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Lower Mississippi

River Dispatch

Vol 10 No 2c, Monday, February 10, 2014

Recent Sunflower River Gathering (with Spring Initiative)

Upcoming this weekend:

Feb 14 -- Full Big-Hearted Moon on the Mississippi. "Dia de Amor & Amistad (love & friendship)."

Feb 15 -- Become a friend of the Sunflower River: Annual General Membership Meeting of the Friends of the Sunflower River. (See below for details).

(Are we keeping the Rivers safe for our Children?)

In this issue we take you on a beautiful round trip tour of the Little Sunflower River, deep in the heart of Delta National Forest. Legendary hunter Holt Collier guided Teddy Roosevelt on a bear hunt here which led to his nickname. Mr. Collier reported that the Sunflower ran crystal clear in the early 1900s. People think we’re crazy to go swimming in the muddy Mississippi and it’s backwaters, but every morning Teddy stripped down and jumped in the Little Sunflower for a morning swim (a practice he maintained throughout the hunt -- and elsewhere during his lfe). This is one of our long-term goals of the Friends of the Sunflower River. To clean it up so that our children can swim in it without fear of poisoning Throughout Clarksdale, and all towns along the Sunflower, the aging infrastructure of sewer pipes and stormwater drainage is leading to e.coli contamination and petrochemical runoff from streets. We need to upgrade these systems and start enforcing a no-dump policy along our rivers and streams, and street drains leading to them. Our children will live healthier lives and be better reconnected to their natural landscape as result.

Sunflower River Cleanup Sat Feb 8th (thanks to friendsTerrance,Valencia, River, Brax and Lucas)

Feb 14 -- Full Big-Hearted Moon. Now taking reservations for full moon trip on the Mississippi River in the big canoe. No previous experience necessary, but must enjoy cold weather and be willing to paddle. Meet 1pm on Friday Feb 14th; end 9pm. What could tickle the spirits than paddling into the flickering light of the full Valentine’s Day Moon rising over the steel blue waters of the Lower Mississippi River? Call or write now and reserve your spot in the big canoe!

Feb 15 -- Annual General Membership Meeting of the Friends of the Sunflower River (12noon potluck behind Quapaw Canoe Company. We'll provide the fire and the enamel eatware. You bring whatever you want to share. All welcome to attend. $25 annual dues)

Feb 15 -- Sunflower River Cleanup 1pm meet behind Quapaw Canoe Company (following 12noon potluck meeting). Bring gloves and trash bags and dress for the weather which is forecast to be sunny with a high of 56. Barn boots and wool socks are best for the sticky, stinky mud. Canoes or paddlboards provided with paddles and life jackets, or pick up trash from the riverbank.

Feb 22 -- Sunflower River Cleanup 1pm meet Quapaw Canoe Company

Feb 23 -- Explore the Hushpuckena River between Rena Lara, Alligator, Duncan and Hushpuckena.

(Snow Bunny by Emma Lou)

Courtesy of the Lower Delta Partnership:

Mississippi Water Trails Project

-- The Little Sunflower River --

Little Sunflower to Big Sunflower (10 miles round-trip)

(Trail coordinated by Meg Cooper, Lower Delta Partnership)


The Little Sunflower River is a strange and wonderful piece of waterway. The best way to experience its unique beauty is by canoe, kayak, pirogue, stand up paddleboard, or other human-powered vessel.

Introduction to a Distributary:

The Little Sunflower River is considered a “distributary” of the Big Sunflower River in that it carries overflow water from the Big Sun. Distributaries are generally found at a river’s delta with the ocean where the water is allowed to flow through many small channels outwards from the main channel to the sea, such as the bird’s foot of the Mississippi River below New Orleans. However, in a few special isolated locations distributaries are found inland, for example as here within Delta National Forest. When the Big Sun is flowing strong and high (above 85 Holly Bluff Gauge) it pushes into the top of and then down the Little Sun - which in turn carries the muddy waters several dozen miles and then returns it back to the Big Sun, rejuvenating the floodplain forests along the way and all of the various habitats found thriving through connecting bayous. During low water times there is no flow from above, but there is always water in this lower section sustained from below by the Big Sun. This water trail route follows the Little Sun down the last 5 miles of its life as a distributary to the Big Sun confluence where its waters are returned to its “mother river.” The muddy banks thrive with aquatic life and forest creatures including beaver, turtles, wild turkeys, squirrels, wild hog, snakes, white-tailed deer and the black bear. Low lying swamp privets, water elms and flowering bushes give way higher up the bank to an impressive forest of hardwoods. Delta National Forest is one of the most expansive tracts of bottomland hardwood forest in North America, and is the single largest such forest in the entire National Forest system.

