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Kentucky River Kayak Trek


July 18, 2008


South Fork



It was the South Fork today.  I made it to the third shoal last year - I wondered how far I would make it this time around. 


Once again, I began about noon, and as I started paddling downriver (from the ramp in Beattyville on the converged North/Middle Forks) the bridge for KY52 came almost immediately into view.  Just downriver from it there’s a picnic area and playground on the right, and I knew from last year that this was behind the Beattyville City Hall building.


Paddling on, you’ll reach the point where the 3 forks technically come together.  I took a moment to take this in.  This is mile 254.8, and after today the miles will start counting down as this river meanders towards its’ end where it drains into the Ohio River near Carrollton, Kentucky.  What an adventure this should be!


Ah, but the South Fork awaited today!  As you begin you’ll shortly come to another bridge about the same distance up this fork as the bridge for KY52 was up the North/Middle Fork.  This particular one is for KY11, the same road I drove in on from the north through Natural Bridge Park.  It goes through Beattyville, crosses this bridge, and then continues on to the city of   Booneville which, river permitting, I hope to make it to today.  The community of Proctor is back on the right bank.


On the charts the river takes the shape on an “M”, the legs of which are sliding out from underneath it as if it’s doing the splits (kind of like the logo for Millenium Pharmaceuticals).  Long Shoal Branch comes in around mile 1, but it was only 2-3 feet wide at its mouth. 


As I continued on, I spotted a bird that I hadn’t seen before and I thought I’d taken a pretty good picture of it (3 of them in fact).  Now that I’m composing this and looking through the pictures, however, I don’t see any sign of this bird!


Speaking of birds, I almost always spot at least one blue heron every time I go out on the river - at any point.  In fact, I saw one of them in this very area, but I’ve really given up trying to get pictures of these.  They’re way too shy.  When I paddled part of  the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. though, one of my buddies must have gotten to within 10 feet of one!


At mile 2 you’ll come to the last curve of this “M” and emerge into a straight section of the river which continues through mile 3.  It was in this section that I noticed an oily substance on the water...  In places it was clear and in others it had a green hue, but when you paddle through it, you’re paddling through a brown film (yeah…yum!).  


I noticed this last year too but things hadn’t changed.  It could be harmless, but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to swim in this stuff!  The problem was that it was much warmer on this trip than it had been before, and I sure wanted to dip my towel in the water to cool me off at this point - I’d have to wait until later.  You see, not only do I wear a cap, but I also drape and hand towel over my head when it’s hot.  This is both to block some sun, and to dip into the water to cool me off.  It usually works pretty well.


There’s a “C” bend left after mile 3 and then another mile long straight stretch.  It was getting more peaceful too by this point with only the sound of farm equipment to interrupt the sounds of nature.  This doesn’t bother me.  I’ve always been interested in farming, and I do have some relatives who make their living in this manner in Southern Illinois.  Thus, hearing this equipment lets me know that I’m in a rural area, and that’s a pleasant feeling to me.


After another “C” bend right I spotted the shoal for the Pawpaw Creek.  This had been my first portage last year.  This particular shoal stretches almost all the way across the fork in length and it covers quite a bit of area in width as well.  This year, however, I was able to paddle up through the current with a little effort and pass the shoal. 


The name Pawpaw Creek reminded me of a song which my grandparents used to sing to me.  It was going through my head as I paddled, although I couldn’t remember all the words.  Now that I’ve had a chance to look it up though, here’s some of the song (you can substitute names):


Where, oh where, oh where is little Johnny?
Where, oh where, oh where is little Johnny? 
Where, oh where, of where is little Johnny?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin' up paw-paws; put 'em in a basket.
Pickin' up paw-paws; put 'em in a basket.
Pickin' up paw-paws; put 'em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come along, boys, and let's go find him.
Come along, boys, and let's go find him.
Come along, boys, and let's go find him.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.



At mile 5.5 there’s another very large shoal.  This one is for the Lower Buffalo Creek which comes in on the left (actually, there’s a large shoal on either side here, making this a really picturesque spot, but for simplicity I’ll refer to these collectively as shoal #2).  As I paddled toward the area, I saw an ATV vehicle leaving as it passed quickly across my line of sight and was gone.  Ultimately I was not able to paddle upriver and through this shoal.  Portage needed.


