Sat - May 21, 2005

Exploring South Platte River in Eastern Colorado - 30+ mile paddling near Fort Morgan

My original plan was to paddle nearly 40 miles of South Platte from Orchard to Cooper Bridge. I wanted to resume my February low water paddling Masters to Orchard and explore another segment of the river. In winter, I also paddled the last few miles of my course: from Copper bridge upstream to Snyder and back. Connie agreed to provide a shuttle. She was accompanied by my mother visiting us from Poland.

First troubles appeared at the Orchard bridge when preparing my safari boat for launching. A local farmer asked me not to disturb duck and goose nesting area by paddling the river below Orchard. It seemed that he put two fences across the river to protect the area. After some discussion I agreed to move my launching 4 miles downstream to the next bridge at Goodrich. He wasn't aware if I would encounter similar problems further downstream.

So, I started at Goodrich. The water level wasn't high but adequate for paddling. I had to search for deep water channel but I could travel down river close to 7 mph.

After 3 miles I reached the first diversion dam: Fort Morgan Canal. I landed about two hundred yards upstream on the left shore to avoid a concrete rubble near the dam. I didn't paddle very far below the dam before I found another lower dam. A double portage!

South Platte River South Platte River South Platte River

The river was full of wildlife. Ducks, geese, pelicans, bald eagles, kingfishers, a lonely turkey male. I had several meetings with whitetail deer: usually couples or small herds on shores, on islands, or crossing the river. I had to follow deeper water sometimes very close to a shore. A surprised beaver almost jumped from the bank to my boat. It was closer than the length of my paddle. Sunbathing turtles were sliding to water when I was approaching. And, finally, I had a close meeting with a water snake at the landing above the second dam. I believe it was a northern water snake often mistaken for a water moccasins, 3-4', dark gray. It swam away.

South Platte River South Platte River

The second diversion dam, Upper Platte and Beaver Canal, was quite impressive: very tall three segments with a total length probably more than 400 yards. I didn't expect to see such a wide dam on the South Platte. I portaged on left. There were some natural and concrete rocks in water below the dam creating even small rapids. I found concrete pieces from the dam as far downstream as a quarter of mile. It looked like the dam was broken in the past. The river got significantly shallower and my pace slower.

South Platte River South Platte River

The third diversion dam (Lower Platte and Beaver Canal) was just above Dodd Bridge where I had a meeting with Connie and my mother. The river got even more shallow. More and more often I had to drag my boat over sand and gravel bars. My speed dropped down to 4-4.5 mph. I decided to finish my trip at next bridge near Snyder in order to go at reasonable time for a dinner at Fort Morgan's Memories.

The most scenic part of the river was above Fort Morgan. I often paddled along very narrow and twisty channels. Road bridges and State Wilderness Areas provide numerous access points to the river. It doesn't meant that launching kayak or canoe is convenient. Usually, launching at bridges requires crawling under barbed wire fences. I still need to paddle four miles from Orchards to Goodrich to have the full coverage of South Platte from St. Vrain Creek to Cooper Bridge. So far, I haven't seen water flow that would allow me to paddle below the Cooper Bridge.

I was shooting pictures with my Pentax Optio WP, however, the light during the day despite of some clouds was pretty harsh and colors came quite washed out.

Approximate river mileage: 3.0 - Fort Morgan Canal Dam, 6.8 mile - County Road 9 bridge near Weldona, 8.9- Colorado Highway 144 bridge, 15.1 - Upper Platte and Beaver Canal Dam, 17.4 - Colorado Highway 52 at Fort Morgan., 23.4 - Lower Platte and Beaver Canal Dam, 23.8 - Dodd Bridge on county road 24, 31.0 - Colorado Highway 71 bridge near Snyder.

GPS trip odometer: 31.2 miles, moving time 5:59h, stopping time 1:17h, moving speed 5.2 mph, max speed 8.5 mph. River flow: Weldona ~400cfs, Ft. Morgan ~380cfs, Cooper Bridge ~180cfs.

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