Jacks Fork and Current Rivers, Ozark Scenic Riverways, Mark Twain National Forrest
Group: Church Group from Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Paddlers: Greg, Josh, Adam, Brad, Jessica, Julie, Edwin, David, Micah, Harding, Zeb, Alec
Hazards: Moderate, strainers, sweepers, submerged stumps and logs, class 1 and 2 rapids.
We were not sure exactly how many people were going until the last couple of days, as people who were interested, scheduled time off, or asked permission from their significant others. One enterprising young man even went so far as to talk his boss into going on the trip so that he could get off work to go. Not only did the plan succeed, the boss brought his young son along. I was concerned about an 8 year old being able to paddle his own kayak for 43 miles, but the young man did it without complaint.
There is no way to know what the weather 3 weeks out, so we plan the trip and hope for the best, with the option of cancelling at the last minute if necessary. As the area has had significant rain, this was an issue that we had to consider. As it happened, the forecast called for 30% scattered and isolated showers, so off we went. After recovering a forgotten wallet, one wrong turn, and two stops to answer nature's call, we arrived in Van Buren around 12:15.
I had already arranged with Cami, at Eminence Canoes, Cottages & Camp [eminencecanoescottagescamp.com] to meet us at the river parking lot in van Buren. I've used their services a few times in the past and have always appreciated their service. They are the nicest people to deal with. Many outfitters offer livery service for the 45 miles from Van Buren to Eminence, but you have to fit it to their schedule. Cami has always been able to accommodate our arrival time.
Ate lunch at the Jolly Cone, right on schedule. Bought fishing licenses at the market behind the Jolly Cone, loaded up our boats and gear and headed for Eminence. It rained, or looked as if it was going to rain, for most of the trip from Van Buren to Eminence. We had some rookies in the group so it took a little while to get our stuff ready, but by 2:15 we were under way, and the sun came out right on cue. It was a beautiful afternoon as we started down the Jacks Fork and our entire group was delighted to finally be on the water.
This was my 5th time to do this trip as my family has tried to make it an annual event. Only my mother's death the prior year had interrupted the excursion for 2013. The beauty and glory of God's magnificent creation is always on display in the Ozark Scenic Riverways, and it brings me great joy to see the wonder in people's eyes as they experience it for the first time. It would be easy to eliminate the Jacks Fork leg of the adventure to make this a two day trip, but the Jacks Fork has its own personality and is so different from the Current, that I always want to include it. Everyone who has done this with me, always say that it is their favorite part of the trip.
Only had one issue on the first day as the canoe got swept into some sweeping, overhead branches, and overturned. Twenty minutes later we had the paddlers and their gear loaded back up and headed back down the river. After passing the Two Rivers access point at the confluence of the Jacks Fork and Current, we started looking for our favorite, 1st night campsite, about a mile past. Fortunately it was unoccupied, (or at least the other campers were far enough down), so we set up camp quickly, prepared and ate dinner and puzzled over riddles for the evening, until everyone finally headed for the sack.
We had been blessed with a beautiful day of paddling and a beautiful evening for sleeping. We had paddled about 11 miles the first afternoon and everyone was excited about the next day on the Current River.
I'm an early riser, as is Edwin and Alec. We had coffee brewing before 6:00 am as the group slowly started coming to life. Ed brought bacon and eggs, so after a hearty breakfast, we started to break camp. I've mentioned that this was my 5th time for this trip, and I've found that no matter what time you get up, it always seems to be about 9:00 am before camp is broken and we are back on the water. With the prospect of doing 20 miles today, everyone is a little apprehensive of their ability to make it that far.
Again, it's a little overcast when we start out, but within 30 minutes the sun is shining brightly, the fish are jumping and the dragon flies are dancing. Due to the recent rains, the Current is flowing nicely. The Current is wider than the Jacks Fork, and the hazards are different, with trees, stumps and branches to be avoided. The water is still very clear as you watch the gravel river bottom pass swiftly under your hull as you paddle by. Small Mouth Bass are eager to bite, (1/8 ounce White Rooster Tail, or other spinner is my preferred lure), and they hit often, just trolling down the river, trailing a line and lure. The local size limit is 12 inches, with a creel limit of 6, and these are few and far between. Maybe I need a different lure for the larger fish. I caught and released about a dozen during the day.
We made a quick stop at the Powder Mill access point, one of the few places that have modern restroom facilities, and then paddled just over a mile down to the Blue Spring hiking trail, water access point. There are bear-proof trash receptacles here that allowed us to dispose of any refuse from the first day. Blue spring is one of the highlights of the trip. A short hike from the river back to the spring, it is well worth the stop over. It generates over 87 million gallons of water per day, and has a very deep blue color. After the stop over, we got back in our kayaks and canoes and pressed on.
As it got time for lunch, we looked for a beach that provided some shade and was adjacent to rapids, as some of the younger members of our group, wanted to take a little time to play, by floating down the chute in their life vests. After a sandwich or two, I'll admit that the older members of the group participated as well. Our attempt at forming a chain, with one person holding on to a submerged limb, and others linked hand to wrist, strung out by the swift water, were largely unsuccessful, but extremely entertaining.
Although the water was flowing nicely, the frequent stops had me concerned about how far we would make it that day, so we pushed hard to get downstream. My goal was to get past Gravel Spring, leaving about 12 miles to do on the last day. I didn't know it at the time, but this became an important decision that would affect us on the last day of the trip.
