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Ohio River

 

Evansville, Indiana Boat Ramp (Mile 792.5) to John T. Myers Dam in Newburgh, Indiana (Mile 776.5)

 

Saturday, October 10, 2011

 

 

NOTE:  I’ve titled this entry in an upriver fashion so as to maintain consistency with my other journals, but on this particular trip I started in Newburgh, paddled down to Evansville and then came back. 

 

ALSO KINDLY NOTE:  I’d love to find work in the Evansville/Newburgh area!  I'm ideally looking for evening and weekend work and my talents are quite diverse to include both office and warehouse work, accounting to packing and shipping.  Please find my contact info on the “Who I Am” page and I can send you a resume.

 

 

Yes, I overdid it.  I actually paddled 32 miles today.  My enthusiasm to make it all the way downriver to Evansville blinded me to the strength of the rivers’ current and to how long it would take me to get back to my put-in point in Newburgh.  On a normal trip I’ll go 10 miles in one direction and then return, but as a result of my actions today I would get back 5 hours after nightfall - at 11:30PM!  Needless to say, it was a memorable trip!  I’ve occasionally paddled after dark before – not by choice – but I have done so.  Paddling at night, however, gave me a new appreciation for a few things: 

 

1.  How eerie it is to have the spotlight beam from one of the barges play over and around you in the dark as the captain tries to discern the obstacles in his way, one of which is you!

 

2.  How clear the “hoots” of owls are as they carry over the waters’ surface.

 

3.  How vulnerable you can feel in the midst of the unknown and how much you will appreciate the light of a full moon if you, too, wind up in this situation - even if you are wearing a headlamp!

 

Today I began at the Edgewater Grille (www.edgewatergrille.com) in downtown Newburgh around 7:30AM.  I walked my gear and kayak down the steps adjacent to the restaurant as vendors were setting up for an outdoor market.  Newburgh, Indiana (www.newburgh-in.gov and/or www.historicnewburgh.org) is a really nice little river town which is quite picturesque.  I’d recommend coming out to see it.  You can stop at one of a few restaurants including the Edgewater and a great Italian market (www.vecchiositalianmarket.com), browse through several antique and variety shops and check out a nice little used book store!

 

The put-in at the bottom of the aforementioned steps is a rocky spot which is OK, but not ideal for a paddler.  It’s a bit slippery with rocks spaced just well enough to make putting your boat in and stepping over into it a little dicey.  In fact, when I got back I used a boat ramp a little further upriver as my take-out point (more on that in a sec…). 

 

Today I entered the water with a couple barge-pushing towboats as company - Southern Towing Company’s Laura Tamble and Ingram Barges’ James E. Anderson.  Southern Towing Company (a.k.a. STC) has a website at http://southerntowing.net.  They’re based in Memphis.  I’m not sure I’ve seen one of their boats before but according to their website they specialize in transporting bulk liquid fertilizer while also operating the largest fleet of anhydrous ammonia barges in the U.S.  Meanwhile, you’ll see Ingram’s towboats all up and down the river http://www.ingrambarge.com/default.aspx?v=barge/home, so when I see one it’s not just a matter of seeing it, it’s a matter of seeing if I recognize which vessel it is.  Ingram is based in Nashville.

 

 

 

At any rate, both of these vessels were waiting until the lockmaster could get them through the John T. Myers Dam a little more than a mile upriver from the steps.  This dam is clearly visible from Newburgh and it was in this direction that I began.  I wanted to try and check out the dam – very gingerly - before I turned to head back downriver. 

 

As you get started you’ll notice that the Indiana side is definitely where the action is.  The Kentucky scenery probably hasn’t changed that much since the frontier days with its’ tree-lined mud bank.  It may once have been more forested but today it’s all farmland.  …and, no, to me that’s not boring!  In fact, it’s quite pleasant and serene to paddle along this side as you try to spot wildlife, and if you happen to be looking away from Newburgh you might actually imagine yourself as one of the ancient Indians paddling downriver to reach Angel Mounds centuries ago.  Angel Mounds is an old Indian settlement a couple miles downriver from Newburgh (more on that in a sec too…).

 

Anyway, there’s one major thing of note between Newburgh and the lock and dam – and that’s an older lock and dam, old #47!   You see, the present John T. Myers Dam actually replaced two others - this one, and old #46 upriver in Owensboro.  These old lock and dams are now recreation areas complete with boat ramps and plenty of parking so I took advantage of this by taking out from old #47 at the end of the day.  They don’t have a light right down at the ramp but they do have several up above it, so if you arrive after nightfall like I did you won’t be totally without light.

