DE SOTO, Kan. (AP) — A bald eagle swoops over the Kansas River. Its fledglings have already hatched, but its large nest is hard to miss, nestled in a tree along the water.
Until recently, few visitors were able to paddle the river — also known as the Kaw — to see the eagles and herons that fish here and perch in the cottonwoods, sycamores and willows along its banks.
But an environmental advocacy group called Friends of the Kaw has been working with communities over the past decade to add boat-launch areas and take groups out on the river to see the wildlife that calls it home.
In part because of this work, the river was designated in July as the newest addition to the National Water Trails system. The designation encourages state, local and federal governments to work together to increase water recreation, promote tourism and help local economies.
"The Kansas River I think is fairly unique," said Laura Calwell, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Kaw. "It's a big, wide, prairie-based river and because of all the sandbars, it's like having an ocean beach in the middle of Kansas. And many of the rivers that I've paddled on in the United States, while they are beautiful, they don't have any sandbars. I'm like, 'Oh, I miss my sandbars on the Kansas River.'"
Up on those driftwood-strewn sandbars, paddlers look for frogs and the tracks of raccoons and deer that drink from the waters. The sandbars are public property, so paddlers are free to picnic and camp there, often with nobody else around.
"Right now as it stands on the Kansas River, if you are on a float trip you are probably not going to see another group," Calwell. "You might, but probably not. You really have the whole river and the sandbars to yourself."