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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 9 No 5c, Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Mark River Blog

River Gator Chronicles:

High Water Helena

After many days of torrential rains in the Delta, the sun comes out and warms the air highlighting the settings that comes with season. The birds are covering the forest canopy, feasting as they continue their journey home. The colors in the flowers and trees are deep and striking. The Mississippi River is still rising creating a different river from last year's epic low water.

We start our day attending to maintenance on the boats when opportunity permits itself.

Driftwood Johnny makes a great suggestion, "you Quapaws should make the St. Francis to Helena run today."

Without any argument, we agreed. The day was perfect with sunshine and practically no wind.

According to the River Gator, the run would be approximately 12 miles and with the river levels should be an pristine paddle. It would take us a little over four hours, which was perfect knowing we have canoe class with the Kipp-Delta kids following the paddle.

We gear up at the new Quapaw Canoe Company Helena Outpost (located on the levee at 107 Perry Street -- its th last building in town as you leave downtown towards the River Park and the Helena Harbor boat launch).

We head north on the levee with our shuttle, driven by Driftwood, and joined by the Helena A&P Tourism director Julia. I love the drive through the St. Francis Forest and Crowley's Ridge. It never disappoints. We quickly hear the song birds filling the air with music. We spook a lone turkey as she frantically runs into the forests.

Suddenly, Driftwood says calmly, "get my camera." I crawl over the backseat, grab the camera, and directly in front of us on a fence pole was a huge Great Horned Owl. He managed to get a few pictures as the owl rotates it's neck 180 degrees before flying off into the trees. John hands the camera to Julia and lets her take a few shots. You can see the excitement in her eyes as she experiences the gifts of nature.

We continue on wondering down the road taking guesses on where the road would end, knowing with high water, it's anyone's guess. We come to the end of the road and you can see the mouth of the St. Francis in the distant. We unload our gear and all have a snack of grapes, say our goodbyes, and float off into the flooded hardwood forest.

We paddle through the flooded forest and immediately see the contrast in the water from both rivers. The St. Francis River is a beautiful green and the Mississippi River a chocolate milk. You can see the distinctiveness in the dividing water line. You can see the position of underwater infrastructure by the eddies and turbulence in the water. The river is swift, and there are a few barges moving downstream with ease while those going upstream are struggling against the powerful currents. We stay bank right, finding a small oasis in the trees where you could see Crowley's Ridge at eye level, then crossed the back channel to the middle channel that forms at high water levels. In the distant we see a small sandbar and head towards it for lunch. We are not alone as deer tracks cover our small beach. Ants of all species share the only strip of dry land. We sit underneath the willows shading us from the sun and enjoy our sandwiches as we count our blessings. We officially rename this small oasis as "Bologna Island" because it was created by the 2011 flood and that was our choice of nourishment. Usually there is no dry ground on Buck Island during high water.

In high water, Buck Island is a flooded landscape with flooded waterways flowing from the top of the island to the bottom. We dip into one of the sloughs and it's a different world. Big fish swim underneath our boat. The tree limbs are full of snails and ants escaping the high water. It's surreal and you hear nothing but the birds singing and feasting in the canopy.

As usual , time flies on the River, so we head back to meet the kids for class. As we come through forest to the main channel you can hear the children in the distant cheering and marveling at our arrival for class. I felt like we had just got back from a lengthy expedition.

We take the kids paddling through then flooded forest as fisherman on shore marvel at our fleet of canoes. The kids practice identification of trees, work on their paddle strokes, and listen to the dueling owls courting there sounds throughout the canopy.

I sit back and marvel at their progress and thank the creator for the path that has been chosen for me. What a great day!

-Mark River

Mark River Peoples is a river guide, canoe builder, and Mighty Quapaw Youth Leader for Quapaw Canoe Company, and is also the 1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern

The Mark River Blog

River Gator Chronicles

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Lower Mississippi River

Water Trail

What is The Rivergator?

The Rivergator describes the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail. The Rivergator is a website full of stories, maps, photos and accurate information concerning the BIG RIVER!

What is Lower Mississippi River Water Trail?

The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail described by The Rivergator is the longest free-flowing water trail in the continental United States, over 1100 miles from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico (including the Middle Miss from the Missouri River confluence). There are thousands of islands, backchannels, side channels and oxbow lakes to explore. The trail connects cities, states, public lands, festivals and all of the people and businesses found along the Lower Miss.

Who is The Rivergator written for?

The Rivergator is written specifically for paddlers who want to explore the wilds of the Lower Mississippi River. Canoeists, kayakers and stand up paddle boarders will all find it to be the definitive guide to the BIG RIVER.

Who is The Rivergator written by?

The Rivergator is written by John Ruskey with consultation from a team of regional river experts including Ernest Herndon, Big Muddy Mike Clark, Paul Hartfield, Ken Jones, Joe Royer, Dale Sanders, Tim McCarley, Adam Eliot, Mike Beck and Paul Orr and others. This team varies with the section of river being described.

Why is The Rivergator important?

The Lower Mississippi River is possibly the most spectacular and yet also the most unrecognized wild river in North America. It should be one of the classic paddler destinations alongside the Boundary Waters, the Okeefenokee, or the Alagash. Big volume water, towboats and industry have scared paddlers away. Until now there was no good written description of how to navigate the powerful waters. Enter The Rivergator !

When will The Rivergator be completed?

The Rivergator is still under construction. Go to for a preview. We are on a 3-year timeline to be completed in 2015. This year we will add 3 new 100-mile sections to cover the BIG RIVER including the greater Memphis region, the Chickasaw Bluffs, and the entire length of the Mississippi Delta, everything from Caruthersville, Missouri to Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 2014 we will add the Middle Mississippi from St. Louis down to Cairo, and then continue the Lower Miss connecting back down to Memphis. In 2015 the entire Lower Miss will be completed with the addition of the river from Vicksburg to the Gulf of Mexico, including Natchez, St. Francisville, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Venice.

How do I get involved with The Rivergator?

Any knowledgeable river rats are welcome to join in! The more eyes the better. Write me and I will include you in the circle of reviewers.

Furthermore, any interested paddlers can participate in the creation of The Rivergator by joining in on one or more of three exploratory trips coming up in the next two months:

May 23-27

Memphis to Helena

June 5-10

Caruthersville to Memphis

June 19-23

Greenville to Vicksburg

In November 2013 we will be celebrating the creation of the water trail by paddling these same sections of river. Contact for more info. Go to for an idea of what we’re creating along the Lower Mississippi River, and join us in making it come to life!