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Early season float trip breaks ice for Fairbanks Paddlers

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Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 9:42 pm | Updated: 1:01 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — As they do every year, the Fairbanks Paddlers kicked off the 2011 boating season with their annual spring float trip down the Delta Clearwater River on the weekend of April 23-24.

More than a dozen local paddlers made the trip down the river, and they were rewarded with gorgeous weather and lots of bird sightings, according to Cameron Leonard, one of the trip leaders.

“We had excellent weather and there were lots of birds,” he said.

The Delta Clearwater River, about 90 miles south of Fairbanks off the Richardson Highway, is the largest spring-fed tributary of the Tanana River. It is a favorite among paddlers because it is the first river to open up in the spring. There were still quite a few ice shelves attached to the riverbank when the group made its trip two weekends ago, Leonard said.

The river is famous for its crystal-clear water and large concentrations of migrating waterfowl, which use the river and Clearwater Lake as a major stopping point on their spring migration through the Tanana Valley.

Even after floating the river for many years, the clarity of the river never ceases to amaze John Schauer, who led a group of 12 paddlers in two kayaks and four canoes down the river on Sunday.

“The water was just gorgeous, especially with all those whitefish in there,” he said.

And while Schauer has seen more birds on previous trips down the Delta Clearwater, there was more than enough waterfowl present to make the six-hour trip worth the effort, he said.

“We got some pretty good flights of swans go over us,” he said. “There were lots of big flights of geese.”

Leonard was among a group of four paddlers who put in Saturday and camped on the river overnight. After a long, cold winter, it felt good to pitch a tent again, Leonard said. They sat in camp and listened for swans flying overhead while enjoying the sunset, Leonard said. The only wildlife they saw on their two days on the river besides birds was a pair of mink along the riverbank.

“It’s sort of a ritual of spring to get out there early in season and get out camping again,” Leonard said. “The birds are just gravy.”

Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

If You Go

Where: The Delta Clearwater River is about 90 miles south of Fairbanks off the Richardson Highway. It flows into the Tanana River about 20 miles upstream of the Richardson Highway bridge north of Delta Junction.

Access: The put-in is at the Clearwater State Recreation Site on Jack Warren Road at 268 Mile of the Richardson Highway. Follow Jack Warren Road 11 miles to the campground.

Float times: The most popular trip is a 12-mile float to Clearwater Lake that takes 4 to 8 hours. Follow the Delta Clearwater River to where it flows into the Tanana River. After entering the Tanana, stay to the left-hand side of the river for 1.5 miles until you see the outlet to Clearwater Lake entering the Tanana. The outlet will be marked by an arrow and a picnic shelter is visible. Paddle up the outlet stream 1.5 miles to the lake. Depending on the time of year and water levels, paddling up the outlet can be a challenge and may require lining your boat or kayak up part of the outlet. Once in the lake, stick to the right and look for a boat ramp on the southwestern shore. For more experienced paddlers who want to go to the Richardson Highway bridge, bypass the outlet to the lake and continue down the Tanana River to the bridge. Only experienced paddlers should travel in the Tanana River below the Clearwater Lake outlet.

On the Web: Go to http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/deltajct/floatgde.htm

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