Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Kayaking On The Arkansas With Rock Town River Outfitters

Usually when I write about boating on the Arkansas, it looks something like this:
For this Arkansas River kayaking experience, go 900 miles upstream and get it!

The headwaters of the Arkansas attract tourists and recreational boaters to central Colorado and help fuel the local economy in a big way. While our stretch of the Arkansas won't support whitewater rafting and kayaking, it does offer numerous recreational opportunities right in the center of our City. 

Why be a purist when you can be a tourist?
That was a catch phrase of  a big water western boating trip I joined many years ago but it can apply here. I've often eschewed flatwater boating, as my passion is whitewater; however, that position meant that I missed many opportunities to slow down to enjoy the beauty and unique perspective that comes with paddling a small craft on virtually any body of water. 

Rock Town River Outfitters

I met Rock Town owner Sam Ellis a year or so ago at an open house for Rockwater Marina. Sam is a local guy who learned to kayak while attending college in Conway, got the bug, and spent a couple of seasons guiding rafts and boating on the Arkansas River in Colorado. He eventually came back home, got a real job, and soon rediscovered the river here. He saw it as an underutilized resource that people drove over or rode beside every day, often not even really noticing the river except perhaps in times of high flows. He relates how he was always warned off of the river because of the ever lurking undertow. My grandfather tried to scare me away from the river with tales of whirlpools and talk of giant alligator gar. Undertow and whirlpools do exist on the river but with a little common sense the river can be enjoyed safely.
The river at Little Rock is usually pretty placid. By keeping to the north shore, kayakers stay out of the navigation channel where commercial traffic and speeding fishermen rule.
A small towboat passing by in the navigation channel.

While any river deserves respect, caution, and an informed approach, for most of the year, the Arkansas here is a slow moving lake. The fact that it is moving means that there are currents and eddies, sand bars that shift, and banks that can fall away, but the river can usually be enjoyed safely in small paddle-powered craft. 

Sam had taken friends out on the river and saw a business opportunity in renting kayaks, providing some instruction, and in escorting paddle tours in the downtown area. The result is  Rock Town River Outfitters.

I recently joined him and his clients for a Sunday tour. I had brought my own boat so I launched from the ramp upstream and paddled down to our 10:00AM meet-up. The launch site is near the F.O.P. on River Road in NLR and it allowed me to unload at water's edge rather than carrying down the steep ramp to the marina.  If you have your own boat, this G&FC public ramp is a good option. 

Sam giving Cole, Everett, Courteny and Diane an overview of the trip in the pre-paddle talk in the comfort of the Rockwater Marina shop. 
Sam instructed the participants on the correct way to enter a kayak from a dock or steep bank. The paddle is braced between the rear deck and the dock, creating a solid platform. It's always embarrassing to take a swim while launching. 

And we're off! Sam's dog Griz is an experienced boater and he adds a little fur to the trip. 

We left the marina and headed downstream. It was hot and sunny but felt a bit cooler with a nice breeze on the river. I always enjoy watching riders passing by on the River Trail. It gives you a very different perspective of how the river and  trail fit together, and presents a new appreciation for the many recreational opportunities that lie at our doorstep. 

After crossing under the Baring Cross RR and the Broadway Bridges we were downtown....tall buildings, everything...
The new Broadway Bridge is striking in the late morning sun. 

A water level tour of the USS Razorback was mandatory.

As Sam was exploring opportunities to join with other hospitality provides in the downtown area, he approached Jeremy Lewno of Bobby's Bike Hike. Jeremy had returned to Chicago to run the primary location of that business. They ended up striking a deal wherein Rock Town took over the business. Rock Town offers various bike tours around the City, including a Sunday brunch ride.The Sunday brunch bike tour happened to roll up as we bobbed around at the sub. The brunch tour grazes and sips along the way with stops at SOMA and the Diamond Bear Brewery tasting room, among others. I plan to join one of these rides soon and will give you a report.

Griz was torn between staying on the boat or making a swim for shore to join the cycling tour. He stuck with the kayak even with the promise of food and beer ashore.

Everett exits the kayak as we returned to Rockwater. The trip took about 2 hours.

Rock Town rents kayaks, SUPs (Stand Up Paddleboards), and bikes in addition to providing tours and some introductory-level instruction. For rates and a menu of offerings, follow the link to their website. Rockwater should have their craft beer license by this time so that they can serve up a cold one at the end of your adventure.

Wrapping up

Rock Town is providing a unique  opportunity for experiences that should appeal to tourists and locals alike. Whether you just want to try out a kayak or paddle board for the first time or you are a visitor wanting to see the city from water level, there is something here for you. Sam's personality and raft guide experience make him a congenial and helpful host. 

A suggestion......
Like most river cities, much of Little Rock's early history took place on the riverfront, and as a result  there are many points of interest along the path of our short tour. From the Big Rock to the west to the namesake Little Rock landing near the Clinton Library, there is a rich story to be told. I think that, in time, the tours could embrace that history and share the narrative along the way.

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