HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Four hours earlier, Meghan Talley was below the Fourth Avenue bridge, wondering what she had gotten herself into.

"I didn't know these girls from Adam," the Langdon woman said. "Was I nervous?" Yeah, I was."

But after spending a half day on a tube floating the Arkansas River together - Talley; Amy Weedon, Wichita; and Janice Glass, Arlington; were already making plans for the next outing.

It seems floating the mighty Ark has never been so attractive.

It's a river with sandbars perfect for picnicking. It's perfect for spotting wildlife like deer and waterfowl that are searching for respite among the slow-flowing waters. And for Talley, it was four hours of taking in the world at a slower pace.

Scott and Michele Brown are instrumental providing a way for residents to get on the river and enjoy its beauty. They launched Arkanoe. It's the area's only kayak, canoe and tube rental and shuttle service last year.

The river's increasing popularity is evident from their rentals, Scott told The Hutchinson News . They reached last year's total rental numbers by mid-July. Because of the demand and success of their business, they plan to extend the floating season until at least mid-October.

"I'm amazed, but I'm not amazed," said Michele. "I knew it was going to be popular, but I didn't know it was going to catch on this quickly."

Kansas has only three navigable rivers in the state and is open to the public for use — the Kansas, the Missouri and the Arkansas.

The Arkansas River is the sixth longest river in the United States. It crosses Kansas from west to east. It once sported ferries to help wagons and cars forge the wide river - even in western Kansas.

These days, the western half of the Ark is largely bone dry from Garden City to well past Dodge City. But the other half of the river — from Great Bend to the Oklahoma border, is considered a paddler's destination.

Last year, the National Park Service last year named the 192-mile stretch of river into a National River Trail — similar to what was done on the Kansas River in 2012.

It's helped spur activity, said Wally Seibel, with the Arkansas River Coalition.

"Yes, we are definitely seeing more," said Seibel. "We conduct floats quite frequently on the river here in (Wichita), and it has gotten to the point we have to limit the numbers of participants we can accept."

Making the river more available is a lot of the reason the river has become popular. Twenty years ago, when he bought his first kayak, he couldn't find one in Wichita. Today, there are several stores people can purchase one. Moreover, the coalition has worked to open up public access points for floaters to get on and off the river.

There are currently more than 40 access points along the river, according to the coalition's website.

"It's just become so popular," said Seibel. "Kayaking has become more popular with more and more participants. It's just relaxing, low cost recreation and a lot of people are taking advantage of it."

The Browns are among the longtime river enthusiasts. Both artists, the river has been the perfect place to search for discarded items - including pieces of glass and pottery that they often use in their mosaics.

They decided to turn their hobby into a business. Scott, who teaches at Hutchinson Community College, spends the summers porting passengers to the Fourth Avenue river bridge, where they launch their five-mile trip to Carey Park.

It's one of what appears to be only two rental and shuttle companies on the Ark. Scott said he knew of a service near Arkansas City.

"But it is a lot different river," he said of the southern leg of the Arkansas River. "It is wide and very shallow, and it is running straight south in the prevailing Kansas wind."

Scott said he has noticed more people visiting the river, as well.

"We see a lot more people out here, and not just with us," he said.

The Browns continually introduce new floaters to the river. About a third of the floaters are from Hutchinson, the rest are from Wichita and other points across the state.

They range from families to youth groups to couples celebrate 60th wedding anniversaries.

"We had a gal who was doing 48 states in 48 days. When she zipped through Kansas, she took a tube trip with us for her time in Kansas. I thought that was pretty cool."

Talley and her new friends took their trip Aug. 8. Talley's boss, Cara, had planned to go with her friends on the excursion, but had to back out at the last minute. She asked Talley to go in her place.

"It was fun, definitely a good time," said Amy Weedon.

Next year, the Browns hope to add an 11-mile trip from Nickerson. For now, they are hoping to aid more floaters through the fall, including during the Kansas State Fair.

"It's hard work, and it is physical," said Scott of the business. "But it has been fun. "It's a great way to see a beautiful side of Kansas."


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News,