Shortest River… or Not

On January 3, 2010 · 3 Comments

What is a river, exactly? In all seriousness, what differentiates a river from a creek, a brook, a run or some of the other watercourses mapped on Toponymia? Clearly it comes down to size and volume but where does one draw the line between what should be called a "river" and what should not?

The definition seems to lack a certain precision and creates a bit of a dilemma. Well, not for me exactly, but for certain residents of places claiming to host the "World’s Shortest River." Never underestimate the lengths to which local cheerleaders and boosters will aspire to, simply to attract some positive attention to their little corner of the world. While this specific honor may not hold much value to the general populace, it does create pride for those that may not have much else that would be considered the World’s Something-est.

I’ve seen some short rivers during my journeys. I once traveled down the entire length of the Pine River in Charlevoix, Michigan:



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The Pine River connects Lake Charlevoix to Lake Michigan. If one considers Round Lake to be a separate body of water from the Pine River (which appears to be the case according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names) then this "river" stretches no more than about 1,500 feet (457 metres). I sailed along this diminutive river while taking the ferry to Beaver Island. The ferry departs from Round Lake near its drainage into the Pine River.

Michigan’s Pine River is a veritable giant however, practically Amazonian in length compared to actual claimants to the title.


The D River

The local Chamber of Commerce in Lincoln City, Oregon held a contest in 1940 to name a tiny sliver of water connecting Devils Lake to the Pacific Ocean. They selected the D River which makes one think that the other options must have been truly awful. Apparently It wasn’t good enough to have just a tiny river. They had to give it a tiny name, too.



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This Street View image displays the residents’ local pride. Road signs proclaim unabashedly that the D River is the world’s shortest. It’s certainly a mighty midget among riverine contenders along its entire 440 foot (134 metre) dash toward the sea. I’ve actually driven down the stretch of U.S. Route 101 across the D River but I did not realize its significance at the time. I must have blinked.


The Roe River

Schoolchildren in Great Falls, Montana noticed the fame and glory accruing to the D River and decided that their own beloved Roe River had been short-changed. They mounted a challenge.



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The Roe River runs 201 feet (61 metres) between the Giant Springs and the Missouri River. It is found at Giant Springs Heritage State Park which is "one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, flowing at 156 million gallons of water per day."

The Guinness Book of World Records listed the D River as the shortest river for many years. The new claimant in Montana created a great deal of controversy and knocked the D straight off the world stage. People in Lincoln City did not take to this kindly. The length of the D River shrank miraculously to 120 feet (37 meters) based on new measurements from the line of "extreme high tide." Wink. Wink.

The Guinness Book of World Records must have finally soured on the competition as dueling contenders invoked accusations and grasped at new lengths of ridiculousness. Guinness dropped the World’s Shortest River category in 2006.


The Reprua River

That’s too bad because there is now a new leading contender, the Reprua (Reproa) River in Abkhazia, reputedly only 59 feet (18 meters) long. Abkhazia is either an independent republic (if one lives in Abkhazia, Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Nauru) or an autonomous republic of Georgia (if one lives just about anywhere else).

Notice that earlier claims focused on the United States. I think this may have had more to do with very few people caring enough about this question to actually apply a tape measure to waterways.



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I’m not sure exactly where it’s located. I don’t read Cyrillic so the websites don’t do me much good and the satellite images aren’t the best, but it’s probably somewhere along this stretch of coastline. Reputedly it begins from one of the large springs in Voronya Cave (also called Krubera Cave) and bursts briefly into the open before emptying into the Black Sea.

On January 3, 2010 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Shortest River… or Not”

  1. Craig says:

    Judging by this map in Wikipedia, the spot marked RE on the shoreline is Reprua and the one further west marked KR is Kholodnaja Rechka:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arabika_Massif_map_LR.jpg

  2. Nelson says:

    “What is a river, exactly?” When we lived in Florida, it seemed every flowing body of water was river, regardless of width or length. And every standing body of water was a lake, however small or large. As for geo-oddities, there is a chain of lakes that flow, each into the next and eventually into the St. Johns River. Does that mean they are actually a river that gets really wide in places?

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