River levels are finally falling, which means that #rivertime is finally here! And who do you call in St. Louis when you want to go on an epic river adventure? Big Muddy Adventures (BMA), the first professional outfitter/guiding company dedicated to providing access to the wonders of the Middle Mississippi and Lower Missouri rivers.
The locally owned and operated company officially re-kicked off its 2019 season on July 10 with an Open (Ware)House to show off its new home, located at Chouteau and Montrose avenues in downtown St. Louis. After a long search for a centrally located place to house its growing fleet of boats and gear, BMA found the ideal space just west of Jefferson Avenue.
The warehouse is huge. Bright, shiny canoes and kayaks lie in wait, resting on trailers in the dark. Wooden paddles hang in rows, fresh coats of lacquer ready to take on the mighty rivers and tributaries. Brand-new river boots and PFDs hang from the rafters, awaiting their first foray onto St. Louis’ waterways. The infamous river canoes — some 29 feet long — sit patiently, knowing they’re on the brink of being called into duty.
There was air of ceremony, and some relief, about the Open (Ware)House event. Having been sidelined for months due to near-record flooding, BMA had been forced to cease operations save an occasional Full Moon Float, temporarily relocated to the Meramec River. With the flood waters subsiding, the staff were jubilant, excited about their new digs and anxious to get people out on the big rivers.
“It’s been crazy,” said Roo Yawitz, BMA’s general manager. “We’ve been forced into this holding pattern. We didn’t know when it was going to end. It’s exciting to finally, finally be getting back to what we love to do.”
He showed me a map of the local waterways on one of the warehouse walls. “Higher water levels can actually be a good thing. They open up channels that in normal years remain unnavigable,” Yawitz said, indicating an offshoot of the Missouri River north of St. Louis. “This section is incredible — no trace of civilization for miles, just you and the river. It’s awesome. On a normal year, it’s closed. The water is too low. Not this year. I can’t wait to get people out there.”
His excitement level was palpable, and contagious. The crowd continued to grow throughout the night, with fellow staff members, close friends, and family intermingling with local paddlers and the curious passers-by. A loose wrap time morphed into “whenever the cooler is empty”, and the party finally slowed with the fading sunset lighting up storm clouds to the north.
I know what you’re thinking: does that mean even more rain? Maybe, but not enough to dampen these paddlers’ spirits. The river levels are dropping, the flood waters receding, and the Big Muddy Adventures crew is about to kick things into high gear. In fact, this fall it will expand its programming with three overnight trips — a Canoe Camping Workshop, a Fall Colors Expedition, and a French Corridor Expedition — in addition to its regular adventures and custom trips.
Grab a paddle, put on a PFD, and join in the fun!
Author: Nick Tilley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine