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Black Hills Kayakers Prepare to Paddle

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RAPID CITY (3/18/09) – With winter snow giving way to spring sunshine, Black Hills streams, rivers and reservoirs are filling up. For those who participate in the growing sport of kayaking, 2009 should be a very good year.

During the winter of 2008-09, the Black Hills received the heaviest snowfall in more than a dozen years. More than 16 feet of snow fell in Lead this winter. As of mid-March, Deerfield Reservoir was 94 percent full and Pactola Reservoir was 96 percent full. And stream flows are expected to be strong this summer.

Longtime kayaker Kelly Lane of Rapid City said last year’s wet spring helped produce great kayaking in the summer of 2008. “It was the best paddling we’ve had since I started kayaking,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a good year this year.”

Lane, who participates in both whitewater kayaking and its tamer cousin, flatwater or recreational kayaking, said the sport is growing in the Black Hills as people graduate from tubing and canoeing. “Kayaks are so nice and so responsive,” he said.

The Black Hills are not widely known for whitewater kayaking. But Barb Schrader, whose Global Market store in Rapid City sells kayaks and kayaking equipment, says you can kayak in as little as 6 to 8 inches of fast-moving water.

The American Whitewater Web site ( lists nine whitewater paddling spots in the Black Hills. The waterways range in difficulty from Class I (fast-moving water with riffles and small waves) to Class IV (intense, powerful but predictable rapids). There are a handful of spots that rank as Class V (violent rapids).

The list of waterways includes sections of Battle Creek, French Creek, Rapid Creek, Redwater River, Spearfish Creek and Whitewood Creek. Four runs on the list are on the 19-mile stretch of Rapid Creek between Pactola Reservoir and the west edge of Rapid City.

An increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts are choosing recreational kayaks. These kayaks tend to be longer and sleeker than the snub-nosed whitewater version. You can glide across the smooth waters of Pactola Reservoir, Deerfield Lake, Sylvan Lake, Stockade Lake or Angostura Reservoir. You can fish, take a swim, explore secluded coves or pull ashore for lunch.  

 Carrie Bowers of Black Hills Adventure Tours in Rapid City offers two recreational kayaking packages, one on Pactola and the other on Sylvan Lake.  “That was one of my most popular tours. I get a lot of requests for it. We use sit-on-top kayaks, so it’s nice and relaxing for families,” she said.

Recreational kayaking is more popular than whitewater kayaking in the Black Hills. Schrader said just a third of Global Market’s customers buy whitewater kayaks. The shop rents kayaks, and at least one local kayaker is working on becoming a certified instructor, she said.

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