By Joseph Correia
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The Niobrara River, “Running Water”, as the Indians and early settlers knew it, extends across Northern Nebraska from its narrow beginnings 50 miles inside eastern Wyoming. It empties into the Missouri River some 300 miles later between the village of Niobrara and Niobrara State Park. The main sources of inflow are tributaries and Sandhills ground water. South of the River are the unique grass-covered Sandhills which cover nearly 20,000 square miles. The vast Ogallala Aquifer, which extends into Texas, underlies the hills. The sandy soil acts like a sponge, and water eventually percolates downward to an impervious clay layer. It then travels laterally toward the river where it emerges as seeps and springs which collect and form cascading waterfalls.
The put in was at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refugee. In its own way the Niobrara is challenging, the water flows at approximately 6 to 8 miles per hour. The numerous springs and seeps contribute to its relatively clear and cold water. The discharge ranks in second in Nebraska to the Platte River. There are a few riffles and rapids throughout the two-day trip, including a class III drop. At this Class III drop I was able to find a volunteer to run it with me that had never run white water before. I guess he was in need of an adrenaline rush as much as I myself.
As you go down the river, there is the opportunity to watch the wildlife, which includes elk, bison, white tail deer and red foxes.
To me the uniqueness of this River is in the number of waterfalls that we encountered during the trip.
In May of 1991, a 76-mile stretch of the Niobrara was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to preserve unique biological features. Eastern, western and northern species of trees and wildlife can be found intermixed on the slopes along the River. From Valentine, 30 miles to the east, you will find more than 90 waterfalls along the south bank. Fenced herds of elk and bison are at the refugee also free-ranging elk, mule and white tail deer, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, mink, badgers and porcupine are found on the riverbanks. More than 200 species of birds; 29 species of amphibians including rattlesnakes inhabit the area. Trout inhabit cold-water tributaries and channel catfish are in the river.
Took us 6 hours driving to get to the campground, which was right on the river. From there the first day we drove west approximately 15 miles to the put in at the National Wildlife Refugee. On the second day after doing the usual car shuttle, we put in right at the campground and paddled for another 15 miles.
Copyright 2000, Joseph Correia. All rights reserved.