Finger Lakes State Park is marking National Trails Day on June 7 by dedicating a new trail. If you want to explore it, bring your water shoes instead of hiking boots.
North of Columbia off U.S. 63, Finger Lakes State Park gets its name from the slender lakes formed when pits left by a prior coal-mining operation were dammed and filled with clear water. Peabody Lake is the largest and now has a 4.5-mile water trail that lets paddlers explore the narrow waterways.
The trail is divided into two loops marked with red and blue buoys and a .40-mile trail connecting the two marked with white buoys. The park rents kayaks and canoes for visitors who don’t have their own but want to paddle the lakes and enjoy a chance meeting with wildlife.
“There are beavers, otters, raccoons, lots of species of birds,” said Debbie Newby, the park’s superintendent. “I’ve seen a deer swim across the water.”
Missouri has been named the Best Trails State in the nation for its wealth of trails, including nearly 1,000 miles in state parks and historic sites. Missouri State Parks has declared 2014 as the Year of the Trail.
The dedication ceremony at 2 p.m. on June 7 also will point out that paddling the new trail will add mileage to participants in Gov. Jay Nixon’s 100 Missouri Miles Challenge, which urges residents to hike, ride and paddle in the outdoors.
Finger Lakes is best known for the off-road motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle trails across its manmade landscape, with enthusiasts coming from around the country.
But the lakes also attract anglers, swimmers and paddlers, Newby said.
“People have been coming out to paddle here for years,” Newby said. “But before we put the buoys out, they would get turned around. Now they can get maps of the course at the park office.”
A Different Side of the Park
According to Newby, the kayaks and canoes have been popular. “We got the boats last August, and all the kayaks were rented out every weekend,” she said.
“We’re known for off-road riding, but this brings in people seeking a different experience,” she said. “They get to see a side of the park that looks so different from that on land.”
The park’s five canoes rent for $10 for a two-hour minimum and the six sit-on-top kayaks rent for $15 for a two-hour minimum on a first-come, first-served basis. The canoes rent for $25 for all day, and the kayaks are $35. Paddles and life jackets are provided.
The new water trail is largely out of the wind, and there is no current on the lakes. Much of the route is close to shore. Paddling a canoe or kayak is not difficult, Newby said.
Finger Lakes is one of nine Missouri state parks offering free kayaking instruction this summer. The Learn2 Paddle programs are scheduled on six Saturdays in July and August. For a list of the times and dates visit mostateparks.com and click on Learn2 Paddle.
A New Park Experience
Finger Lakes State Park’s new water trail is one of several at Missouri state parks. The state’s first aquatic trail has been offered for several years at Lake of the Ozarks State Park for powerboats. Boaters use brochures to follow the 9.75-mile self-guided trail marked by buoys.
This spring, Stockton State Park, northwest of Springfield, dedicated a 6.65-mile water trail that hugs the shoreline of Stockton Lake. The lake is known for its fishing, and anglers on the trail can stop and try their luck at catching bass, crappie, walleye, catfish and bluegill. For those not owning a boat, the park’s marina rents kayaks and canoes.
Bill Bryan, director of state parks, said kayaks or canoes are available for rent at 17 state parks on lakes and rivers.
“Kayaking is the second fastest growing outdoor activity in the country, and we want to provide this option to our visitors,” Bryan said. “We’re making it simple to try a new activity and experience Missouri State Parks in a new way.”