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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Alan Kearney of Bella Vista rides the waves in June at the Siloam Springs Kayak Park on the Illinois River. The free park offers white water for paddlers to test their skills, plus calm water for swimming.

Expert paddlers and laughing kids in inner tubes shoot the white-capped rapids at Siloam Springs Kayak Park on the Illinois River south of town.

The park is a cool summertime oasis where visitors can test their white-water skills, tube over the waves or relax and swim in quiet pools between the main current and a clean, gravel-bar shoreline.

Siloam Springs Kayak Park

Directions: From U.S. 412 in Siloam Springs, travel Arkansas 59 south for 1.9 miles to Devor Road. Turn left (east) and follow Devor Road for 0.4 miles to Fisher Ford Road. Turn right (south) on Fisher Ford Road and follow it for about 1.5 miles to the park.

Physical address is 19253 Fisher Ford Road, Siloam Springs.

Information: Siloamspringskayakpark.com. Siloam Springs Parks and Recreation, 479-524-5779.

It's a perfect beach for stretching out in a lounge chair or spreading a blanket and opening a picnic basket. It's all free for anyone who cares to visit. There's paved parking, restrooms and changing rooms to put on a swim suit or pull off a wet one.

There's plenty of water in the river, even in summer. A couple of big springs feed the stream. Plus, three wastewater treatment plants in Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville discharge into the Illinois River adding to the flow. Plant operators say the discharge is cleaner than water that's already in the river.

Kids squealed with delight grasping the sides of tubes when the white-water rocketed them along on a hot summertime Friday. Life jackets were buckled snug as conga lines of kiddos rode the fast current over three sets of Class I and II rapids.

All are easy to navigate, but challenging enough for expert kayakers like Alan Kearney of Bella Vista. The 62-year-old was a kid at heart spinning and flipping his small red kayak in the first wave of cool white water.

Kearney put on a show Eskimo-rolling his little boat. A bright blue helmet protected his noggin from the rocky river bottom. He's a regular at the park.

"I like the crystal clear water, and the beauty of this special area," he said.

The river section in the park is about 100 yards. The run is engineered so it's easy to float back to the start and ride the current over and over again. Eddies along the run turn the current upstream, carrying boaters and tubers toward the start with ease.

Or, there's a concrete walkway to carry your boat back to the start.

There has always been some mild white water here before the park. With funding from the Walton Family Foundation, rock was strategically placed in the stream to create the rapids, eddies and pools.

It's a safe place to cut one's white-water teeth, Kearney said.

"If you mess up, the current pushes you in toward the gravel bar" he said. "I've seen kids who've never kayaked and in a couple of years they're better than most people here."

Skilled boaters are eager to share tips with new paddlers.

"We all kind of help each other out," he said.

Will Dupree of Fayetteville, a certified white-water paddling instructor with Pack Rat Outdoor Center, said the park is excellent for teaching and learning.

"I learned 95 percent of my skills at this park and was able to get my certification," he said.

Dupree has seen a mishap or two where a boat has become pinned against a rock or a swimmer found the current difficult.

Everyone should wear a life jacket, the instructor stressed. There is no lifeguard on duty.

The park is a good access for float trips on the Illinois River. It's about a 6-mile float from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission access on Chamber Springs Road to the kayak park. It's a 5-mile run from the park down to Highway 59 canoe rental, where Arkansas 59 crosses the Illinois River.

Shawn Inman with Highway 59 Canoeing and Rafting south of Siloam Springs was busy unloading boats from a trailer for a group ready to float. Inman likes the park, but has suggestions for improvement.

He'd like to see the parking lot expanded. On weekends, the lot is full and people park all up and down Fisher Ford Road.

A small piece of the lot is a no-parking zone for unloading boats.

"Especially on weekends, people park in the loading zone. I wish it was marked better so people wouldn't park there. Sometimes we have to carry boats all the way from the gate to the river."

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com

Sports on 07/17/2018

Print Headline: Summertime river thrills

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