis and Clark before them, had the river virtually
Aside from an occasional
barge and a few fishermen, it’s rare to see anyone
plying the Missouri River — at least in this state, which claims 553
miles of the river’s 2,500 mile length. Called “Big Muddy,” the
Missouri — a
river Mark Twain described as “too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” — is
rarely even considered by Missourians looking to spend time on the water.
just don’t think to themselves, ‘Gosh, I could get
out there,’” says Brett Dufur, an author, publisher and now
Missouri River canoe guide.
A veteran of a
previous Voyage of Discovery reenactment, Dufur says he wrote his
newest travel guide, “Exploring
Lewis & Clark’s Missouri,” to
encourage tourism along the Missouri River. But while the bicentennial
provides Missourians an excuse to discover the river themselves, Dufur
says he worries about what he calls the “Grand Canyon Syndrome.”
drive up to the edge of the river like they do at the Grand Canyon.
They get out of their air-conditioned car. They take a picture. They
jump back in their mini van and they don’t really interact
with the river,” he
says. “It’s just something you look at.”
group of paddlers barges together to listen to their guide,
Brett Dufur, read from Lewis and Clark’s journals. A
Missouri travel guide author and publisher, Dufur is leading
canoe trips on the Missouri River through his Mighty Mo Canoe
Rentals in Rocheport.
people to experience the real Lewis and Clark trail, Dufur has begun
leading canoe and kayak trips on the Missouri River.
While the Missouri
might seem like no place for paddlers, a canoe actually gave the
river its name. Missouri is an Indian word that means “town
of the big canoes,” “river of the big canoes” or “he
of the big canoes,” depending on which translation you read.
any case, canoeing the river is not new for Dufur, who has paddled
the Missouri since moving to Rocheport after college. Now Dufur’s
Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals offers an easy, three-hour excursion which
begins on a tributary two blocks from his Pebble Publishing Co. bookstore.
float 6.6 miles downriver to Huntsdale, which is right along the
gorgeous towering bluffs along the Katy Trail. It’s just the
prettiest spot, I think, in mid-Missouri,” says Dufur, who
also authored “The
Complete Katy Trail Guidebook” and numerous other Missouri
enjoying the view and the tree-lined banks it’s
a great chance to stop a few times and tell the story of
Lewis and Clark and read a couple of Clark’s journal entries
about how the river looked 200 years ago.”
|Jeff McFadden pilots
his boat during a tour of the Missouri River near Kansas City.
On board is Richard DeHart, director of administration in the
Kansas City mayor’s office. McFadden’s Big River
Tours recently offered tours in towns where the Lewis and Clark
bicentennial celebrations were held.
Clark’s Missouri River was wide, slow and shallow.
Today the river has been narrowed and deepened to ensure
clear navigation for barges and to create farmland.
efforts to reshape the river have created a sometimes-unruly
neighbor. No one who lived near the river a decade ago will soon forget
the floods of 1993 and 1995. But those deluges had as much to do with
the levees man built as unseasonable rains or the river itself.
so, the Missouri River has developed a reputation for danger.
of the things that scares people is the current. People think this
river is going incredibly fast,” says Jeff McFadden
www.longestriver.org, a Web site that educates boaters about the
Missouri, and now leads chartered tours on the river. Captain
Jeff, as he’s
known to customers of Big
River Tours, says those
fears are unfounded.
The Missouri river
flows between 3 and 7 mph, he says. While faster than most Ozark
streams, which run just 2-3 mph, the current is
McFadden explains the formation of sandy beach-like banks along
running so slow and easy that when you’re out
here just drifting you can barely tell it’s
moving,” he says. “But
when you stand on the bank it really looks fast
and it scares the dickens out of people.”
else McFadden commonly hears is that swirling
water on the surface, caused by irregularities
of the river bottom, are whirlpools.
had people tell me that this will suck a 14-foot boat under.”
true, he says. Tree limbs and other debris — which McFadden
says are only present in the channel while the river is rising — aren’t
sucked under and boats won’t be either.
on the Missouri River is wonderful, says McFadden, who holds a merchant
marine license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard
and offers lessons for new big river boaters.
McFadden offers two-, three- and four-hour scenic and educational
tours in an enclosed pontoon boat. On the third Saturday of each
month McFadden also sells 30-minute boat rides at Fort Osage near
Sibley. Regardless of the length, Captain Jeff’s tours are
more than mere sightseeing excursions.
