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Lower Mississippi

River Dispatch

Vol 10 No 3b, Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mark River Blog:

River, You've Earned It!


As the 2013 season came to an end, the Mighty Quapaws had one more expedition. Our friends from sunny California were embarking on a plan on documenting rivers using a high-tech camera mounted on one of our voyager canoes. It was a brilliant idea.

This project called " Riverview" was a concept developed by Kristian Gustavson, an oceanography teacher at Scripp's Oceanography School of San Diego. The concept was to attach a 360 degree camera onto the Grasshopper canoe and document the Apalachicola River in Florida. When I heard the plan, I instantly found a quiet place to pray. Knowing I might have to stay at base camp, I needed to express my humility to the Creator to corral my selfishness and do whatever to team needs to make this expedition successful.

The team arrives from San Diego after a late night of driving. I wake early to do my normal routine of pull-ups and inclined lunges and notice they have made it safely as a solid piece of metal rested in our lot. I know it hadn't been there long as our adopted cat" shady cat" is resting underneath the vehicle enjoying the heat from the vehicle. I examine the beast of a vehicle and noticed it was powered by biofuel. I think to myself, "my type of people."

The sun eventually rises and heats up the delta. I wait patiently to meet the crew as Wolfie and I start planning for the Clarksdale Christmas Parade, which is one of my favorite times of year. Wolfie, a talented writer, is scheduled to be first mate on the expedition, but has deadlines to meet before departure.

He looks at me and says, " River, you gonna have to take my place on the trip. I have to make these deadlines."

My heart skips a beat as I look to the heavens and say, " thanks."

The crew is set. My bags were already packed because of my unshakeable faith in the Creator and humanity, while Kris, Dan, and Paulie rise from their needed naps from the long trip. Kris, who is known for his work with Below the Surface is a well known water keeper and old friend of Driftwood Johnny. Dan, a navy man and avid diver, and Paulie, our medic for the trip. The "Dark Chocolate", Kris's truck, is loaded with equipment and gear. We unload the truck while Braxton and Dan, former sailors, start coming up with a plan on how to mount the 360 degree camera onto the Grasshopper.

Kris yells, "I heard you’re going on the trip."

I yell, "Thanks for having me. It's an honor."

He looks at me and says," River, you've earned it."


The Mighty Quapaw's are busy preparing for the parade, arranging holiday lights, working with our Griot Arts after school program, and shaving cypress logs for our new awning being designed for our storefront. It gets even more exciting when the crew decides it would be great to do a test run of the camera in the parade.

The plan is to participate in the parade and leave the following evening for the Apalachicola River. The crew is already starting to bond as we trade gifts and gear to assure everyone's protected and seasoned for the trip. The spirit is in the air. My stomach is already started to feel like the night before Christmas.

Braxton Barden, one of our newest Mighty Quapaws, is in full blown work mode, configuring the apparatus upon the canoe and programming the GPS system. He and Dan come up with a great model. Now it's ready for the trial run.

Parade day is here as the Mighty Quapaw's finish up our floats. We will have our “York Boat” Annie on Butch, (Quapaw's first vehicle, a ’56 Chevy 2-ton flatbed), along with Grasshopper, loaded with Griot Art students along with the "Dancing Diva's" starring one of our own, Emma Lou Ruskey. The Rat King, "Watermelon Slim" and the "Nutcracker" will be dueling in hull of the Annie.

The parade goes on without a hitch, as the town of Clarksdale line the streets enjoying a special time of year. The crowd wows at our contraption, while the fireman and policemen wonder what we're doing. The camera mount looks strong and sturdy, and the team looks solid. We end the parade with hugs and laughter while the firework show lightens up the Sunflower River. I look around and take it all in. I think about the expedition and how this trip could change the way our world look's at rivers. I think about incorporating this expedition with the and documenting the entire Mississippi River. I think about all the uncertainties leading up to this point and celebrate our accomplishments. The team has already come together. Now we must take this energy to Florida and make it count!


We cross the bridge , Driftwood says, "River, that's the Chattahoochee. On the other side is the Apalachicola."

We honk the horn with enthusiasm greeting our friends as they wait at the ramp. Introductions with hugs , not handshakes, lets me know that this trip would be special. The Florida Crew consist of Elam Stoltzfus, a producer, director, cinematographer, and editor of Live Oak Production Group,Inc. His partner and son, Nick. Joey, the intern and fellow Florida State best bud, and Jason Riney, a explorer who most recently circumnavigated the entire state of Florida n an expedition called Florida 500. Our diverse crew consisted of one Voyager canoe, three kayaks, and one paddle board. Locals gather, talking through their trucks, about us as we mount a 360 degree camera in the Grasshopper canoe. Driftwood and I continue to pack the canoe as if a regular day on the Mississippi River. The crowd grows bigger as the questions start to fly.

Who built that boat?

How much weight can it hold?

Where you guys from?

What are you' ll doing?

We continue on answering all question with grace.

I take a second to reflect, “I'm in Florida."

I smile and take it all in. I look around and see palmettos and cypress trees. Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

A notice a sign that says, "No swimming, alligators frequent these waters." As Driftwood dives of the dock and takes his first of many swims in the clear cool waters of the Apalachicola as it comes underneath its last dam.

We set off down the middle of the channel, along with buoys and anchors from the past when barges frequented the river. Fishermen fish out of their boats targeting a structure (Jim Woodruff Dam) created by man. A lonely alligator suns on the bank. Great blue herons and egrets fish from the low lining tree limbs aware of the danger under the surface. A bald eagle feeds on the gravel bar. The water's a jasmine green as clear as a mountain stream. The trees are turning beautiful colors. It feels like a fall day on the Mississippi River.