After mile 6 I was off the map.  I hope that the reader will bear with me because I’ll have to guess at mileage from here on out.  Please note, however, that this writer is quite fallible, has a propensity for being absent minded and doesn’t always use the best judgment.  (Speaking of which, I noticed around this point that I’d lost another towel!)  Having forewarned you of my foibles I will continue…


It was just past mile 6 that a bridge crossed over the fork.  I saw this bridge last year and was quite intrigued.  I still am.  Was this a rail bridge?  A vehicle bridge?  It’s of a different construction style than others I’ve seen on the river, and as I look at all the maps I have access to I’m stumped.  They all indicate that Pine Grove Road goes over the river at about this point. 


I don’t believe it does anymore because there are no other bridges that span the river anywhere near here.  In fact, the last one I’d passed was for KY11 and I wasn’t to see another on this trip.  Was this the old Pine Grove Road Bridge?  Maybe I’ll check it out in my car next week...


There were quite a few gar fish here and there’s another small shoal past the bridge that was pretty level.  It looked like you could even drive a vehicle down onto it…  This might be point “J” in the Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Kentucky


At about mile 7 I came to a third shoal which I needed to port around.  This was the point at which I had ended my South Fork trip last year.  I kept going this time. 


A fourth shoal comes quickly after, and I was able to paddle up and through it but with a good deal more effort than I used to get past the first one back at Pawpaw Creek.  The water was starting to get noticeably shallower here too in some spots.



Near mile 8 I came to a fifth shoal (I know you must be sick of hearing about shoals!)  Hopefully I’m not boring the reader, but I mention them because they are all quite pleasant spots.  Even if you have to get out of your boat, these are ideal places to rest and have a snack.  To me, this fifth one was the most interesting too, because I noticed a couple different kinds of water plants growing here.  I’d not seen such plants growing anywhere else on the river except very rarely, so to have 2 kinds in one spot was interesting to see.


I had to port this shoal and as I did I made either a new friend or…a mortal enemy (deep voice).  In the water between a couple rocks in the flowing water was a little box turtle.  The current didn’t seem that strong to me, but I thought that maybe it was for this little guy (or gal) and he (or she) can’t get out. 


Well, I was not prepared for this.  When I come anywhere close to a turtle on a paddling trip, they always immediately jump into the water from their perches atop wooded debris and disappear.  In fact, it’s on occasion that I’ll really be startled by a huge splash in the water only to realize that it’s probably just a large turtle.


Anyway, I was in a real quandary.  The fact that this one was in a spot where it couldn’t easily avoid potential predators made me wonder whether I should help it.  Or maybe I should just let nature run its course?  Maybe there was a reason it was in such a position and I’d be doing this turtle a disservice in some way? 


At first I decided to move on, but after nearly getting back in my boat I changed my mind and moved it to a shaded spot on the shore.  Hope I did the right thing.  It was gone on my return.



I’d say I went another mile (mile 9?) before I hit a dead end.  Halfway into this last mile there was a 90 degree curve right and roughly 1/4 mile further down was a deadfall all the way across the water.  The majority of this was a very large tree which looked to have been newly toppled.  To port around this would have been a challenge with the steep bank and I wasn’t going to do this out of concern over ticks (which I’ve had problems with hiking this year).


I headed back.  It was only around 4, and when trips like this end early I coast part of the way back and check out the sights and sounds.  I did that again today.  I was able to navigate back down through 4 of the 5 shoals, getting stuck only at the second, and once I wiggled my way through I made it back to the ramp a little after 8:30.


I’ll hesitantly venture to say at this point, that having paddled all 3 forks a couple times now, I’ve formed some opinions.  The North Fork is the best for a long trip (if you don’t mind little portages).  I paddled 10 miles up this and could have gone further.  It’s the one I’d definitely like to try again just to see how far I could get.  It runs mainly through forested hills with some farmland in the stretch I was able to do.


The Middle Fork seems to be the smallest.  I wasn’t able to get as far up this one.  The main challenge on it will be the deadfalls, and being the smallest, you will run into more shallow water.  This fork runs primarily through farmland in the stretch I did with some forested hills.


The South Fork looked roughly the same size to me as the North Fork.  If it weren’t for the strange water within the first couple miles, I believe this fork would be the most scenic.  The shoals are what make it nice (remembering, of course, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder).  This fork runs primarily through farmland and forested hills in equal measure.


My next trip will be on the main river!




At the junction of KY 11 and KY 52 in Beattyville turn East on East Main Street.  Go to the second street (the aptly named Water Street) and take a right.  The street dead ends at the boat ramp.  There’s plenty of room for many vehicles.  There’s no fee to use the ramp.