Let’s just start out by clarifying nobody got a rash or tetanus from the South Platte River water which leads me to believe the water is a bit cleaner than I had given it credit for. Unlike most river cleanups, this effort by our friends at Protect Our Rivers combines hard working volunteers on foot and on water. Yes, a massive flotilla starts a few miles up river and pulls out shit loads of junk along the way. It is a spectacle to see rafts, kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards all drifting down an urban river piled high with bags of junk.
Mind you, the South Platte is completely man-manipulated at this point but efforts over the years by Denver Trout Unlimited, state and federal government, and many others have put a ton of time and money into reviving riparian habitat and water quality. Within those efforts, small rapids have been formed to increase oxygen into the water, hence a few hold over trout year round in odd places like in front of REI.
To hear a few other strange urban fishermen tell it, you can hook smallmouth, largemouth, carp (obviously), and even walleye out of this river. So as gross as it looks in certain places, there are signs of life.
Last year I put in with my 9 year old and our silly looking hand-me-down raft with everyone else and the first thing she pulled out of the river was a five dollar bill. Everything else was just gravy after that. We navigated the few plunge pools and I drug the boat through the shallows for about 4 hours and she never once complained.
We were surprised at one point to see two kayakers come to a horizon on the river, lift their paddles above their heads, scream, then disappeared from view. We looked at each other and gulped. I paddled backward to see if I could get a good look at what lie ahead and told Harriet to get low and hold on tight. Under the bridge at Denver Water Headquarters is about a thirty foot mossy concrete spillway that terminates in a roaring pool, then boulders, then more rapids. The nose of the raft went over and I pulled the oars in knowing once we started down, we no longer had control.
The crushing wave at the base came full on into the boat and soaked us both to the bone, but mostly my daughter up front. She screamed a scream I knew not to be pain, so I maneuvered through the pool and down the next set of rapids with more water splashing like a tidal wave into the raft, finalizing the soaking of our trash bags, and everything that wasn’t in the Yeti Cooler.
I immediately beached the raft while we excitedly recounted what we had just survived. An experience where you fear you might come home without a child can lend some perspective on one’s decisions in life, but we both agreed we’d 100% do it again. I’m a slow learner.
This year the Protect Our Rivers Platte River Cleanup is on April 29, 2023 and the signup is here. Once again there are excellent sponsors and beers at Odell afterwards. You can’t beat that.
Sponsors include Down River, Orvis, LavaBox, Confluence Kayak & Ski, Valley Subaru, The River Radius Podcast, Prestige Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, High Country River Rafters, Yakoda, Kokopelli, Anglers All, Trouts, Meow Wolf, Nyce Kayaks, RMR, Inflatable Technologies, and Sport Trail.
Note there are big plans coming to the Denver South Platte over the next 10-20 years. Projects like The River Mile will see the redevelopment of Elitch Gardens into a more urban and more connected to the river development. $350 million with an “M” are set to be spent on river restoration in Denver and Adams Counties by the Army Corps of Engineers. Read more about it on Denver.gov here. Looking forward to see everyone at the cleanup. Don’t drown!