Homer's Travels: My Return To A Changed Boyer Chute

Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Return To A Changed Boyer Chute

After seeing all the sand and silt at the entrance of Boyer Chute National Wildlife Reserve on Wednesday, I decided to go back on Friday and see what it was like in the reserve itself.  I drove out to the park and parked at the main parking lot.  Most of the parking lot still showed evidence of sand and silt.

I put on my pack, grabbed my poles, and headed toward the trail that would take you over a bridge onto the island (the island has the Missouri River on three sides and the chute on the other).  I found the trailhead but the trail was totally obliterated.  Instead, I walked the road the trail once paralleled to the bridge that crosses the chute.  From the bridge you can see the condition of the chute.  A chute, by the way, is a channel of the river that runs parallel to the river and connects to the river at both ends.  The chute was in terrible condition.  The water level was very low, even as the Missouri River is fairly high right now, and the chute was full of sand and silt (This is what the chute used to look like).

I crossed the bridge and tried to find the Meadowlark Trail.  This is the only paved, handicap accessible trail in the park.  All the other trails are simply mowed paths through the grassland that dominate the park.  The Meadowlark Trail was half buried in the sand.  A shelter close to the trailhead was totally demolished.  I followed the trail the best I could looking for where a mowed trail branched off from it.  That search was futile as there was no more grass on the north-west side of the island.  It was just a great expanse of sand and silt.  I did find some old tire tracks in the sand that appeared to be following the old trail.  I followed them for a while and then decided the best way to circle the island was to get within sight of the chute and follow it around to the river.

A bench along the Meadowlark trail buried in sand and silt from the 2011 Missouri river floods.
If you could see my path it would zig zag around a bit as I picked my way around mud, fallen trees, dead brush, and new growth.  Where there had been pools of water and mud, there were now dried areas where the ground had cracked making really cool patterns on the ground.

Patterns in the dried mud - my foot in the picture for perspective.
The sun was starting to come out so I decided to walk through the trees that, before the 2011 floods, circled the island and separated the trails from the water.  That turned out to be a mistake.  The number of fallen trees, low branches, and new undergrowth made it nearly impossible to walk ten feet in a straight line in any direction.  I changed direction again and headed back to the waters edge and walked in the sand.  It was a bit like walking along a beach but the sand didn't compact as much so it was a bit easier.

Life is returning after the 2011 Missouri river floods.
Part way around I came across a large pile of fallen, sun bleached trees.  In my youth I would have had a great time climbing around on those trees.  I would have run along their trunks and jumped from one to the other.  In my nearly fifty year old body I found myself gingerly stepping among the trees afraid of falling ... for no real reason ... and taking my own sweet time to cross the pile of trees.  When I got across I looked back and wondered what I'd lost.  Was it the dexterity and balance of a young body or was it the carefree, no fears spirit of youth?

I once described Boyer Chute as looking like the African Savanna.  Now it is the Sahara.
After the pile of trees I was able to find one of the original trails.  It was a bit overgrown but it was easier to follow than walking through the thick new growth.  Most of the island had been grassland and prairie before 2011 floods.  I was surprised to see how many new trees were growing.  Most of them, between knee and shoulder height, appeared to be cottonwood - there was cottonwood fluff floating around the island. In a few years there will be a lot more trees on the island and the grassland will have shrunk a little.  It will be a whole new ecosystem.  Boyer Chute had changed a lot since the last time I was there.  It almost appeared post-apocalyptic in a way.  It will be interesting to see how it recovers and changes.  To see how much it has changed go view my 2008-2013 Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge Google Photos album which has both before and after, winter and summer, pictures of Boyer Chute.

The high water mark (the light colored band) on a Lewis & Clarke monument by main parking lot.
For comparison, my trekking poles is four feet tall.
I reached halfway around the island and I reached a decision point - I could continue around the island like I'd originally intended or I could take a right and follow a trail that cut across the island back to the bridge.  I was feeling a bit rundown.  My energy levels were not up to snuff.  The sand and the bushwhacking were taking their toll.  I turned right and cut across the island.  The deer I saw on the trail didn't criticize me for my decision.  The hike was about 5.66 miles (9.1 km) and was practically flat with only 475 feet (144.8 m) of elevation gain.  I'd walked it almost a mile per hour slower than my usual hiking speed.

I kept thinking they really needed to get the trails in order.  Thinking a bit more I realized that the first priority would be to dredge and restore the chute.  It may be a while before the trails are back to fully usable condition.

This may be the last hike for a while.  We'll be going to New Orleans (among other places) pretty soon and a two to three week break will probably do me good.


  1. So... less of a hike and more of a bushwhack, eh? Maybe next time carry a machete! :)

    1. GH: A bit in places. Not as bad as some hikes I've done.