I have been trying to defeat the Stillwater River for a number of years now. Either the timing was off, or the water levels were too low. Last March when I tried it with some OHCRA members, it was very cold, windy, high and fast. With the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the first 3 OHCRA outings had to be canceled. I was getting antsy to paddle and seeing that the Stillwater was in good condition, I reached out to Harold to get together asap and canoe. He wanted to camp with me but couldn’t paddle due to a wrist injury. I called Chuck and he was happy to join us for camping and paddling. Because of the “Stay at Home” order, I didn’t ask anyone else in the club due to risking the social distancing thing.
Friday morning Harold met at my house and we both drove over to Frederick – Garland road outside of West Milton, Ohio arriving at 11:00am. The owner of the Barefoot Canoe Livery owns some personal land right along the river. Bryan gave us permission to camp in his field. The only amenity was 2 picnic tables and a volleyball net. We had to bring our own water, shit buckets, etc. Primitive is the way I like it, and this was primitive. The steep hill from the road to the campsite required 4-wheel drive to get up and down due to the rain and mud. After setting up tents Harold and I played cribbage while waiting for the wind to die down. I wanted to paddle 6 miles from camp down to the Englewood Dam just north of Dayton. I got my canoe on the water but it was so windy that when I stopped paddling, I actually drifted back upstream. 200 yards was far enough for me to fight a losing battle. Bad rainstorms were predicted of which we drove through one on the way down, but the rain held off until 5:00pm, just before Chuck arrived. A small shower wetted the grass but nothing major. The 3 of us ate dinner, played some poker (thanks for the money Chuck) and enjoyed a campfire until bedtime. The coyotes serenaded us with their haunting chorus of howling and in the morning the turkeys were our alarm clock.
Saturday morning, we were up, had breakfast and were ready to go at 8:45am. Chuck and I both drove, with our canoes on each vehicle, upstream to the village of Covington. The community park is along the river and a short 50-yard portage put us on the river. At 9:20 we were paddling in clear water on a very sunny May morning. The creatures were out sunning such as turtles, squirrels, a couple eagles and many songbirds. Just past where Greenville Creek enters the Stillwater there is a low head dam that must be portaged on river left. The rest of the 17.5-mile trip had rock dams that we maneuvered through, not having to exit the canoes again until the takeout. The river had flow, but it was hard to tell at times. At a stream gage of 1.85 feet it was OK, but another 6 inches of water would have been better. We could see the rocky streambed and moving fish in the clear water and lots of fishermen were out trying to catch them. We even saw 2 Amish or Mennonite guys with 3 kids fishing on an inflatable pontoon boat with an electric trolling motor. Once we got to where Barefoot Canoe Livery is located, in West Milton, we saw lots of aluminum canoes and small plastic kkkayaks littering the river. The younger, mostly overweight, 20 something crowd was having a wonderful time of floating and partying while enjoying a sunny warm Ohio day. Chuck and I just zoomed past the youngster’s and found our takeout at 3:30pm after 17.5 wonderful miles. We pulled our boats up the bank to our tents then Harold drove us back to our cars. Getting back from town we started our own dinners then played more poker before sitting around a campfire until midnight. A hoot owl hooted a lot in the early evening keeping us company until bedtime. Chuck said some rain fell in the night, but I sure didn’t hear it, after all those 12-ounce curls I did.
Sunday morning was warm. We just sat around having morning drinks then slowly tore everything down and packed up. Today was a virtual graduation for a grandson of mine so I headed for home at 9:15am feeling very satisfied that I can finally mark the Stillwater River of my bucket list.