First Descent of Flat Branch Creek, Columbia MO

By Steve Witzig (June 2, 2003)

Paddled by David Wilson and Steve Witzig

Well, it’s been done! David Wilson and I made the first descent of Flat Branch Creek (well as far as we can tell in talking to CARP veterans in town). This one is the ultimate urban creek run. It starts off in Flat Branch Park with the water rushing out from underneath the Providence/Broadway interchange in an intricate network of storm drainage tunnels that empties downtown Columbia. My guess is that the headwaters are the run-off from the streets between College Ave (east border) Business loop (north border) and West Blvd (west border). Surprisingly, the water was clear until we were below Stadium.

It had been raining all day in Columbia. We had about 1.2″ of rain, which isn’t enough to bring up the other runs in town, but since Flat Branch Creek is so flashy David decided to have a look since he was already downtown. The level was perfect, so he rushed home, gave me a call (4:30pm), convinced me that it was actually up, and we devised our plan. We met at the Forum take-out 30 minutes later and ran shuttle. The water had dropped some, and we actually missed the peak level by about 30 minutes (hence the 30 minute window). A lot of the good waves and holes were too shallow to play in, but there was enough water to stay in our boats for everything but a few mandatory portages around strainers.

The run starts out with a few small waves in flat branch park, and then goes through the first tunnel under Locust Street. Just past Locust Street the creek narrows even more into a micro-gorge with some small ledge drops. The second tunnel puts you under Elm Street, where you resurface just in time to make a bend and enter the long tunnel that goes under Providence Road. Just past Providence Road but before Stewart Street tunnel, there is a nice hole we’re calling Delta Hole (since the DC house is on the hill above). From this point down, the creek snakes back and forth along the MKT spur of the Katy Trail. From Stewart Road down to Stadium Blvd, there were a number of small ledge drops and waves with one significant drop we’re calling Quarry Falls (since its opposite of the abandoned quarry-turned swimming hole). Quarry Falls can be viewed from the MKT spur and I had scouted it many times before. It’s mostly man-made consisting of boulders reinforced with concrete, not pretty, but fun! It’s about a 3′ drop (vertical on right, slide drop on left). There was mandatory portage at a pipeline that may be run-able left with more water, however there was a ton of debris piled on it! Approaching Stadium Blvd, there were three tunnels to choose from, the far right was the MKT spur, and middle and left were there to handle the water from the creek. Well, water was flowing through all three, but we chose the left tunnel since it looked to have the most water. It was shallow, but we made it through. Immediately after Stadium there was a few more ledges and waves, but nothing as significant as the upper section. Most of the MKT spur bridges along the lower section had trees, debris, shopping carts, etc forming nasty strainers with most of them requiring a portage. We paddled out to the confluence with Hinkson Creek, and took out on Forum. After running shuttle back up to the top (now about 7:30pm), the water running through Flat Branch Park was just a trickle!

The good and the bad about this run is that it is so flashy. This means that it is rarely catch-able, but it also means that it runs before the other runs in town (and even when there’s not enough water to bring the others up!). It took 3 years to catch this one at the right time with water, with the boat ready, and someone to paddle with, but I’ve seen it up before on various occasions. So, I’ve got my eye on this one and next time there is rain all day in Columbia, I’m going to wait with my boat in Flat Branch Park until the water rises enough to cover the rocks in the middle of the creek, then put on and paddle, hopefully while it is still rising!