A safe way for adaptive paddlers to get out on Ellis Bay and the Mississippi River has been added at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Missouri. The new accessible kayak launch offers greater inclusivity to those living with disabilities or mobility challenges, allowing them to enter and exit a boat more easily.

“We’d heard about accessible launches and thought, ‘This is just what we need to get everybody out on the water,’” said Katelynn Dearth of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rivers Project Office, which manages Riverlands. “We’ve seen people find health, happiness, and healing through kayaking. It’s an activity largely done at the seated position, and it’s very doable for anyone once you get past the entry barrier.”

The accessible kayak launch was funded through a grant received by the Mississippi River Water Trail Association, which partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers and Audubon Center at Riverlands on the project.

Team River Runner Lock-Through

Team River Runner lock-through at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam.

On September 9, the St. Louis chapter of Team River Runner, a national organization that helps disabled veterans experience paddle sports, used the launch during its first-ever National Kayak Football Super Bowl, which drew 40 veterans and volunteers from around the country. The next day, a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the launch; this was followed by a 2-mile paddle and lock-through at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam.

With Ellis Bay now closed for the winter, Dearth says she looks forward to fine-tuning the new kayak launch in preparation for programs and events in the spring. “The gangway will eventually be twice the length it is now,” she said. “Groups are already requesting access for next year. We’re excited to get the information out there and have people come out and use the launch when we reopen on April 15.”