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Kayak race raises funds for Missouri River cleanup

Allen Gross, left, and Valerie Gross, both of Rapid City, race to the finish in the Fort to Field 50 Paddle Battle on Saturday in Springfield. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)1 / 2
Kayaks line up on the shore of the Missouri River as competitors finish the second annual Paddle Battle on Saturday. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)2 / 2

SPRINGFIELD—After a successful inaugural event in 2014, the Fort to Field 50 Paddle Battle returned to the Missouri River on Saturday.

While the amount of paddlers dropped from more than 100 competitors to approximately 85 in 2015, event founder Jarett Bies said the grassroots support and word of mouth generated by last year's race helped it return for a second year.

"We had such a great turnout, with more than 100 people last year, that a lot of people were hopeful we were coming back," Bies said.

In 2015, Bies decided to donate the funds raised by the Paddle Battle to a different organization, Missouri River Relief. After insurance and other costs to support the event, all funds raised from the $50 registration fee will go to the Missouri River Relief organization.

"It's just an opportunity to spread the love around," said Bies about choosing a different organization to support with this year's funds.

Bies said donating to Missouri River Relief could potentially attract more kayakers from Missouri to the event as there is a large contingency of paddlers in that state.

"While they don't have cleanups in the area we paddle, it's one big river and we're just happy to provide them some funds," Bies said.

The race helped raise about $1,100 last year for the Izaak Walton League to fund general river stewardship programs and educational efforts in South Dakota on river cleanup.

According to the pre-race roster of registered participates, the Fort to Field 50 featured participants from nine states. While the majority of competitors were from South Dakota and its neighboring states, there was one competitor from Maine and one from Maryland.

The race gets its name from the route paddlers take on the Missouri River. Racers begin at the Fort Randall Dam in Pickstown, then travel through Nebraska before coming to an end at the Springfield marina.

Bies chose this particular route for its scenery, which he said is nearly untouched by humans and he called "awe inspiring."

"It's just an amazing stretch," said Bies. "It's some of the most remote and still wild parts of the Missouri River between the headwaters of Montana and the gulf."

Bies said the race also offers the opportunity for less-experienced paddlers, who may have tackled smaller bodies of water such as the James River, to take on a more challenging river with the security of safety boats, checkpoints and the event's connection with local authorities.

"It's not just jumping out on a big, wild stretch of river on their own, they can do it in a larger group with a lot of control and overwatch and really have some fun with it," Bies said.

The biggest change to this year's race, according to Bies, was improved communication along the event route with the help of a local HAM radio group. Bies said there are some cellular dead zones along the route, but the HAM radio operators were able to improve safety for the competitors.

"Even in those remote places where there is absolutely no cell service, we have a robust communications network to keep everybody accounted for," Bies said.

With the communication improvements made in 2015 and the growing paddling community in the region, Bies is happy with the success of the first two events.

"We're just glad people have heard about it," said Bies. "Word of mouth carries it quite a way and we're motivated and excited to keep growing it."