Float the Missouri River Along
the Trail of Lewis and Clark
By Tom Uhlenbrock of the Post-Dispatch
Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Click here to view the story on the Post-Dispatch website
The only way to
follow the real route of Lewis and Clark across Missouri this summer is in a
boat. And Brett Dufur will put you in one.
"The trail is the Missouri River," Dufur said. "What I'm fearful of is
people following the trail will get the Grand Canyon syndrome.
"They'll drive to a little town, jump out of their
air-conditioned minivan, take a picture of the Lewis and Clark monument and
jump back in and go eat at McDonald's."
Dufur, 32, is a river lover. It's not happenstance that his business, Pebble
Publishing, is situated in Rocheport, a picturesque rivertown just west of
Columbia. The company has produced guidebooks for the Katy Trail and
Missouri's wine country.
"For people traveling the Lewis and Clark trail this summer, there's no
place you can get your children on the river in a safe way except what we're
doing," Dufur said. "We offer the opportunity not to just look at the
Missouri River Valley, but to create some memories here."
To do that, Dufur has started Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals, which will offer
guided tours on the Missouri River from Rocheport 6.6 miles downriver to
Huntsdale, beginning this month. During the 2 1/2-hour float, the guides
will talk about geology, the history of the river and Lewis and Clark.
On their way upriver in June 1804, the explorers camped in the Rocheport
area, and their journals mentioned the bluffs, the Indian rock drawings and
the rattlesnakes they found. Although the river has changed drastically
since the explorers passed through, the bluffs are still there. So is the
rock art. Maybe even the rattlesnakes.
"It looks like an upside-down Nike symbol with a dot underneath it," Dufur
said, referring to the art found high on a bluff above a small cave.
Missouri has a wealth of crystal-clear, gravel-bottomed streams popular with
floaters. The muddy Missouri is not one of them.
"The Conservation Department calls the Missouri the most under-used water
resource in the state, and I have to agree with them," Dufur said. "You
don't have to make a long drive to the Ozarks to float when we have one of
the nation's great rivers right in our back yard.
"The Missouri River offers the opportunity to get back to the solitude and
scenery that Lewis and Clark saw years ago. You can go for miles and not see
a house - just the banks covered with lush greenery."
Dufur plans to offer his tours on weekends. He envisions eight-canoe
caravans, with guide boats in front and back and six 16-foot canoes in
between, each carrying two paying passengers. Before taking off, the
customers will watch a 15-minute safety video and be given life jackets.
Dufur hadn't set a firm price but figured the cost would be about $35 a
person. Reservations can be made by calling 1-573-698-3903. If customers
want to add a cycling leg to the trip, the shuttle van will take bikes to
Hartsdale, and they can peddle the six miles back to Rocheport on one of the
most scenic stretches of the Katy Trail.
Dufur said he and the other guides have wilderness leadership training as
well as experience as river guides and naturalists.
Dufur conceded that the Missouri River is changed from the Garden of Eden
described by Lewis and Clark, mostly because of channelization to turn it
into a barge canal. But he said the wild side is returning, thanks to
government buyouts of flood-prone areas.
"People in Kansas City and St. Louis only hear about the river when it's
flooding - it has the worst PR in the world," he said. "But we have a
gorgeous, pristine stretch here in mid-Missouri. It's exciting to see all
these wetlands coming back.
"We're able to watch as this river sort of regenerates itself and reconnects
with its historic flood plain. It's like this huge classroom waiting for the
students to arrive."