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What the Heck is CFS??

By Warren Maddox, Interpretive Ranger

     The Parklands of Floyds Fork offers many different outdoor recreation opportunities.  Imagine yourself paddling along over twenty scenic miles of easy paddling with the occasional, invigorating class 1 riffles. For the novice and casual paddler, Floyds Fork fits the bill perfectly for a day on the water. But don’t think for a second that these relatively calm waters don’t offer up serious fun and challenges as there are quite a few spots that will spice things up and require your focused attention lest you take a quick flip and dip.

       One thing for the new and casual paddlers to consider when planning a paddling adventure is the CFS or Cubic Feet per Second. CFS is a measurement of how much water is flowing at a given time. I have heard it described as 1 CFS = 1 “turkey” per second. 1 CFS of water weighs 62.5 pounds according to whitewater-rescue.com. Because Floyds Fork is narrow, when the CFS is high, the current is swift and pushy. Thousands of CFS may be normal on a wide river like the Ohio, but a similar reading at one of the three gauges in the park would be TOO MUCH “TURKEY”! When the fork rises above the mud walls normally containing the creek, the accessible banks disappear and are replaced by potentially dangerous strainers and log jams with high pinning potential, and little to no exit or good rescue opportunities.

  

This picture taken at Creekside Paddling Access in Beckley Creek Park showcases what flood level CFS looks like. Trees are submerged and accessible banks are gone. You’d have to catch the eddy created by the paddling access and risk getting swept into the submerged tree shown displaying the mile marker, which could result in getting pinned.

On the other hand, when the CFS is too low, you will scrape and drag along the shoals and be creek hiking instead of paddling. Need more “turkey”!

     So when is it a good time to hit the Fork? Start checking the CFS on the home page of The Parklands website following a good rain. Immediately after a heavy storm, Floyds Fork is likely to be flooded and the paddling accesses closed. But the creek fills and drains quickly. The paddling route can be flood level CFS the day of a storm and then perfect for paddling the next day. I have personally seen the Fork drop 10 CFS/hour when planning my own trips. Still, vigilance is a paddler’s best friend when kayaking after a storm. It is important to keep your eye out for strainers and log jams from downed trees and limbs that can create formidable obstacles. 

The CFS indicator on The Parklands home page features live readings from three gauges along Floyds Fork. Check back frequently and keep an eye on the forecast when planning your next paddling trip in The Parklands.

That said, kayaking at a reasonable CFS level and with sufficient attentiveness makes most obstacles avoidable or passable. If you were to come across a creek-wide strainer, spotting the downed tree ahead would give you more time to look for a bank to exit the creek and portage around the obstacle.

     My favorite guidebook for paddling the waterways of Kentucky (A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Kentucky by Bob Sehlinger and Johnny Molloy) recommends a minimum CFS of 200 at Fisherville. Anything even close to 1,000 is most likely too dangerous for most recreational boaters, and I would not recommend attempting without all the proper gear (i.e. life jacket, helmet, throw rope, etc.) and knowledge of limitations, water reading, and competent navigational skills. As mentioned earlier, the higher the CFS, the fewer banks there are to exit and most islands are submerged making rescue difficult. If the CFS is reading low in the northern parks (Beckley Creek and Pope Lick), you might have more luck through the southern sections (Turkey Run and Broad Run). To read more about how Floyds Fork flows at different levels within The Parklands, check out our Canoeing and Paddling page

     I hope you find these rough guidelines for paddling the Fork helpful. If you don’t have your own equipment or you’d prefer some hands-on expert assistance, you can contact Blue Moon Canoe and Kayak, our partner here on the Fork. They operate boat rentals and shuttle service on Floyds Fork from April through October, weather permitting. Their friendly and knowledgeable staff will provide you with everything you need for a uniquely riffling experience.

Phil, Wilson, and I enjoying a leisurely trip to Broad Run Valley Paddling Access from Cane Run Paddling Access. 6 miles of beautiful paddling along the Fork.

Canoeing and kayaking can be dangerous. The Parklands of Floyds Fork does not maintain the water trail, so we ask that you please paddle at your own risk. Floyds Fork is a wild stream and not a theme park. Always be aware of your surroundings, weather, water levels and be prepared to self-rescue.

Recommendations for a Great Paddling Experience

About the author:

Warren Maddox is an Interpretive Ranger at The Parklands of Floyds Fork. A certified wilderness first responder and avid outdoorsmen, he spends much of his time recreating in the backcountry. A natural born Louisvillian, Warren has hiked thousands of miles up and down the east coast along the Appalachian Trail. He developed a love for sport climbing in the backwoods of Kentucky and the Arizona Sky Island wilderness. Warren leads Member hikes and bikes and is one of the educators here at the park. You can find him roaming singletrack trails throughout The Parklands.

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