River Recreation (especially in the Red River Basin)
Asher Kingery, Project Specialist
Over the years I have shortened how I introduce myself to others as simply a ‘river person.’ It’s short and easy to say but it leaves people confused and wondering what I do…..perfect! Now they are ready to hear stories and learn more about what that self-made term means, and they better have plenty of time to listen.
Ages 5-10: I grew up skipping perfectly round shale rocks on the North Branch of the Park River and walking to our friend’s house using the river as our trail. Each spring, as the playground at Edinburg Public School dried out we had recess in the front parking lot where we would race bottle caps down the curb until they’d pop out from under the ice shelves formed from the flowing water underneath.
Ages 10-20: After moving a few miles north to the Tongue River, I spent my Jr High and High School years hiking, biking, hunting, and watching the river daily. Every summer beavers would rebuild their dam right under a bridge where we spent hours riding bike each day and watching from above. During the winter, this frozen waterway was perfect access to the bottom of the coulee and allowed for a much easier hike than through the woods. (Still to this day, the first thing I do when going back home is to stop at this bridge and see if the beavers have built their dam.)
Ages 20-30(ish): I went to Bemidji State University and majored in Environmental Studies and really focused on the idea of combining outdoor education (recreation) and science education (learning). For a few classes, labs at BSU are spent on a pontoon identifying aquatic plants and studying Lake Bemidji. Other classes were spent in the pool learning how to safely tip canoes and kayaks, and in my case, very rarely tip them back right-side up. This idea of combining river science and outdoor recreation is exactly what I fell into with my position at the International Water Institute and, being basin-wide, our geographic extent just happens to include all of the rivers I grew up exploring and watching as a kid. Now I get to focus on the rivers and the students of the Red River Basin, creating opportunities for students and teachers to not only learn about their rivers but to enjoy spending time alongside them.
With this passion and lifelong interest in rivers, my rules for calling an activity ‘river recreation’ are very loose. If you are near any kind of water and enjoying your time – you win. You are welcome to push your heart rate or simply float on a tube. How about walking a trail along a river or just eating ice cream in your car from the best parking lot view of the river? Of course those count! Watching water flow by is something that draws people in to the banks of a river and throughout a watershed.
Here is my very short explanation of rivers in the Red River Basin: Rivers on the North Dakota side flow east to the Red River and rivers of the Minnesota side flow west to the Red River, then the Red River flows from south to north on its way to Lake Winnipeg. Almost every river in the Basin has three distinct reaches of river: 1) headwaters reach: very small drainages and tributaries that are slow flowing but full of sloughs and swamps 2) beach ridge reach: faster flowing water due to drop in elevation and surrounded by hardwood forests 3) valley floor: wide channels with slower flow and large meanders across the flat Red River Valley. Each reach has certain characteristics that allow for different types of river recreation.
I don’t give out recommendations for where to paddle or when to paddle because everyone has a different level of ability. I also don’t list ‘safety first’ as a tip. This is something that must be done every time for every activity. Know that there is a certain level of risk so being aware of your surroundings (geography, water levels, weather, traffic, etc.) and being prepared with the basics is the start to an adventure, not an afterthought.
Tips for beginners of any age.
- Have the first experience be short and enjoyable. Low expectations can be easily met.
- Stay in shallow water–really shallow water. Flowing water is powerful and must be respected.
- Don’t buy any special equipment right away, simply enjoy the view or take a walk.
- Choose days with a little wind to keep the bugs away.
- Use gravel roads and park off the roads. There are gravel roads almost every mile in the Red River Basin with hundreds of bridges. These crossings are much quieter due to less traffic.
- Your feet will get wet and muddy and you’ll probably slip going up and down river banks resulting in a few scratches, the tip here is to let that happen.
- Reach out to ‘river people’ with questions about specific activities and rivers.