Paddler’s Summary:

Scenic roundtrip excursion into the heart of the deep woods of Delta National Forest. This easy daytrip is one of the most spectacular routes in the entire Mississippi Delta. Follow the gentle winding channel of the Little Sunflower River approximately five miles down to its confluence with the Big Sunflower River and then turn around and paddle back. Ten miles total round trip. Explore side bayous for closer animal sightings and better feeling for the big trees (but longer length of travel). The Little Sun is lined by deep woods which are punctuated with large trees and plentiful animal and bird sightings. These big woods are indicative of the superlative bottomland hardwood forests that once crowded the entire Mississippi Delta. This section of river always has plenty of water for paddlers regardless of river level. Several picnic sites are noted below, but you can stop almost anywhere along the length of this route for rest stops or picnics. Be forewarned that you almost always encounter gooey slippery mud. Bare feet are best in the warm months and rubber barn boots in the winter.


From Boat Launch follow channel 100 yards southeasterly and paddle under Dummyline Road Bridge and through gentle winding channel past a narrow bayou RBD (Muddy Bayou mile 0.6) and into a tight 180 degree turn called Hackberry Bend (mile 0.7). You will pass the mouth of a second bayou (Trace Bayou) RBD at mile 0.8 to go northward several hundred yards to curve eastward several miles in a long open channel which gradual curves north and past the mouth of Six-Mile Bayou (mile 3.6) and around several more bends easterly to the mouth of the Big Sunflower River (mile 4.8). Turn around and retrace your route back to the boat launch. Approximately 10 miles total.

Don’t Forget to Pack:

Life jacket, extra paddle, sun screen, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses,1st Aid kit, emergency gear, cell phone (in zip lock bag), rubber barn boots, sponges and bailers, extra rope, extra food and water, fire starter, camera and rain gear. Don’t forget the Bug dope and mosquito spray. Dress for the weather and pack everything into drybags, plastic tubs or garbage sacks.

Short Trip:

If you only have an hour or two you can paddle a couple of miles down the Little Sunflower and then turn around wherever you are and then return to the landing. The timing is simple because however far you go is how long it will take you to get back!


This route could be done as an overnight. Camping is allowed within Delta National Forest. Not recommended during hunting season (unless of course you are paddling & hunting). Consult Delta National Forest headquarters in Rolling Fork for regulations and seasons.


No services of any sort. Carry all provisions, extra water and cold weather clothing (in season). Carry emergency gear. Muddy landings, especially during low water (below 70 Holly Bluff gage).

Google Map of Trail:

short link:

long link:,-90.787754&spn=0.086899,0.119219

Note on Google Maps:

Blue Anchor Icon = Landing/Boat Launch

Light Blue Flag = Point of Interest

Green Tree Icon = Notable Trees

Orange Camera Icon = Scenic View or Location

Green Picnic Table = Picnic Site

Yellow House = Hunting Camp

Red Triangle = River Hazard

Blue Question Mark = Visitor’s Center

LBD = Left Bank Descending

RBD = Right Bank Descending

Water Trail Description:

Little Sunflower to Big Sunflower (10 miles round-trip)

Little Sunflower Boat Launch off the Dummyline Road (mile 0)



Wide concrete ramp and safe parking are found at the Little Sunflower River Boat Ramp off Dummyline Road. Park and start your daytrip from this concrete ramp which is wide and functional at all water levels. Safe parking for daytrip or overnight.

