Meet Place: Big Boat Ramp, Helena Harbor, Helena, AR
Meet Time: 1pm (flexible)
End Time: 7pm (flexible)
Route: St. Francis River to Helena Harbo
Bring with You: Snacks, 2 water bottles, sun protection, swim wear, shoes you don’t mind getting wet & muddy. Rain gear, sweater or fleece, long pants (or fleece). Mosquito repellant. Headlamp or Flashlight. Cell Phone in Ziplock.
Is it okay to Swim? Yes from safe places along sandbar. Also, storytelling and singing are allowed!
Quapaw Provides: canoe, paddles, lifejackets and all necessary river gear, first aid kits, VHF Marine Radio, running lights, and all necessary emergency gear. We’ll pack group water in 5 gallon jugs
1pm: Meet at the 107 Perry, board shuttle
2pm: Shuttle to the mouth of the St. Francis River. Load canoes/kayaks and push off downstream. Paddle downstream along the Helena Islands
3pm: Make landing on Buck Island.
3-5pm: Time for exploring, beach-combing, swimming, following tracks across the huge sandbars, fossil-finding on the gravel bars, fishing, etc.
6pm: Reload canoes. Explore bottom end of Island. 7pm: landing in Helena Harbor
What should you bring with you?
Wear loose clothing and shoes you don’t mind getting wet & muddy. In a daypack or drybag pack a sweater or fleece and rain gear for possible showers. Also: long pants (or fleece).
Mosquito repellant. Water Bottles. Headlamp or Flashlight. Cell Phone in Ziplock. If you’re a swimmer bring appropriate clothing and towel. Its also a good idea to pack a towel & change clothes in leave in your car in case you need after trip. Don’t forget your camera!
St. Francis River
The 475 mile-long St. Francis River drains 8,400 square miles of the Missouri Ozarks & Boot Heel, and is the biggest Mississippi tributary (on its west bank) in between the Missouri River (St. Louis) and the White River. Its muddy bottoms render secrets unearthed from the last ice age. Its confluence creates one of the wildest bottomland floodplains in the region, and nearby is the dynamic St. Francis National Forest. Not far beyond is found the “Big Woods,” where the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was recently sighted after being considered extinct since the 1920s.
Opposite the mouth of the St. Francis is Tunica Lake where Mart Twain’s brother, Henry, met his demise after the explosion & sinking of the steamboat the Pennsylvania.
Put in at the St. Francis confluence and canoe downstream alongside the variegated woods that parallel Crowley’s Ridge into Helena. Side-channels and secret waterways to explore depending on river level. Great fossil hunting and bird watching from the gravel bars at the top end of Buck Island. Becoming a habitat for Bald Eagle. Or go further upstream for a longer journey into Helena: put in at Walnut Bend (diﬃcult access), Mhoon Landing or Tunica Lake.
Buck Island is a 1,498 acre island located 1 mile upstream of the mouth of the Helena Harbor. It is one of the big islands of the Lower Mississippi. At low water its sandbars stretch 5 miles north to south and 1 ½ miles east to west. The forested high ground of the island is approximately 2 miles tall and a mile wide, in kind of a half moon shape, with a smaller forested “splinter island” found to the east. (During low water this splinter island becomes joined to the main island by a wide valley of sand & muddy pools).
Like all the big islands of the Lower Mississippi a wide variety of micro-ecosystems are found on and around Buck Island, including a bottomland hardwood forest, younger willow/ cottonwood forests, small grassy fields, sandbars, gravel bars, blue holes, and muddy flood pools (left behind in the flats after high water), each with its own particular inhabitants and characteristics. It should be noted that the Lower Mississippi fluctuates 45-50 vertical feet in an average year — as such much of the island and most of its habitats become covered with flowing river water at some point during a normal year. For instance, at high water the only portion of the island found above water is the mature floodplain forest and its isolated grassy areas.
Helena & Buck Island sit at the base of Crowley’s Ridge 74 river-miles downstream of Memphis and 226 river-miles upstream of Vicksburg. Crowley’s Ridge is a 200-500 foot tall hilly ridge that parallels the St. Francis River north to the Missouri Ozarks, a geographic anomaly in an otherwise flat delta floodplain. Helena was built at the southern terminus of Crowley’s Ridge, a wise founding decision that has provided the city with consistent river access – while other Delta cities have been left dry (Greenville/Vicksburg) or had to retreat (Friars Point) from meandering ways of the Mississippi. Crowley’s Ridge creates an unusual hill-country environment with habitat for plants & animals not normally associated with the Delta (such as rhododendron and may apple). St. Francis National Forest begins at the Helena City limits with hiking, camping, birding, hunting & fishing. Helena & Buck Island are considered to be part of the Arkansas Mississippi Delta, both are found in between the mouth of the St. Francis and the Arkansas River. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta is on the opposite shore (mostly within the State of Mississippi).
Due to its location on Crowley’s Ridge Helena is the only city in between Memphis and Vicksburg that actually sits on the main channel of the Mississippi River. This makes it an important resupply stop for long distance paddlers, and an ideal location for day-trippers or weekend adventurers who want to get a taste of the river. Anyone paddling the river along the Arkansas/Mississippi/Tennessee border will necessarily pass near or through Helena. Helena recently completed a beautiful park adjacent the main channel of the Mississippi with camping, walking trails, a boardwalk, and one of the best boat launches on the entire Lower Mississippi River. This new boat ramp is wider than most others, is good during all but the highest of river levels, and has good parking. Helena hosts one of the best blues & gospel festivals in the world every October, and is the birthplace and/or stomping grounds of many great blues musicians including Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Lockwood, Cedell Davis, Johnnie Shines, Frank Frost, Sam Carr, The Jelly Roll Kings & Lonnie Shields.
For the paddler Buck Island is an ideal location for a picnic, an overnight camp, a base camp, or a voyageur’s camp (if you’re traveling long distance down the river). It can be approached easily from Helena via the boat ramp at the Helena Harbor (upstream paddling), or from above by putting in at the mouth of the St. Francis River. You can paddle to the sandbars, or into the forest. At low water there are huge sandbars to hike with limitless possibilities for tracking birds & animals, and an enormous gravel bar at the head of the island with great fossil-finding, rock hounding and beach combing. At med water you can sneak through hidden channels that bisect the island. At high water you can paddle into the forest and wander through the woods in your canoe or kayak. Infrequently, at the very highest of flood stages, the entire island goes underwater.
You can make landings in deserted alcoves, and swim in blue holes. You can paddle all the way around the island (circumnavigation) or make a simple approach, a quick landing, and then keep going.
Above the Island on the West bank (Arkansas shore) is a series of small islands to explore, as well as East bank (so called “Helena Islands” – Mississippi shore). You can enter a mature willow forest following old river at Trotter’s (East shore), at higher waters it is possible to work your way through the woods all the way up to Tunica Lake.