SYRACUSE – Longtime residents of Syracuse remember a time when floating on the Arkansas River meant doing so in wildly decorated horse tanks at the Arkansas River Run, an annual event that, along with the river, dried up.
But thanks to Mother Nature and two local women, the tradition is being rekindled this summer.
“It was a blast. And we would cook hamburgers and hotdogs under the bridge and just had a ball,” said Sandy Dikeman, former director of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, referring to “the bridge” on Highway 27.
But water is again flowing, thanks to a deluge of rains. With water currently at its banks in Syracuse, the two women in Syracuse decided it was time to revive the beloved Arkansas River Run event this year.
Crystal Lampe and Juana Bustillos are coordinating the Aug. 22 event.
The Arkansas River Run is a tradition that began in the 1980s. The river is located a couple of miles south of Syracuse but the annual event went by the wayside in the early ‘90s, Dikeman said, because the water levels weren’t high enough.
“Our biggest year, and I don’t remember the year, but the biggest we had 120 floaters and that would have been in the ‘80s,” Dikeman said, adding that in those years, as many as 300 to 400 people would partake in the all-day event of other activities, such as the hamburger and hot dog feed and rubber duck races.
Krista Norton, a reporter at the Syracuse Journal and manager of the Northrup Theater, recalled helping organize the event with her husband, Craig, who at the time served on the Chamber’s board of directors.
“It was just such a huge, huge event, and people brought very elaborately decorated tanks. It was just great fun for everyone involved. We would feed hundreds under the bridge,” Norton said.
She said the event went by the wayside because it became difficult to predict whether there would be enough water in the river, which originates in Leadville, Colorado.
The water is released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the John Martin Reservoir in Hasty, Colorado.
Kevin Salter, interstate water engineer with the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources, said the water from the reservoir is released based on the irrigation needs of six surface water irrigation ditches that serve area farms.
One of the ditches is at the state line, three are west of Lakin and there are two near Deerfield, Salter said. One of the ditches serves areas north of Garden City, Salter said.
“With the compact we’ve entered into with Colorado, we have to put any water release from John Martin Reservoir to direct irrigation use,” he said.
In recent years, the water released has been just enough to meet irrigation needs. But this year was different, he said, because there was more rainfall in both Colorado and Kansas.
“And actually, we had a fairly decent snow run-off from the mountains this year,” Salter said.
He said based on 98 years of records, the Arkansas River’s average flow of water near Syracuse is about 150 cubic feet per second.
“And right now, we’re flowing at about 575 cubic feet per second,” Salter said.
The river is currently flowing to Deerfield, he said.
Run organizer Lampe said she heard about the event because her husband’s grandmother once won the prize for oldest person in the river, Lampe said.
“It’s kind of a legend,” she said. “I’m not from here, but even my kids have heard about the old river run. So we thought it would be a really nice thing to bring back to the community.”
Lampe and Bustillos formed the Syracuse Roadrunners to raise funds locally while providing fun events.
“We’re just a couple of ladies who got together and we try to provide fun things for the community so they don’t have to leave town and they have something fun to do every now and then that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Lampe said. “We always pick an organization in town to give the money we raise.”
The proceeds from this year’s Arkansas River Run are going to help replace floors in the Hamilton County Fairgrounds building.
“Years ago, I heard stories that someone took an old Volkswagen Bug and turned it into a floating vessel to float down the river,” Lampe said.
Angie is a reporter for the Garden City Telegram. To contact her, email email@example.com.