SHERIDAN — With the Bighorn Mountains beckoning, it is easy to look west for adventure in Sheridan County. The mountains are a plentiful playground, but local paddler Don Crecelius urges people to also look east — and right below their feet — to the region’s streams and lakes.
Kayaking, paddle boarding and even scuba diving make getting onto — and into — local waters a burgeoning option for adventure.
Crecelius is a board member for the Sheridan Community Land Trust and has spent decades exploring local waters in his canoe. He has been an integral contributor to SCLT’s Tongue River Water Trail project, an effort to improve floating conditions and promote access on the region’s publicly navigable waterways.
When Crecelius moved to Sheridan in the late 1970s, its waterways were neglected, serving as dump sites for cars and concrete.
“There was no appreciation of what a great resource it is in a semi-arid area to have this really beautiful stream coming off the mountains,” Crecelius said.
However, attitudes are changing.
In 2008, Sheridan County identified a “water trail” along the Tongue River and Goose creeks in its comprehensive plan. In 2009, a poll used to guide the city’s updated Parks and Recreation Master Plan found that 30 percent of respondents considered canoe/kayak launch sites the most needed recreation facility in Sheridan. It was the second-highest facility requested, indicating an uptick in interest in water sports.
In 2011, the land trust received a grant to assess publicly-navigable waters and create a plan that examines improvement opportunities along prime stretches of public water.
The eventual goal is formal designation of the Tongue River Water Trail as a national water trail, or blueway, that connects access sites, resting places and attractions for users of non-motorized watercraft. The hope is to further enhance Sheridan’s quality of life by providing a high quality recreational experience for new and experienced boaters alike.
Currently the Tongue River, Big Goose Creek, Little Goose Creek and Goose Creek offer nearly 90 miles of navigable water in Sheridan County. Recreationists should be aware, however, that only a few prime stretches are currently free and clear of obstructions and hazards. The bulk of Tongue River Water Trail streams sections traverse private property and contain obstructions like fences and diversion structures.
SCLT is working with landowners to promote access and knowledge of Wyoming’s stream access and navigable water law, which allows for boaters to portage around in-water fences and other hazards. SCLT is also working with recreational boaters to be respectful of private property as they enjoy the public water resource.
While Crecelius has floated many streams in the area, including the Powder, Big Horn, Yellowstone and Little Missouri rivers, one of his favorite floats is a half-day trip starting on Goose Creek near the old Acme town site, converging onto the Tongue River and ending at the BLM Welch Recreation Area.
“The Tongue River is so convenient and so local. Other than spring runoff, it’s friendly for families,” Crecelius said, noting it is rated mostly as Class 1 waters with a few stretches of Class 2.
Besides the scenic values on the Tongue River, Crecelius also appreciates the historic events that happened along its banks. The area is rich with stories of Indian wars and the Wild West of people’s imaginations.
If the spray from a few rapids isn’t wet enough, there’s always scuba diving.
High Mountain Divers owner and instructor Rick Stephens said there is a surprising number of Sheridan area residents who don mask and tank to explore the depths of the region’s waters. Even so, scuba diving is not people’s first — or second or third — thought when seeking an adventure in Wyoming.
“People are still surprised we’re here,” Stephens said.
He hopes that will change.
Diving is a stimulating way to explore, providing up-close-and-personal views of the area’s gilled wildlife and lake and stream ecosystems. Stephens finds Lake DeSmet, 28 miles south of Sheridan and 110 feet deep, endlessly fascinating, especially on a night dive when the fish get even closer. High Mountain Divers also takes students on trips to explore Yellowstone Lake and the waters of the Caribbean.
“You can have great experiences in local water,” Stephens said. “There’s nothing like a night dive in fresh water in DeSmet. You come up, and the stars are out, and there’s hardly any lights, and it’s a wonderful way to experience a Wyoming night.”
Have boat, will float
Whether you buy or borrow a canoe or kayak, there are plenty of opportunities to get on local streams and float.
Check out two recommended floats below. Before your adventure, see rivertrip.sheridanclt.org for an online Tongue River Water Trail trip planner or call the Sheridan Community Land Trust at 307-673-4702 for more information.
Other water adventures include boating, floating or paddle boarding on area lakes such as Lake DeSmet, Tongue River Reservoir, the Kleenburn Recreation Area ponds and Sibley Lake.
Dive into local waters
Curious about scuba diving but afraid to commit to certification? Check out the “Discover Scuba” class held monthly at the Sheridan County YMCA. Classes are typically held the fourth Saturday of each month from 9-11 a.m. The fee is $25 for members and $40 for non-members. Call the YMCA at 307-674-7488 for current class dates.
If you decide you like scuba diving, High Mountain Divers offers basic open water certification on up to advanced, rescue, dive master and instructor certifications.
For more information, call High Mountain Divers at 307-751-3782.
Little Goose Creek from Sheltered Acres Park to Thorne-Rider Park
Length: 3.2 miles
Float time: 1-1.5 hours
Launch: Accessible but undeveloped site in Sheltered Acres Park south of pathway near tennis courts
End: Accessible but undeveloped site in Thorne-Rider Park west of pathway, near baseball fields
Beware: Shallow water in Little Goose concrete chute on Dow Street between North Gould and North Brooks streets
Alternative route: Add an extra mile by floating to North Park where you will find an accessible but undeveloped access site. Beware the diversion structure just prior to the takeout. Also note that the stream beyond this point is not recommended for floating.
Goose Creek and Tongue River between old Acme town site and Welch Recreation Area
Length: Approximately 11 miles
Float time: 4-5 hours
Launch: In-use but undeveloped site on Goose Creek north of Acme Road bridge near old Acme town site
End: Accessible and developed site on Tongue River in BLM Welch Recreation Area west of Decker Highway bridge
Beware: Diversion structure 1 mile prior to takeout at Welch Recreation Area
Editor’s note: This article originally published in the Spring 2017 Destination Sheridan magazine, which was released in May.