Sitting on a tube, floating lazily along with the sounds of birds chirping and the wind whispering in your ear sounds like a pretty good way to spend a day.
The Long Prairie River is a popular summertime destination for people of all ages to get that experience. For this reason, I decided that I had to experience this thrill for myself.
Having never tubed down any river before, I had no idea what to expect. So I set out in search of a few inner tubes. What I found was an old water tubing tube shaped like a gigantic triangle and a long, very thin air mattress floatie.
On a warm summer's day, I loaded up my mom's Envoy (as the tubes wouldn't fit in my car) and headed to Carlos Corners to meet a friend. Finding someone to go along on the journey with you is a good idea unless you want some serious thinking time to yourself. The whole "river float" experience is also a lot more fun if you have someone to talk to.
Orchestrating where to go and what to have with you can be a bit confusing if you're a first-timer. To make it easier for anyone wanting to get in a few floats before the end of summer, you can learn from my experience:
Tubing down the river works best if you use two vehicles - one to leave at the end and one to drive to the beginning. Drive both vehicles to Miltona Carlos Road. To get there, head north on State Highway 29 and take a right at Carlos Corners by The Hayloft. Continue on County Road 13 until you see Miltona Carlos Road on the left side of the road (if you cross the railroad tracks, you've gone too far). Turn left there and then park one vehicle on the side of the road before the bridge. In this vehicle, leave towels, dry clothes and anything you may want at the end of your journey.
Next, make sure the tubes and everything else is in the second vehicle. Head back to Carlos Corners and cross Highway 29. Go about one mile west on County Road 42 and turn right onto South Park Drive by the cemetery. Continue on that road for a little over half a mile until you see a parking lot on the left side of the road. This is where you can park your vehicle while you tube down the river.
At the access, there is a sign posted that states new regulations placed on the river (see fact box).
In this part of the river, weeds carpet the bottom; so if you don't like weeds, keep your feet above the surface because the water isn't very deep.
Here's another tip: Expect to get wet - it's pretty much inevitable. Whether it's from troubles getting on your tube, simply slipping off, or being "accidentally" tipped off by a friend, you will get wet.
I found this out very quickly. The instant I got into the water and onto my tube (the rather thin long one) I was soaked. My friend, on the other hand, stepped neatly into the large triangle tube without even touching the water.
Needless to say, a medium-sized tube that is sturdy yet comfortable would be the ideal river floating device.
Once we were on the river, with the current taking us down stream, it was easy to just relax, soak up some sun and let the cool water take its calming effect.
The river took many unexpected twists and turns as we floated along. The rushes on either side seemed to quiver as birds, turtles and beavers emerged.
There were spots along the way with a sandy bottom and water that only reached my ankles. This is the perfect place to take a break, sit in the water and feel the current rush around you.
During years when the water is low, however, I was told that this small portion of the river might have to be walked.
About halfway through our journey, we reached the Highway 29 bridge. As I floated through the dark tunnel (there is a choice between a larger or a smaller tunnel), I could only hope that there weren't any creepy creatures lurking under the surface.
Continuing on our journey, we passed some quaint looking houses with docks jutting into the river; we floated under an old bridge; and we managed to run into several overhanging tree branches. All too soon, we reached the end of our journey. We knew we reached the end when we got to a spot in the river where the water deepened and a gravel road crossed above us.
When all is said and done, it takes about two and a half to three hours to float down this section of the Long Prairie River (from the Carlos Dam to Miltona Carlos Road). It is a few hours out of a busy schedule where you can talk, relax, laugh and have fun.
There is still time left this summer to get in a good float. So allow yourself plenty of time and let yourself just take it all in.
NEW TUBING REGULATIONS
A new ordinance that has been in the making since this spring aims at protecting tubers on the Long Prairie River.
On April 8, 2008, the Douglas County Board passed this ordinance that prohibits littering, underage drinking, trespassing and the possession of glass on a portion of the river spanning from the Lake Carlos Dam to Miltona Carlos Road.
Chris Karpan, Douglas County attorney, was notified on May 13, 2008, by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that the Commissioner of Natural Resources had approved the previously passed ordinance.
More recently, on Friday, August 1, signs notifying people of these new regulations were put up at all access points on that particular section of the river. This, Karpan said, made the ordinance valid.
Under this new ordinance, a violation of any of the four new regulations will result in a misdemeanor that requires a court appearance. Once a person who has violated the Long Prairie tubing ordinance appears in a district court, and if no prior offenses have been committed, a fine will be handed out in the amount of approximately $382.
Local conservation and law officers monitor the river and can hand out tickets to those they see breaking any regulations.
"That river in July and August is used by hundreds of people," Karpan said. "Littering was a huge problem."
Glass bottles breaking in the river was a problem of special concern. As much of the river from the Lake Carlos Dam to Miltona Carlos Road is "wadeable," broken glass poses a very real threat. "I realized this was a potential for disaster," Karpan said.
With all of the trash and broken glass along the river, the emergency room at the Douglas County Hospital doesn't recall anyone ever being hurt on the river. Karpan said that this just shows that the Long Prairie is a good and safe float.
A day after the new signs had been posted along the river, Karpan said that he saw many people out tubing. "I saw no glass. Everyone was having a good time and behaving themselves."