 

 

Paddling by at about 8AM I tried to get some good pictures of the current dam through the sunny haze of the early morning, but when I got fairly close to the John T. Myers I saw that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to get too close.  The lock chamber wall will be jutting out right toward you as the river bank curves slightly in, so it can be deceptive how close it really is - and since I knew that those barges I mentioned would soon be passing me to enter this chamber?  “Uh…  No…  I think I’ll stop right here!!!”  I turned to head downriver…

 

 

 

 

My plan at this point was to cross the river fairly soon in order to get some good, fairly all-encompassing pictures of Newburgh from this, upriver direction.  Then I’d paddle downriver along the Kentucky side, see how far I could get by midday and then return on the Indiana side.  Soooo…  Once the barges had passed, I was sure that there were no more were coming and that there were no other boats putting in at the old #47 ramp, I proceeded to cross the river, snapping pictures of downtown Newburgh as I went.

 

 

 

 

As mentioned, when you get to the Kentucky side you’re apt to find it very pleasant to paddle and you might very well get lost in the timelessness of it until you reach mile 779, where your attention will be drawn to Mulzer Crushed Stone, Inc. (www.mulzer.com).  Mulzer lies directly across the river from you in Indiana.  According to their website they’re a family-run business that’s been around since 1935 and they provide crushed stone for construction projects.  “From driveways to highways” looks to be their motto.

 

 

 

Once past Mulzer both sides of the river will now look like a wilderness and on the Indiana side, somewhere between miles 780 and 782, lies the Angel Mounds Historical site (www.angelmounds.org).  You wouldn’t know it from being down on the water because it’s a little further inland, but the ancient Indians who lived on this site somewhere between 1100 and 1450 A.D. used to fish in this river.  I’ve visited Angel Mounds before and I can tell you that if you go, check out the exhibits and stroll around the grounds (particularly on a quiet weekday) you’ll get a feeling of deep, deep peacefulness that you will be very grateful for – a refreshment for the soul.

 

There’s also supposedly an island along this bank (3 mile island) but I saw no indication of the water leading around it - either on this morning or in the dark on the way back.  Looking at it on the charts it’s a very thin one.  At mile 782 you’ll find a boat ramp named after Angel Mounds.  It looks nice as it’s apparently been renovated recently.

 

Meanwhile, it was in the midst of paddling this section that I thought I’d seen a yellow towboat coming toward me on the Kentucky side at about mile 781, but when I got right up to it I saw that it wasn’t moving at all.  Seemingly unmanned and anchored to the spot, I wasn’t quite sure what this was doing out here all by itself.  I saw no insignia on it. 

 

 

The charts also indicate that there are a couple underwater dikes right in this area, but I didn’t notice that they had much of an effect on the current today (there are a lot more of them down in Evansville).  May I also point out that there are some really nice beach-like spots along this Kentucky side?  They’ll continue intermittently pretty much all the way down to Evansville making it pretty easy to stop and take a rest if you want.

 

When you get to mile 784 you’ll be in a pretty significant spot because not only will you have the Southern Indiana Dock and Evansville Terminal on the Indiana shoreline, you’ll also have the Green River entering from Kentucky.  The whole area is pretty congested and there are barges all over the place.  In fact, I took one look into the mouth of the Green and immediately decided against paddling in.  Not only was it clogged with barges on both sides with a towboat working amongst them, but there were also a ton more barges and 4 more towboats operating for about the next 5 miles on the Kentucky side of the Ohio!  I steered clear of all this, abandoning my plan to paddle all the way down to Evansville on the Kentucky side.  I paddled right back over to Indiana once I was downstream of the port! 

 

 

 

A little more on the Green River though…  You might never guess it from looking at its’ mouth, but you could probably spend the better part of a year paddling this river and its tributaries (and I hope to someday!).  Not only do you have the Green itself which runs some 384 miles with 3 forks, but you’ve also got a couple large tributaries:  the Barren River comes in from the south and takes you clear past Bowling Green to Barren River Lake while the Nolin River comes in from the north and takes you past Nolin Lake and almost up to Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

 

 

 

Back to the Ohio

 

From the mouth of the Green you’ll be making a looooong right curve all the way down to Evansville at mile 792/793 and this will start with a line of dwellings in Indiana which runs all the way down to the US41 Bridge spanning the river from Kentucky to Indiana at mile 787.  I can tell you that these people were incredibly nice as it was from this bridge that I was paddling in the dark on my return and I had a couple really nice offers: 

 

“Hey, you want a hot dog?”  

 

“No thanks.”  I replied.  “I’m running a little late!”

 

Another gentleman actually offered to give me a ride back to Newburgh!  My thanks to these kind people if they ever happen to read this!

