White knuckles, white water – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“You should go rafting with me sometime,” Stewart Noland said. This was last fall on an Ozark Society hike.

“Just say when and where,” I eagerly responded.

Noland’s from Little Rock and I live in Fort Smith, but his float trips are legendary among paddlers across the state.

The “when” turned out to be the fourth week of April, however, the “where” was still undetermined the day he called me. Rainfall had been cooperating, but he was watching river gauges and the forecast before making a decision. He’d narrowed the options down to Richland Creek and the Cossatot River. The coming night’s rain would be the determining factor.

He would check the rain gauges in the morning and decide whether we would head for an Ozark or a Ouachita mountain stream.

I promised to be packed and ready to launch, be it to the north or south. Either stream would be a new float for me, and my first exposure to Class V rapids in The Natural State.

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED

“The Cossatot River is at a pretty good level after last night’s rain,” Noland explained at 6:30 a.m., April 26. Could I meet him outside the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area Visitor Center at 9:30? The center — 9 miles east of Wickes in Polk County — was closed as a precaution during the covid-19 pandemic, but trails and the day use areas (except the playground) were open.

“Works for me,” I said. And within 10 minutes, I was cruising down U.S. 71 and
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