Dummyline Road Bridge (100 yards)



From the boat launch paddle south and under the concrete pylon bridge of Dummyline Road.

Big Oak (mile 0.1)



As you paddle past the first point along the route you will see a big oak towering above all others and opening its branches in the style of a classic tree.

Muddy Bayou (mile 0.6)



Narrow muddy bayou entering Little Sunflower from right bank bank descending (RBD) passable at higher water levels several hundred yards up to earthen dam (National Forest Road No. 720).

Hackberry Point (mile 0.7)



Thickly wooded point with open forest bottom that makes for a good rest stop, picnic stop, or pit stop. Short muddy bank makes for easy access from the river. The river makes a 180 degree turn around Hackberry Point, from south running to north running.

Trace Bayou (mile 0.8)



Small narrow bayou only passable by canoe/kayak in medium or high water levels. Large oaks and pecans near mouth. Well worth exploring. The canopy of trees creates a tunnel of vegetation which you can follow into the deep primeval forest beyond.

Right Angle Bend (mile 1)



The river turns to the east around a 90 degree bend into a long open channel lined by thick forests.

Private Hunting Camp (mile 2.4)



Delta National Forest is pocketed with pieces of private land, mostly hunting camps. Beware landing near this or any private camp, especially during hunting season.

Dead Cypress (mile 2.5)



Standing Dead Cypress RBD on steep muddy bank (in water during high water) favorite roost for hawks and other predators. Dead cypress are favored by the prothonotary warbler for carving nesting holes.

Wall of Oaks (mile 2.6)



The east-running river dips slightly southerly for a mile and then becomes increasingly northward in the second mile. As you paddle along in the second mile you will notice a wall of tall stately oaks which line the south bank (RBD) -- particularly in contrast to the north bank which is lined by clumps of ragged swamp privets and water elms. Watch for gators sunning themselves on the north bank. On hot days you can hug the south bank and enjoy a respite from the blazing Delta sun. Looking closer into these big oaks RBD the careful observer will notice squirrels and songbirds (in season). Hawks, eagles and osprey prefer these taller trees for lookouts. Watch for snakes and signs of bear (vigorous scratch marks up the trunk). The branches of the oldest trees are blanketed with resurrection moss, so called because it appears dead until the rainy spells when it springs back to life with luxuriant green fern fronds.

Gnarly Oak (mile 3.6)



Located on high bank opposite the mouth of Six Mile Bayou. This is the biggest oak along this stretch of the Little Sunflower. Its massive size is supported by a gnarled ball of tree trunk buttresses which straddle the edge of the collapsing muddy bank and open up below into woody caverns, the largest of which continues deep into the tree and appears to continue upwards, perhaps supporting families of raccoons or maybe even black bear.

Six Mile Bayou (mile 3.6)



Six Mile Bayou enters the Little Sunflower from the North (LBD) creating a lovely harbor for paddlers to enter and seek shelter from the wind or sun. Wild pecans are found along water’s edge with gracefully shaped oaks, sycamores, gums & hickories growing higher above. Beautiful picnic or campsite found on left bank. Adventuresome paddlers can continue up Six Mile Bayou several hundred yards and then portage over sizable earthen dam to explore the green tree reservoir beyond. The flooded bayou splinters off into two smaller bayous lined by columns of tall middle-aged cypress which feel like a cathedral as you paddle through and are enveloped by their graceful buttresses and high curving limbs. Follow larger of the two (eastern most) for the largest trees and the deepest woods.

Buttress Oak Bend (mile 4)



The river makes a 180 degree loop around a steep bank woods that features a tall water oak 4 feet in diameter with prominent buttressing at base.

Sunflower Flats (mile 4.8)



Just above the Big Sunflower Confluence LBD is a treed harbor perhaps leftover from the Dredging of the Big Sun. In high water the paddler can find shelter in this harbor and a good landing within the trees. Good picnic site, and also a good campsite. In low water, however, this harbor becomes a muddy flat and landings become impossible. In low water the opposite bank would make a possible landing.