 

At any rate, the “bridge” is actually a pair of them.  Known as the Vietnam Gold Star Bridges (or just the US41 Bridges), the charts indicate that there’s a boat ramp on the upriver Indiana side of them.  Well, I can tell you that there are actually two of these “ramps”, but they both look ancient and crumbly.  You wouldn’t be able to use them unless you’re a paddler.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, there were a few more barges moored just past the bridge (and a couple on the Indiana side too) but after this I saw no more until I was in down in Evansville.  As for the towboats, there were so many of them today that I stopped trying to get names on all them.  I must have easily encountered more than a dozen.

 

You’re back in the wilderness after the bridges with only the sounds of the cars on the bridge and the power boats to interrupt your reverie, and it was in this area that the famous Club Trocadero used to operate.  I’m not sure if it was visible from down on the river but my grandmother lived in Evansville most of her life and she used to tell me stories about this club.  She’d seen the Mills Brothers perform there, probably sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s.  “The Troc” was a real hot spot with many famous bands coming to play, but it was also a gambling location and so it was eventually closed down.  This club always fascinated me but I just missed coming to see it before it burned down in 1990.  Alas!

 

As the river makes the last bend into Evansville from about mile 788 to 792 the banks will be rocky and then they’ll become sandy at the end on the Kentucky shore.  You’ll also pass a couple light and daymarks on this side, and it was along in here that 2 AEP towboats passed me going in different directions.  AEP (American Electic Power) has a website at http://www.aepriverops.com.  They’re based in Saint Louis as a transporter of dry bulk commodities and they probably do quite a good business here with Vectren Corporation, a major power supplier, having its headquarters in downtown Evansville.

 

…and speaking of Evansville I could soon see it ahead of me, a docked warship as its’ vanguard at about mile 792.5.  Evansville is a classic river town that you can find more information on at (www.evansvillegov.org and/or www.evansvillecvb.org).

 

 

Meanwhile the ship is the U.S.S. battleship LST.  It's been retired here.  I tried to get a picture of it as I paddled by but the prow of the ship so cut into the current around it that the water flow quickly slipped me right past before I could get my camera ready!

 

 

 

Meanwhile, behind this ship is the mouth of a harbor called Marina Point.  Many businesses have apparently tried to make it here with sometimes tragic results, but it appears that they’ve not yet given up on this great location.  Check out O.V. Water Sports (http://www.ovwatersports.com/)!  There’s also a great article on the history of the place here:  http://www.courierpress.com/news/2009/sep/17/end-era-marina-pointe. 

 

What’s nice about Evansville is that they’ve got a great scenic river walkway stretching the length of the downtown area and if you were to walk along it sometime (something I recommend) you’d get a history lesson on the Ohio and on the city itself from all of the placards spaced along at different intervals.  Evansville has a lot going on at their waterfront too.  Some of the most prominent businesses in town have their headquarters here including the aforementioned Vectren and Old National Bank.  There’s also the Casino Aztar, its hotel and paddlewheel boat to go with a local museum and a visitor center.

 

 

 

Perhaps most interesting of all is the old brick building you’ll see to the very right of the picture above.  This is the old McCurdy Hotel which opened in 1917.  The McCurdy was once a premier place to stay boasting such visitors as Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn and Richard Nixon!  My grandparents also used to come here when they were in the mood for an upscale dining experience.  Problem is, the hotel couldn’t stay in business and it was eventually converted into a nursing home.  Sadly unoccupied now, I hope they'll get someone to come in, restore it, and maybe return it to being a hotel or maybe even make it an apartment or condominium complex.  I got my information on the McCurdy on the following web page:  http://www.historicevansville.com/site.php?id=mccurdy.  This is a fantastic site to visit on all things Evansville history related!

 

Another nice waterfront asset here is a large boating area complete with a nice ramp and plenty of parking.  In fact, it’s so nice and large they used it to host the hydroplane races that were held here up until a couple years ago.  This was a great event for the city and I hope they’ll be able to do it again someday. 

 

I remember my grandpa driving us all down to the river here and how intimidated I felt as a young boy driving all the way down to the water.  It felt like I was entering the lair of some great beast!  As we drove down grandpa would  tell us about the time he swam across the river from this point on a bet as a teenager, probably sometime in the 1920’s or 30’s.  No small feat, even with the river being much wider now than it was then. 

 

All of this was a lot to think about and there were lots of pictures to take too (I think I must have gotten about 50!) so I paddled around for quite a while letting the significance of Evansville sink in.  I didn’t want to leave.  Never do...  I’ve been coming to this city since I was a toddler, up until a few years ago to visit relatives.  Now I return every now and then just to “regroup” and reminisce but every time I come back I want to stay.

