-- Last Updated: Jan-03-13 5:50 PM EST --
Below a certain level, it's too low to paddle, or at least too low to go there for the fun of it. It sounds to me like it's a bit of a whitewater river, because it's pretty normal for whitewater rivers drop to levels that are too low to be worth messing with. After all, the reason to go to such a river is to have fun, not walk great distances dragging your boat. That's actually something that is mentioned as often as not in the various trip reports and other commentary from the whitewater folks here (think about all the times someone mentions getting a phone call that "things look good for tomorrow - let's go", regarding rivers that wouldn't be worth the trip on any average day), so I don't see why the concept of checking the gauge seems unusual to you. It's particularly true of the upper stretches of such rivers. As just one example, there are dozens of posts here each year about paddling (or often, not paddling) the upper Buffalo River in Arkasas. Ever see one of those posts that didn't include a comment about water level? (especially for all those cases where people had to change plans and go farther downstream instead)
Oh, and there are even flatwater rivers in my area that are very scenic and fun a lot of the time, but if the gauge is below a certain level, you probably couldn't pay me to go there. With more rivers within 80 miles than I'll probably ever be able to check out, I sure wouldn't elect to go for what's sure to be a "walk and drag" on one that most people would call unfloatable. I'd need some OTHER really good reason to go there in spite of the low water.
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