“I talk a
lot about the natural environment, the changes that have been made
in the river, the threats that it faces and also the hopes that it
says. “I try not to stress
too heavily on the threats. I try
to see this as a river of opportunity.”
|A visitor to Cooper’s
Landing watches a barge makes its way up the Missouri River.
Barge traffic on the river is rare enough that even regular patrons
of this Columbia area hotspot stop to watch.
abound on the river, McFadden says.
Besides recreational boating, the
Missouri River offers excellent
fishing and access to terrific hunting ground
within the 10,000-acre Big Muddy
National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
and other public lands created since the 1990s
this is the most underutilized recreational resource in the state
of Missouri,” he says. “This river flows by the front
doors of all the big cities in Missouri except Springfield. The vast majority
of all the people in the state could use this river.”
Mike Cooper has
made his home at a small marina and campground 25
miles upstream from Jefferson City
for the past 20 years.
people who have discovered this river, they would never be satisfied
with boating on the Lake of the Ozarks again,” says
the owner of Cooper’s
That does not mean,
however, that inexperienced boaters should
flock to the river, says Steve
Mellis. A longtime river hand
and educational coordinator for
Missouri River Relief, which
conducts clean-ups along the
river, Mellis says the Missouri
needs to be treated with respect.
Rick Gebhardt hoists a channel catfish caught in the Missouri
River near Glasgow. A tournament catfish angler, Gebhardt guides
fishermen in search of trophy blue cats as well as flathead and
not the Lake of the Ozarks. It’s not for everyone,” Mellis
says. “This is
not the place for an
to come without doing
some research, without
having the charts, without
having somebody experienced
go out with him the first
concern, Mellis says,
is water depth. Outside
the main navigational channel
the river is often just a
few feet deep or less. During
high water, boaters can unexpectedly
discover hidden obstacles
such as submerged sandbars
or wing dikes.
But Rick Gebhardt
of Glasgow says there’s nothing to fear. “I
dangerous if you
use common sense.
It’s all obvious,” he
stay off the alcohol
and pay attention
going to have any
grew up skiing
and tubing on
the river and says
the rewards are
well worth any
is the best
skiing in the state.
like this,” Gebhardt
says as he
points to the
of the river. “It’s
have to fight
all the boat
you do at the
|The setting sun casts its glow on the Missouri River. Boaters
often have the river to themselves.
anything else, Gebhardt,
catfish angler and fishing
guide, says the Missouri
River offers fantastic
fishing. “The fish are
a lot stronger
here. I can catch a fish of equal weight in a lake and he doesn’t
the fight in him that they do out here,” he says.
Gebhardt’s Catfish Adventures guide service offers eight-hour day trips or overnight
fishing excursions and supplies all the bait and tackle. His trips
have been featured in outdoors magazines and on fishing videos and
have attracted clients from as far away as California and Maryland.
Most of Gebhardt’s
customers come to pursue flathead and blue catfish, which can reach
75 pounds or more. The steadiest action, though, is for channel cat.
the river gets down we’ll be doing 200 to 300 bites a day.
fear they’ll take his
fishing spots, he says word about the Missouri River has gotten out. He can
tell by the number of trailers parked at Glasgow, an unusually popular river
we’ll have 70 boats on the water. That’s
only been the last two or three years. Ten years ago you’d be lucky
if there was five.”
makes her way toward the I-70 bridge near Columbia during a guided
trip offered by Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals.
Missouri’s lakes and popular
float streams, the Missouri River does seem to be attracting more use.
Dufur’s Mighty Mo Canoe Rental has taken off faster than he expected.
He originally planned to offer trips just on Saturdays but has expanded
to Sundays and occasional weekdays.
have really hit a nerve there,” Dufur says. “We’ve
seen a lot more interest than we thought we would see.”
the river offers
found any more — a chance to get away.
“It’s peaceful. It’s
relaxing. You can sit here and think you’re
part of nature,” says Mike Cooper. “It just becomes part of
about Brett Dufur’s Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals call (573)
698-3903 or log onto www.mighty-mo.com. Capt. Jeff McFadden’s Big River
Tours can be reached at (816) 470-3206.
Call Rick Gebhardt’s
Catfish Adventures at
|The wide Missouri River dwarfs a group of paddlers.