 

 

 

 It was about 2PM now and I had reached Casino Aztars’ boat.  It was about time for me to go or I was going to be in trouble (although how much trouble I was, as yet, unaware), so I very carefully but very quickly passed over to the other side of the river and stopped for a while near one of the sandy beaches upon which my grandfather might have paused to rest and look around before swimming back over to Evansville.

 

 

 

 

Anyway, once I got going and began to work my way back upriver to Newburgh I first encountered some oddly behaving water.  There were swirling eddies everywhere and I kept a mind on my balance.  This was the area where some more of those dikes were supposed to be, 4 on this side and 3 of which come in quick succession.  One of them actually curves out about half way into the river and then branches.  This was where the oddest water seemed to be and I remember one time I was at the hydroplane races and I saw a sandy island at about this point.  This odd dike probably accounted for that too.

 

At any rate, it was well before I reached the US41 Bridges that I realized I was going to be in trouble.  It seemed to take forever just for them to come into view - and I was on the Kentucky side now with a clearer upriver perspective!  I had really misjudged the current, and I decided to cross back over to the Indiana side as soon as it was safe to do so.  I certainly didn’t want to do that after nightfall!  Besides, if I hadn’t done so I might not have received those kind offers of help from the people onshore.  I’ve always thought that when your plans don’t work out it means that the Lord wants to show you something.  Maybe in this particular case it was the kindness of strangers.

 

Below is the last picture I got.  My camera does not take good pictures at night and besides, I only had one good set of batteries left.  I needed them for my headlamp.  I must say, however, that I did find the light of the full moon to be enough for me to go periods without the lamp and save battery power.  The only times I really needed it were when I noticed boats coming.

 

 

Speaking of which, I seemed to have one boat in particular as company – that towboat I mentioned at the outset of this journal - the one with the light playing on and around me?  He was with me almost the whole way back (at least I think it was the same vessel), very slowly heading downriver and then back up to pass me one last time just before I reached Newburgh.

 

What was my mindset after dark?  It was interesting.  Once I surrendered myself to the realization that an extended after-dark paddle was inevitable, things were OK.  Before I reached that point the trip back seemed absolutely interminable, but accepting my fate made me free to make the best of the situation, and you know what?  I enjoyed it!  Yes, it was eerie and uncertain after dark but sometimes you find the measure of yourself in such unknown situations.  In fact, I found it to be a positively beautiful experience to enjoy the peaceful water around me amid the sounds of my river surroundings under the moonlight.

 

The only thing that spooked me in the darkness?  Well, there were two things...  One was paddling around the aforementioned Southern Indiana Dock and Evansville Terminal at mile 784.  You see, there was a boat jutting out toward me in a downriver direction from shoreline and I just couldn’t figure out if he was moving or not!  There were others boats moving on the other side of the river.  Was this one??  It took me a couple minutes just to figure out that he was stationary and that it was safe to move on!

 

The second thing that spooked me was some kind of animal along the shoreline up by Angel Mounds.  At first I thought it was a deer or maybe a large dog, but I couldn't tell even with my light shining on it.  Then, when it noticed me it started swimming out toward me and it wasn't until I started paddling further out toward mid-river that this animal headed back to shore and promptly disappeared! 

 

I sure don't know what it was but boy, were my shoulders ever sore by the time I got back to Newburgh!  I certainly didn’t care to walk my boat and gear back up those steps at the Edgewater Grille!  I paddled further up to the boat ramp at the old dam, walked back to my car in Newburgh with my gear and drove back to pick up my kayak!

 

May I also say that there’s nowhere I would rather have taken out at night in this area than in Newburgh.  It’s seems to be a pretty safe place.  In fact there were still many nice people walking along the river even at 11:30 at night!

 

I will never forget this trip but if you, too, come out please be prepared that if you want to paddle down to Evansville and back it’ll be a looooong day!

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

From I64 take exit 29A toward Evansville/Henderson, KY and head south until you get to the exit for Newburgh.  It’s SR662 or Covert Avenue.  Head east.  You’ll go through a few stoplights and then the two lanes will merge into one prior to the last light.  You’re real close.  Stay on the main road.  You’ll veer to the right at one point and then you’ll reach a stop sign right in downtown Newburgh.  Here you can take a right, park and head toward the Edgewater Grill.  You can’t miss it and the steps I used are right next to it.  Alternatively, if you want to go to the boat ramp, keep driving after you take the right and make a left at the Edgewater Grill.  The ramp is on the site of an old lock and dam not far down the road (not quite a mile I’d say) down on your right.