Now is a great time to view the Missouri River. For best views, select a time in early afternoon when the sunlight brings out the eastern bank. Then you will get the full impact of the river rushing along at 4-7 mph as well as sandbars and otherwise hidden features on the eastern bank.
Don’t be surprised at the changes from one viewing to the next over a period of several weeks. Sandbars shift. You can easily see, especially with binoculars, the gradual and unrelenting erosion of the far bank. The river is widening even with the rock breaks which the Corps of Engineers constructed every 100 or so yards. The Big Muddy is making its way, sometimes without regard for boundaries, toward St. Louis and its rendezvous with its mighty river cousin, the Mississippi River.
How long is the Missouri? The Missouri River Commission set its length at 2,285 miles. According to William Lass, author of “Navigating the Missouri,” some of the measuring techniques were truly astounding and imaginative. One method was to use the length of a boat, select corresponding lengths on shore and keep track of the total number of lengths as the boat progressed upriver – awkward to say the least. The Encyclopedia Britannica sets the river’s length as 2,315 miles and World Book Encyclopedia lists the Missouri as 2,540 miles, the longest river in the U.S.
There are a number of dams upriver from Leavenworth. In 1944, Congress, with the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, authorized more than 60 small dams and six large dams, including the Fort Peck Dam near Glasgow, Montana, one of the largest earth-filled dams in the world, as flood control, electric power generation and irrigation. My sources did not mention controversy surrounding the Corps “messing” with the river.
Right now, the river is the lowest it has been since we moved to town. You can actually see the bottom of the old railroad bridge support on the Missouri side and how much the river has undercut that support. When will it tumble into the river? Any bets?
Hope to see you at Landing Park with your binoculars.
Jim McKinney is a resident of downtown Leavenworth.