The morning of October 1 dawned clear and cold with a hint of fog in the air, a perfect early fall day. An expectant murmur of voices, an occasional laugh and the shuffling of feet were mingled with the sounds of water chuckling over rocks on the bank of the James River at Shelvin Rock access point. A group of about 38 people had gathered for the first ever James River Basin Partnership (JRBP) membership float on the river of our namesake.
The outside air temperature at 9:00 a.m. was hovering around 40 degrees. My thought was “What a great day for a float trip.” Now I do understand that not all folks think 40 degree temperatures make for good floating, but I knew that as the day progressed conditions would become less favorable to shivering. The JRBP members gathered at the access were taking a chance on the weather. Gambling that the day would warm and the fall season would be on display. We were all rewarded with a nearly perfect day on the James River.
The events of the day convinced us that we should do more of these floats. The intent of a membership float was to connect people to the complex natural community known as the James River. At the end of the day, we believe we were successful in forging a connection between the river and 38 citizens of its basin. We would like to take this opportunity to say a special “thank you” to those members who accepted our invitation to get to know their river.
At ten o’clock all floaters were still wearing fleece layers to ward off the chill of early autumn air when we launched the flotilla of canoes and kayaks. A bit of vigorous paddling and most had removed at least one layer of fleece by 10:30.
As expected by 11:30 most were hungry and wondering if we were ever going to stop for lunch. I have found that a bit of hunger makes folks paddle with more determination toward the eventual gravel bar lunch. About noon we arrived at the confluence of the Finley and the James Rivers. The air temperature was now near perfect for human comfort and the crew of floaters was suitably hungry. The confluence of these two excellent rivers offered up an inviting gravel bar as a setting for the delicious sandwich lunch prepared by Sheila Goodman with the City of Ozark Department of Parks & Recreation.
After lunch we enjoyed a presentation on “Leave No Trace” camping from staff members of Water Hikers. This presentation provided participants with information and instruction on how to conduct low-impact camping on the river. Techniques of fire building and cooking were explored in depth.
After the Leave No Trace instruction we got out the kick-nets and waded into the clear warm water for a bit of water quality 101 instruction. We examined the macro-invertebrates (small visible aquatic insect larvae) that were present at the mouth of the Finely River. Our quick snapshot indicated a stream in very good condition for the time of year and the amount of water. After instruction the corps of gamblers bid farewell to the confluence and proceeded on downstream.
As the day progressed it became obvious that the James had been expecting us. The water, though low, was clear, warm and unhurried as it moved down grade toward Table Rock Lake. The trees along the course of the James had just begun to put on the fall coat of many colors that is enjoyed by everyone who lives in or visits the Ozarks in the fall.
Aldo Leopold said in A Sand County Almanac that “Wilderness is the raw material from which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.” The James River Basin is the wilderness from which the human communities of the basin were hammered and provides many of the natural resources that sustain these human communities.
The members who joined our float on this early fall day were brought to a closer understanding of the relationship between their river and their community. The high quality of the water and the presence of wildlife once absent (we saw at least one Osprey) is evidence that the James River has forgiven past insults. The health of the river is a direct indicator of the health of the watershed.
If you would like to develop a closer relationship with your river please consider joining the James River Basin Partnership. By becoming a member you will be taking an active role in protecting the quality of water in streams, rivers and lakes of the basin. We look forward to working with you to sustain clean water for you, your children and your grandchildren.
(BIG Thanks to Amy from The Fishin’ Magicians for taking all these awesome photos for us!!!)