Avid canoeist Ken Ingram didn't let dry weather keep him off the water in 2007 and 2008.

But he prefers conditions like he and other paddlers are experiencing this spring.

When it's raining and rivers and creeks are rolling, paddlers can be flexible and adventurous rather than forced to stick with the same waters that offer passable levels even in near-drought years like we've been dealing with the past two years.

With more rain falling heading into this past weekend, Ingram got a chance to try out a new float.

Ingram and four friends paddled the Roanoke River from Dixie Caverns to the pump house in Salem.

"It was a great trip," reported Ingram, who has floated the section from Salem to Wasena Park in Roanoke many times.

Ingram said water levels were just about ideal on the Roanoke, where the river peaked at about 3.4 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's gauge at Glenvar on Sunday afternoon. (Find the link to the USGS real-time stream flow site on my Wild Life blog on roanoke.com.)

Good river conditions across the region drew paddlers out in high numbers.

The busy weekend also brought a tragic reminder that paddling has its dangers when a kayaker Cabell Mercer Oast, 51, of Greensboro, N.C., drowned Sunday on the Maury River in the Goshen Pass area.

Canoeist Dave Weir had just finished a trip on the lower Maury when he decided to head up to an area known as the Devil's Kitchen, just to check it out.

"The rescue people had just gotten there," said Weir, who said Oast's body hadn't yet been recovered. "Seeing that situation makes you stop and think."

Weir said he has been paddling a whitewater canoe since 1999 but still doesn't feel comfortable in difficult whitewater. The Class II and III stuff of the lower Maury is more his speed.

"I always paddle within my skill level," he said.

Not that Oast was being reckless.

In fact, authorities said Oast's group has been kayaking in the area for 10 years.

But there's no doubt that an accident is more likely when a paddler gets into a situation beyond his skill level, something that can happen innocently enough.

"Sometimes the most benign-looking water can be deceiving," Weir noted.

My worst canoe accident occurred in a what seemed like a fairly slow stretch of water when I became distracted taking pictures and didn't see a low-hanging branch over the water until it was too late.

Something to keep in mind as these robust creeks and rivers call paddlers of all level this spring is that if it looks easy, it might not be.

If it looks hard, it is.

If it looks scary, maybe it's best left alone.

That float Ingram and his buddies did on Sunday is one of those that's well-suited for beginner canoeists and kayakers who have a little experience on moving water but want a little more.

It's got the typical assets of a freestone river flowing through Appalachia, with a mix of quiet pools, riffles and a few rocky drops that will test technical skills.

In fact, that description is pretty fitting for the entire stretch of the Roanoke from Dixie Caverns down to the 13th Street bridge, the downstream end of the Roanoke River Greenway.

The river doesn't get much attention from paddlers, which is probably understandable given the close proximity of larger rivers such as the James and New.

Ingram and some of his fellow paddlers with the Float Fishermen of Virginia would like to see the river get more attention.

Ingram said the club's members have been watching with envy the success of paddling events in surrounding areas, such as Franklin County with its Pigg River Ramble weekend.

Why not try something like that on the Roanoke River, they wondered?

"We're sitting here on a great piece of river, when it has water," Ingram said.

The Float Fishermen are in the planning process of what they hope will become an annual Roanoke River festival.

The tentative date is June 6, when the club plans a group float from Salem's Rotary Park to Roanoke's Wasena park.

The group is also planning a combination float and river clean-up on April 11.

Paddlers seeking more information on either event can call Ingram at 989-7151.

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