HOUR STORY: Sunday boating on the Meramec

George Winter Park busy with variety of water vessels
2012-06-13T06:00:00Z 2012-07-23T16:16:34Z HOUR STORY: Sunday boating on the MeramecBy Scott Bandle stltoday.com
June 13, 2012 6:00 am  • 

Paul Ottinger sat inside the 18-foot aluminum boat with the F150 Jet Drive outboard motor. His children, Timothy, 13, Camille, 10, and his nieces, Ashley Walker, 15, and Nikki Walker, 13, sat with him.

The boat was mounted on a trailer, heading down the concrete launch ramp at George C. Winter Park in Fenton. The family was going to spend Sunday afternoon on the Meramec River.

Ottinger, 37, kept waving his arm at his wife, Heather, who was at the wheel of the pickup truck, backing the trailer in the river.

"Little more! A little more!" he said, peering down at the water. A few feet later, the boat cleared the ramp and floated off the trailer. "Okay, head out!" His wife gunned the engine and drove to the parking lot.

Ottinger started the engine, which let loose a powerful rumble. He steered the boat toward the ramp and waited for Heather to climb aboard.

"We like to come out here about every other week," the Pacific resident said before launching the boat. "The kids enjoy it and it's lots of fun."

They weren't the only ones out on the river. All kinds of motor boats, small and large, and a variety of personal watercraft were constantly launched and retrieved at the park's two ramps.

The atmosphere was friendly. People patiently waited their turns; the motorboats often waited for the personal watercraft because they were quicker to launch.

Once in the water, the boaters slowly glided past the "No Wake Zone," which was marked by buoys. The idea is to avoid accidents and to keep waves to a minimum.

However, past the zone, the captains hit the gas. Engines roared to a high whine. The vessels left long, white wakes.

Overland resident Frank Smith, 42, brought his watercraft to the shore. He had been out on the water for a while, sharing the ride with a buddy.

"I like it here because it's just 30 minutes away from home," he said. "This is a good part of the river. If I wanted to do this somewhere else, I'd have to drive to Mark Twain Lake."

He noted that the Meramec River was low. Smith pointed to a small island with several trees in the middle of the river.

"Look over there," he said. "You usually don't see that. It's been pretty dry around lately."

Smith enjoys riding on the personal watercraft, comparing it to riding a motorcycle.

"You zip around really fast," he said. "It's fun."

More boats came and went. One family lowered its motorboat. A young teenage boy stepped off the ramp to climb in and almost disappeared into the water. Fortunately, he was wearing a life jacket.

"I meant to do that," he shouted to his family. They laughed in doubt.

Another family went to launch a boat, but the driver had a little trouble steering the pickup truck. The trailer zigged and zagged. Finally, he pulled the trailer back into the parking lot for a do-over.

He made it the second time.

The boats were well-equipped with life jackets, coolers, sun tan lotion, portable music players. All except flip-flops.

When some people stepped out of the boats and on to sun-baked concrete ramps, they took little, hopping steps. Some found relief on a nearby patch of grass.

People weren't at George C. Winter just for boating. Under the pavilion, a large crowd enjoyed a picnic. Folks walked their dogs along the beach; some of the canines, especially the retrievers, jumped into the river, barking in excitement.

Around four o'clock, many boaters began to head to the ramps to go home. A rush hour jam formed, but people were patient. It's the price for a day on the Meramec River.

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