Best kept floating secret is in the heart of Barry County

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Floating the river" in southwest Missouri usually elicits visions of charging down the raging Buffalo River after a good rain in a whitewater kayak or professional-grade canoe.

The Elk River at Pineville or even the Illinois on both the Arkansas and Oklahoma sides offer beautiful and challenging experiences. There are many other great floating venues available in the area as well. But one of the best kept floating secrets is right in the heart of Barry County.

Flat Creek

Flat Creek is not a challenge for whitewater enthusiasts. It offers instead a day of serenity, filled with clean water, lots of shade, some fun stretches of choppy water, and the variety of scenery that we as Barry Countians often take for granted.

Flat Creek is generally shallow, meaning that kayakers rule the water. Canoes just can't float in many of the dryer stretches, and even the kayak crowd knows that a little "carry time" is to be expected along the way. But there are numerous pools deep enough for swimming, as evidenced by the strategically-placed rope swings seen along the way.

The biggest obstacle to floating Flat Creek is the numerous fallen trees that block much of the stream at places. But the recent floods performed a great service in clearing away much of the debris that had made certain points impassable.

Flat Creek has several good public access points that divide the stream into navigable sections. The creek contains four separate venues: from the Stubblefield Access at Jenkins (north of Highway 248) to the Highway 39 bridge; from the 39 bridge to the Lower Flat Creek Access on Highway EE; from EE to Flat Creek Road (a hilly winding country road that runs off of Highway 76 just north of the Barry County line); and from that point all the way to the Highway 173 bridge.

Each leg has its own personality quirks. The longest stretch is the run from Stubblefield to 39, a true "day float", and also has the best fishing short of the lake entry. Floating from 39 to EE is a winding five- or six-hour trip, depending on currents and nap time on the sandbars.

The section from EE to Flat Creek Road is the shortest and also marks a noticeable quickening of flow. This is the least scenic section of the creek, but that's like pointing out the least attractive of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The view is not disappointing.

Closer to Highway 173 the water gets deeper and the fewer obstructions will be encountered.

There is plenty of parking at Stubblefield, EE, and the Highway 173 area, but very little at the 39 bridge and the Flat Creek Road spots. Don't expect picnic tables or port-a-potties along the way. As at any other public venue, bag trash and remove it from the site.

With today's gas prices, it might be time to take a home town adventure and explore the beauty of Flat Creek. Enjoy.

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