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Paddle Battle on Missouri to be held Saturday

SPRINGFIELD — More than 100 kayakers will have their knowledge of the Missouri River tested Saturday.

The inaugural Fort to Field 50 Paddle Battle will kick off at 7 a.m. Saturday from the boat ramp at the Fort Randall Dam. It will traverse 50 miles of the Missouri River down to Springfield with the finish line at the Springfield Marina.

Event organizer Jarett Bies said the race has been created as a spinoff from the successful South Dakota Kayak Challenge, which is held annually in May and runs 70 miles from Yankton to Sioux City. He said interested riders approached him about holding a race farther upstream. When he was able to secure safety and rescue crews on the river, Bies knew he had a race.

Registration is now closed, and Bies said there are 104 people who signed up. He added the stretch is among the most remote parts of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

"Even if there's people who are old river rats, they're probably going to see some things for the first time," he said.

A resident of Yankton, Bies said one of the most interesting parts of the course is how it changes. The first portion of the course is 14 miles, followed by checkpoints every 12 miles. He said racers will see a vastly different river once the Niobrara River and its heavy delta dumps in the Missouri, just a few miles north of the final checkpoint at Running Water. Bies also noted the river will open up considerably after racers pass the second checkpoint, near Verdel, Neb.

While the fastest racers are expected to finish the race in five to six hours, participants will have 15 hours to complete the course. That's not likely a problem, considering the river regularly flows at a rate of 3 to 5 mph in the summer. Wind is a factor, with gusts regularly coming from the south and southeast, but calm winds are forecasted.

The money raised will go to the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation organization that will put funding toward cleanup of the Missouri National Recreational River, which is the same stretch the participants will be racing. A celebratory event will be held at the Springfield Marina for finishers on Saturday afternoon.

Bies said the scenic overlook at the South Dakota Highway 37 bridge at Running Water may be the best place to watch on the South Dakota side of the river.

"It might be something to see all of the small little dots come under the Running Water bridge," he said.

For all of the different ways there are to enjoy the river, Bies believes kayaking is the best way to experience South Dakota's greatest assets.

"There's nothing like being six inches off the water and really experiencing the ebbs and flows of the river," he said. "It's a treasure and to be able to share it with people who enjoy it as much as you do is pretty great."