As we approached the brink of the falls, we could hear the water rushing.
The trip so far had been very quiet. Maybe some birds, insects, rustling leaves and the distant hum of traffic. But it was mostly like a national park, which is surprising because we were in the middle of a city of 51,000 people.
The four of us were in kayaks, enjoying Christiana Creek. We had been laughing and enjoying this slice of nature in the middle of our city. With the sound of the falls, we were all quiet and paying attention to what would happen next.
I was in the lead because I had done this before. I was pretty sure I knew where to hit the falls, where I was most likely to stay afloat.
is a community planning initiative working to make downtown Elkhart a better place to work, live and play. You can read more about the group in its community blog, Gateway Mile
Kyle Hannon, who is president and CEO of The Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce
, as well as a kayaking enthusiast, wrote this story.
Later, one of the newcomers behind me said he watched me go over the edge and vanish for a moment. But when he saw me reappear downstream, he decided to follow my path.
From my end, I chose the spot where most water was pouring over the edge and where there was a vein of uninterrupted water to the bottom. Had I chosen a little further to the left, I would have smashed the boat directly into a rock. So I chose correctly. About a gallon of water splashed over the top into my lap. But I was upright and fine. Then my kayak bounced around subsurface rocks for about 20 yards. The water settled, though it was still moving swiftly. I steadied myself, rounded a corner, dodged a tree limb and prepared for the next waterfall.
That waterfall was the first of a half-dozen small waterfalls on Christiana Creek, between Willowdale Park and the St. Joseph River. You may have seen it at the back of Wellfield Botanic Gardens. In fact, there were a few people in the gardens watching us and cheering us on as we splashed over the waterfall and bounced downstream.
The other waterfalls were just as exciting. The double falls near Main Street were followed by some turbulent water that was a little unnerving. You can see the double falls from the Main Street Memorial Bridge over Christiana Creek, but you can’t see the rushing water underneath the bridge.
Our group of four made it through the entire stretch without capsizing, though we stopped a couple times to empty the water that had splashed over the tops of our kayaks. We were wet but happy.
These were not the Class IV rapids of the Snake River or even of South Bend's East Race. Our group did not have sophisticated equipment. We just splashed down the creek and had a good time. People tell me they used to run these Christiana Creek rapids in inner tubes when they were kids. I have floated these rapids several times in a kayak. If you stage vehicles properly between Willlowdale Park and Beardsley Park, you can make the run several times in an afternoon. By whitewater standards it is pretty mild, but it's still extremely entertaining.
I know people in Elkhart who paddle through Christiana Creek and purposely flip over for fun. But that’s not me. I know people in Elkhart who like to paddle great distances, but that’s not me. I know people who like to race kayaks, but that’s not me either. If you see a kayaker floating down a local creek or river, puffing a cigar and holding a fishing pole, that’s me.
The remarkable thing is that Elkhart has water that works for all these kayaking interests, sometimes on the same body of water. On this day, our group of four started in Michigan at Redfield Road. It was a beautiful trip. We had to “portage” a few times. (That’s a French word that means climbing out of a kayak, dragging it around a fallen tree and climbing back in without falling into the water and being laughed at by friends.) The water is pretty low right now and might require a portage around the first waterfall. A few of those portages were along the Christiana Creek (Elk's) golf course. It was a little strange, but we were respectful and the golfers didn’t seem to mind. As nice as the rest of the trip was, the highlight was the section of rapids.
When people visit from out of town, we like to take them on this little trip. In fact, when people visit from in-town, we like to visit our little Elkhart rapids. Christiana Creek is one of the treasures that makes our city special.