As this was a Saturday, and the Current is open to motorized boating traffic, we encountered a few of the typical outboard jet powered, flat bottom, steel hulled boats that are favored by the local boating enthusiasts. We were careful not to hog the channels, especially with this large of a group, and they were very courteous as the passed us by, headed up stream and down. As the first of our group approached Gravel Spring, there was a rather large contingent of locals congregated near the spring, enjoying the cold water on this hot afternoon. My interactions with the Missouri local population have always been positive. I've found them to be friendly, helpful and welcoming to outsiders who want to come in and enjoy the natural resources that are in their backyard.
Gravel Spring is an easy landmark to miss, if you are not looking for it. Just past a point named Paint Rock, (there is a sign on the left bank), it looks like any other of hundreds of gravel bars on the river. Only this one has chillingly cold water bubbling up through the gravel. If you paddle by in the early morning, you will see a fog rising off the spring, but in the afternoon, it is easily missed. We beached our boats about 50 yards downstream, and as we exited our kayaks, we could immediately feel the cold water on our feet as we walked back to the spring to await the rest of our group.
The Jacks Fork and Current Rivers are spring fed and the water temperature year round is a fairly cool 58-68 degrees year round, but the springs are much colder and the affect is felt immediately. The gravel bar that the spring rises up out of, is two or three feet higher than the river surface and there is a pool about waist deep immediately below it. This is the perfect place to dare each other to take the plunge into the icy abyss, and a few of our group accept the challenge.
Moving on, we find a suitable campsite a mile or so downstream and work at setting up our tents and preparing supper. The group is tired from a day-and-a-half of hard paddling, along with some play time, so everyone turns in fairly early. This is accelerated by the beginning of what would be an all-night rain shower.
The rain falling on our tents made for a good rhythm to aid in our sleep, and kept us in our sleeping bags a little later the next morning. As if on cue, the coffee boiling seemed to pacify the showers and it stopped raining as we started paddling. With only 10-12 miles left to reach Van Buren, we took a leisurely pace as we enjoyed the last leg of our journey. A bald eagle sighting elicited exclamations from a couple of members of our party, and we kept our eyes peeled for more, to no avail. As you get closer to Van Buren the Current river starts to widen, but is no less beautiful. There are some magnificent homes near the water line, along with some cozy cabins nestled in the trees. It has stopped raining, but remains overcast and thunder starts softly in the distance. The volume and frequency grows as we near the end of the journey, and with about 45 minutes left to go, it starts raining again.
We have a miserable time loading up our gear in the down pour, but after drying off under a picnic pavilion in the park, and changing into the dry clothes that we had left in our take-out bags, we enjoy a wonderful late-lunch/early dinner at the Float Stream Restaurant, near the entrance to the park in Van Buren. I recommend the catfish. It is excellent and all meals are reasonably priced. No one in our group left hungry, as we embarked on our journey home and back to our daily lives.
Again, even with the hour of rain that we endured on the last day, everyone was amazed at the splendor of the two rivers that we paddled. God gave us a beautiful planet. I know there are many places that I have yet to see, but I take great enjoyment in sharing this activity with others and seeing them take an appreciation away with them, and encouraging them to keep their little corners of the earth clean and beautiful. As we drive home, much of the conversations revolves around who, in the group's immediate circle of friends and family, they would like to share the experience with.
It's not for everyone. My wife enjoys the outdoors and kayaking, but her idea of primitive camping involves a hotel without hot breakfast. Everyone wanted to share the experience with someone else as we started talking about next year.
Post Script and Warning
We arrived home about 9:30 pm and parted ways, each to our own homes. The next day, I received a call from Cami, the lady who ran the Livery service for us. She asked if we got out before the flood. I thought she was referring to the rain we experienced as we were finishing our trip, but she was not. She knew approximately the time that our trip would be over and wanted to make sure we were okay. It seems that we were completely unaware that the Current River rose 7 feet in 20 minutes, shortly after we left. What few cars were left in the parking lot that we left our vehicles in, were washed away.
This gives me a significant pause as I think about my responsibility as organizer of this trip and quasi-leader of the group. I am not an outfitter and did not profit in any way from organizing the trip. I just enjoy participating and sharing the experience with friends. If this had happened while we were paddling or camping, it could have had tragic results.
We checked the weather before we left. You will find 30% chance of isolated or scattered showers just about every day in this part of the country. The park service had the river open for paddling. There was nothing that gave me warning that this was eminent.
There is no cell phone service for most all of the trip, except in the immediate vicinity of Eminence and Van Buren. In fact, that is one of the major perks that I enjoy about this trip. However, there is no way to check for warnings or updated forecasts via cell phone, while on the river.
If we do this again, we will take a weather radio and keep it on at night. We will leave our vehicles at the highest point in the parking lot in Van Buren. And we will never forget that the river is a powerful force.
I don't want to be crucified as an irresponsible group leader, but would welcome some positive feedback about how to plan differently to be prepared for a narrow escape we weren't even aware of until the next day. For all its scenic beauty and splendor, along with the peace and serenity that you get from paddling in good weather and bad, there are hazards that are ever present, that you can never over look.
3 Perception Kayaks, 4 Future Beach Kayaks, 2 Ascend Kayaks, 1 Ascend sit on top kayak, and 1 Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe.
No fees, but livery is required.
Current river map available online: