Four Miles of Fun
group of experienced river-runners, it was wisdom they already had.
"You have to pay careful attention to the river and the obstacles," says Charles Storrie, one of the paddlers. "You can't allow yourself to put your passenger in a position where they would have to swim."
One by one, the boats pushed off the bank just below Bennett Spring State Park and were whisked downstream by the Niangua's current. Some of the passengers had never seen this strip of the Ozarks, at least not from the bow of a canoe. Others had been on previous trips, but their grins and giggles showed their enthusiasm had not diminished.
"This is something that everybody wants to repeat," says Marty Montgomery, whose 21-year-old daughter, Morgan, has been on all four trips. "Once they do this, they want to do it again and again."
This fun had more than a river running through it, though. At the end of their 4-mile float, the group was treated to fried fish and coleslaw. Lewis put 53 pounds of batter-dipped catfish fillets on the tables. By the time the hungry floaters finished, hardly more than a plateful was left.
But unlike the previous three trips, this end-of-the-float feast wasn't the end of the day. Fishing was included in this year's activities, thanks to the Conservation Department, which provided rods and reels and a special one-day fishing license exemption.
Anxious hands grabbed rods as fast as paddler Durrel Giest and I could tie hooks onto them. Dinner time was over and fishing time began.
"The float trip definitely boosts the floaters' egos, but when you throw in fishing and other outdoor opportunities, it makes this even more fun," says Mark McCarthy, metro coordinator for the Conservation Department in Springfield.
"Fishing adds another dimension to the trip," Lewis says. "It gives the group another reason to be here, and it gives them some recreation after the trip."
This was the first trip that would include the Conservation Department. As well as providing fishing and floating equipment, Lewis said the agency also added credence to the event.
"The Conservation Department's involvement gives the parents and relatives [of the participants] more confidence in the program," he says. "It really shows what four organizations [Southwest Center for Independent Living, Springfield Park Board, River Maddness, Conservation Department] with the help of some sponsors can do."
It didn't take Morgan Montgomery long to show what she could do. After only a few casts into the swirling Niangua, she reeled in a 12-inch rainbow trout. Her day was now complete.
"I like everything about this," she says.
The feeling was mutual for those who had helped organize the event.
"Time spent with these folks is absolutely wonderful," Storrie says. "Even the smallest thing that's done for them . . . they get so much out of it. I draw my pleasure from seeing their pleasure."
As the Montgomerys prepared to leave, Morgan had one last thing to do. She jumped out of Mom's yellow car and wrapped her arms around Lewis. It had been too good day on the river to leave without a hug.