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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Phillip Riggins enjoys whitewater thrills on Dec. 21 2019 at the Siloam Springs Kayak Park on the Illinois River. Winter is a prime whitewater season for paddlers who are geared up for it.

The landscape on the first day of winter at the Siloam Springs Kayak Park appeared brown and gray, but the roaring water was snowy white.

Splashing through 48 degree water isn't the first thing most people think of on Dec. 21. Yet Mark Milburn and Phillip Riggins drove from Harrison to go whitewater paddling on the Illinois River at the Siloam Springs Kayak Park.

Siloam Springs Kayak Park

From U.S. 412 in Siloam Springs, take Arkansas 59 south 1.9 miles to Devor Road. Go left on Devor Road for 0.4 miles to Fisher Ford Road. Turn right on Fisher Ford and travel about a mile to the park. Address is 19253 Fisher Ford Road.

The park is open all year.

Source: City of Siloam Springs.

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They'd rather run rapids in the winter than store their short whitewater kayaks in the garage. For kayakers with whitewater in their veins, the paddling season really kicks in once leaves fall from the trees.

"Once the trees and grass get dormant, there's no vegetation to soak up the rain and more of it runs off into the rivers," Milburn said. "It takes less rainfall to get a river going."

The two friends like kayaking on the Buffalo River, Big Piney and Richland Creek when those waterways rise after rain. "This Illinois River, it pretty much runs all the time," Milburn noted.

A dry suit is a must for winter whitewater kayaking, he stressed. Both paddlers had theirs zipped snug and ready for action. Gaskets in the wrist and neck areas keep the water out. They wear warm clothes underneath. Fleece is good. Cotton is bad. If cotton gets wet, it has no insulation value.

"You might get a couple drops seep in, but basically you stay dry," Milburn said.

A quality dry suit costs $500 to $1,500. You get what you pay for, Milburn advised, like most things. "To make that investment all depends on how strong your desire is to lengthen your paddling season."

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The two zipped their life jackets, buckled helmets over the neoprene hats they wore and shoved off. Current pulled them splashing through the first frothy drop. They zigged, zagged and Eskimo-rolled their boats, going underwater then popping back upright.

The first day of winter was mild at the kayak park. Sunshine bathed the rocky rapids, created by man and machine. Three whitewater features flow loud and fast over a 100-yard stretch of river. There has always been a shoal, here, locals will testify. Now the run is a bit wilder, but not too much.

"If you make a mistake, it's not a scary swim," Riggins said. "There's places I wouldn't go by myself, but I can come here. I like the facilities here, too."

There's a paved parking lot, restrooms and picnic tables. It's an easy walk to the water and easy to carry their light boats from the end of the run back to the start on a sidewalk.

By noon, two other kayakers had joined the whitewater party. The four had the park and whitewater excitement to themselves. That's way different than summer when the parking lot is full and swimmers, picnickers and paddlers all share the kayak park.

Winter is prime whitewater time -- for paddlers who've got the gear.

Sports on 01/14/2020

Print Headline: Winter, whitewater, wonderful

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