Mouth of the Big Sunflower (mile 4.9)



As the Little Sunflower approaches its terminus the channel widens considerably and then opens completely into the Big Sunflower - the river which delivered the same water you are paddling in. As you enjoy the wide open views and the scale of the forest, you can entertain thoughts of the cycle of life, which is here reconnected. The periodic rises and falls of the Big Sun rejuvenate the forests surrounding the Little Sun and re-endow the floodplain habitats with sustenance and fertility, from the smallest plankton to the largest fish and the biggest bear!

Hunting Season Warnings:

Use extra caution and don’t explore woods during Hunting Season. Wear bright red/orange clothing and make loud sounds if it becomes necessary to leave open river to venture into the forest. Consult Delta National Forest headquarters in Rolling Fork for seasons and further information.

River Gage:

This section of river (below the Boat Launch at Dummyline Bridge) always has plenty of water for paddlers regardless of river level.

However, accessibility on the side-bayous will vary with water level. You can get an approximate idea of the water levels along the Lower Little Sunflower River using the USACE River Gage at Holly Bluff:

Big Sunflower River @ Holly Bluff, MS

Below 67: Low. No paddling in side bayous.

70-85: Medium. Side bayous begin to fill in.

85-95: High. Good side bayou exploration.

Above 95: Flood. Forests will be flooded in many places. Great paddling. Great birding. You will be able to paddle in places normally seen only by the birds and squirrels. Watch out for snakes in trees.

Reading River levels at Holly Bluff: In low water (67-70) you will be confined to paddling between the steep muddy banks of the main channel with no possible side exploration (in extreme severe drought conditions you might experience some dragging through shallows & mud flats). At medium water (70-85) you will be able to venture a ways up side bayous, and at high water (85-95) even farther with more tributary bayous accessible. Above 90 all of the bankside forest will be underwater, and above 95 (flood stage) there won’t be any dry land to be found, boat ramps & parking lots will be completely submerged.

Historic Levels: Looking at historical data for the Holly Bluff from over the past ten years, the river typically bottoms out around 70 feet on the Holly Bluff Gage with spikes due to rainfall & runoff, sometimes spiking up to 25 feet or higher in several days. A paddler caught in one of these spikes will experience vast areas of flooded forest and noticeable current in the Little Sunflower. If you go out in these conditions be prepared for come-what-may! The record low is 64. Bank full and flood stage is at 95 with a record high of 102.3 feet during the great flood of 1937.

Steele Bayou Control Structure: When the Mississippi River is high it forces its watery influence up the Yazoo River and floods all unprotected low-lying areas of the south delta including the bottomlands of the Sunflower River. The Steel Bayou Control Structure was built to shut off the south delta from the effects of the flooding Mississippi. It is located near the mouth of the Sunflower River into the Yazoo just downstream of the Steele Bayou Confluence. When the gates are closed the water might be backing up all of the way into the top end of Delta National Forest, and this section of the Little Sunflower River.

For a complete picture of water conditions, paddlers might want to consult the USACE gage at the upstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:

And compare it to the downstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:

When the levels are the same that means the gates are open and there is no piling of water behind the gates. If the downstream (riverside) reading is higher than the upstream (landside) reading, that means the gates are closed and water will be pooling behind. Compare the elevation with the reading at Holly Bluff. If they are the same you can predict that the water is pooled all the way up to Holly Bluff, and possibly beyond. What this means for the paddler in times of pooling is that you might experience no water flow, flooded banks, and possibly flooded forest. This might extend the length of your trip because you will have no assistance from river speed to help you along. On the other hand there will be no danger from fast water conditions and you can lazily explore flooded places normally not accessible.

Delta National Forest

68 Frontage Road
Rolling Fork MS 39159
Phone: (662) 873-6256

Office Hours:
8:00 am to 4:00 pm (M-F)

For more information contact:

These trails were coordinated by Meg Cooper and the Lower Delta Partnership. Photos and text by John Ruskey. Go to

for all water trails with photos and maps!

Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership

713 Walnut Street, Rolling Fork, MS 39159

Phone: (662) 873-6261

The Mark River Blog:

Sunflower River Days

It was the twentieth day of January - weeks removed from the Polar Vortex that descended upon our universe by surprise as I sit underneath the railroad bridge. The Sunflower River looks to flow backwards as the prevalent South wind blows warm springlike air from the Gulf of Mexico. The Polar Vortex, which was slightly predicted by The Farmer's Almanac, has seemed to speed up the seasons by forecasting an early spring through the activity of the wildlife along the Sunflower River.

I start my day out reporting to 9 am meeting with the Mighty Quapaws to discuss the day’s challenges only to be reminded by Driftwood Johnnie,

"River, it's MLK day brother!"

Instead I'm blessed with a impromptu ballad performance by our favorite ballerina 6-year old Emma Lou featuring the music of Joni Mitchell, while sipping on homemade ginger tea sweetened by local honey.

I take the opportunity to retreat to my sacred spot along the Sunflower River. Flocks of birds are bathing while others forage for seeds along the banks of the river. I'm amazed by the bright red and orange Cardinals. The water had recently receded from the heavy rainfall and snowfall run-off from the northeast and the warm wind has caused patches of grass to germinate. The grass show evidence where common and grass carp have picked clean, taking advantage of the rare winter rise. The other spots look like fresh winter wheat the first week in March. This river is full of carp. I witnessed the numbers one day this summer as I stood on the bridge waiting on the sunset. The mowers had worked the small buffer zone along the river projecting clippings into the channel. The channels where full of clippings as I watched hundreds of carp rising just underneath the surface inhaling microorganisms by filtering the soup through their mouths. A lone great blue heron stalks the shallows, while a female red tailed hawk patrols the trees attracted by the playful young squirrels practicing their acrobatics. The larger squirrels cling on to the weak branches trying to reach a small yellow pod at the ends of the tree limbs. It looked like the first day of spring.

This place, my favorite place, along the Sunflower River is where I've processed tons of information from our adventures on the lower Mississippi River. It's where I can find a natural place right on the edges of downtown Clarksdale and experience the wonders of the natural world. I recall the day I witnessed a grey fox scavenging for turtle eggs. It appeared to be foraging with his head down looking for a meal, but immediately stopped in it's tracks and started to dig with intention, occasionally stopping to sniff as my scent occupied the air. It would look in every direction -but up. I curiously watch wondering what the prize would be. Then suddenly, it buried its head so far in the ground and pulled out a small egg. I sat on that bridge for over a hour watching the fox feast on turtle eggs. I counted thirteen total. This observation let me know that the turtles were laying eggs on the muddy banks of the Sunflower River nightly. The next morning I took pictures of the turtle eggs and shared them with the Griot kids.

I jump on my mountain bike and head downstream along the Sunflower River. I pass Red's Juke Joint, while Red's sitting outside his place.

"Where you headed River?"

"I'm going to check out the weir."

His response, "backed by the River, fronted by the grave!"

The weir is the reason why the Sunflower River upstream is booming with wildlife. The deep pools it creates upstream holds large amounts of fish, which is a major food supply for many predators. It attracts birds of prey as well as scavengers. It makes the downtown channel of the River more spectacular. As you head downstream from the weir, you encounter beautiful braided channels with islands and peninsulas around every bend. Cypress trees bask in the sun along it's meandering channel. Large flocks of mallards and wood ducks frequent this area. The shallow water attracts large populations of herons and egrets as well as huge herds of whitetail deer as you get closer to Hopson Plantation. When the water is high, my favorite trip is Quapaw Canoe Company to Hopson Plantation. It's a nice scenic paddle.

It's hard to imagine that this small beautiful river flows through Clarksdale meandering it's way 250 miles to Vicksburg where it meets the Mississippi River. Whatever we do to this beautiful river effects the overall health of the Mississippi River. It creates a flourishing environment and habitat for many species of wildlife. It's an important tributary to Mississippi River and should be treated as such. It's perfect for canoeing, kayaking , and paddle boarding running right through our city. With this month being "Friends of the Sunflower River" month, we should take the time to enjoy and appreciate our little piece of tranquility and preserve and protect it for generations to come. Get to know your River!

-Mark River

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

brought to you courtesy of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

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