We paddle 15 miles and find a sandbar to camp. The stars fill the sky as if they followed me from home. Great horned owls sing their song throughout the night as I ponder, “this is the same sky I see at home-just from a different angle." I wait for the coyotes, but they never sing.


I rise with sun to be welcomed by a bald eagle flying across the river channel and lands in a large sycamore tree.


Driftwood and I greet each other thanking the creator for looking after us. It's a welcoming sighting and assures us that we are one with nature.

We pack the boat with great anticipation as another immature bald eagle hovers over the canopy of hardwoods landing on the highest limb. The presence moves us to get the drum out and celebrate another glorious day, while we bless the canoe and each other. The sage feels my lungs and leaves me to believe this would be a special day.

The river meanders slightly as houseboats start to appear around every bend.

Large pillars of oak reach out into the channel like the wing-dikes on the Mississippi River. The structure is the old way of dredging and straightening this waterway.

Beautiful bluffs of limestone remind me of the family property in southeast Missouri. Unique colors of orange, pink and sulfur stacked in sedimentary layers.

Sitting around the campfire that evening while listening to Driftwood and Joey strum the guitar while the fire winds us down slowly. Joey has the voice of a young Bob Dylan. That night staring at constellations as they move throughout the sky, I coined Nic as the “Big Lewboski” because of his infectious laugh and big personality. News that Nelson Mandela died yesterday sent the eagles to show us the way and to let us know everything will be alright, but never the same.

When I laid my head to rest last night, I had finally got the feeling I get on natural rivers as I hear the sounds of skipjack herring chasing shad while being chased by aggressive territorial fish like large and smallmouth bass. I was deeply worried about the reservoir-like setting at the start of the Apalachicola River. There were no signs of fish feeding, just many boats zipping through river being impatient and fishing only man-made structures. That let me know that big catfish existed in this river. Catfish seem to turn up when dams are built. Most of them get planted in these settings from waterfowl and other water birds transporting catfish eggs on their feet from the previous bodies of water.

I take a walk along the beach gazing across the river as I hear and see a great horned owl perch way up the tree on the bluff opposite of our campsite. He sings his song as if he has all the time in the world. The clouds are teasing us with small gust of precipitation so everyone pulling out their rain gear preparing for a rainy day.


The camera is put away for the time being as we launch the grasshopper and head downstream. We stop at the Blountstown boat ramp to meet Elam's wife, Ester, and resupply while we greet the people who heard about the expedition waiting to see our canoe and camera. One women with a very sketchy john boat says, "that ain't no boat, that’s just sticks in the water!" We all give each other the look and smile. It was the highlight of a rainy day.

I start to feel at home as willow trees welcome us around the bend. The sandbars are getting steeper and horizontal, like the islands of the Mississippi River. The river is back to its natural self and so am I.

A bald eagle statues in the tree across the sandbar letting me know this is where we would camp for the night. We are now 63 miles from our destiny, Apalachicola Bay, the Gulf of Mexico. The relationships have bonded and we have become a tribe of nomads clinging to each other for the sake of humanity. There are no bad attitudes and we laugh like we known each other for years. This expedition was meant to happen.

We wake with a haze in the air. In the night I could hear huge gars feeding in the shallows. As we get further from the dam, the willows started to show up on the sandbars, letting me know it's getting back to its natural state. Old cypress trunks straddle the banks, while the sandbars grow vertically and back channels occur more and more frequently. The trees in Florida in the winter look like fall in the delta. Their colors are spectacular.

The one thing I have puzzled about is the lack of beavers. Driftwood and I hold the alligators responsible for that. The team's getting stronger and more efficient daily. We are spending more time together around the fire listening to Nick and Joey entertain us with endless portfolios of material. As we get further south the mosquitoes get thicker, but I'm use to it. We had a beautiful day and the crew is incredible.

We spent the night on a sandbar that reminded me of the bank channel of island 64. The willows buried high on their trunks, while the leaves fall with every wind gust. If you never heard willow leaves land on the fly of your tent, it's like thin potato chips falling from the air.

We paddle to our resupply point where we are greeted by Esther with donuts and chocolate milk from the Ocheesee Creamery, a traditional Mennonite farm, which happened to be owned by her sister. The town is called Wewahitchka, Florida. It's a beautiful community of houseboats and lake houses located on the main channel of the Apalachicola River. An oxbow chute leads to the Dead Lakes which is an old cypress forest like I've never seen before. The Dead Lakes are crammed with old tree trunks that could be anywhere from one hundred to five hundred years old. It was worth the beauty, but the upstream paddle to get out was difficult. As always we faced and embraced the paddle and we were rewarded by a north wind pushing us down river as we ate lunch in the canoe.


We paddle to a protected bay with cypress and tupelo trees intertwined in great numbers. When we pulled my natural instincts set in and I feel a mysterious aura as we paddle slowly through. I could hear no sounds or animals. It was surreal and had sign that read, Camp Swampbooger. I think to myself,"something happened here." Later that evening around the fire, I hear that a large amounts slaves had been hung there. I felt it.

We pass by various houseboats at every bend. This river had the highest concentration of houseboats I've ever seen. We passed one that had a separate dog kennel floating with hunting dogs. We also passed many abandoned boats landlocked and in need of repairs.

We make to camp and an hour later one of the damaged houseboats came floating around the bend. We all got footage.

We start our day in the rain, but it was more like a warm shower as we rush to pack the boat. We do a wet pack and get on our way to make sure we allow time for any inconveniences along the way. The day is felled with scattered showers and sunshine alternating around every bend. We are curious about what happened to the runaway houseboat we witnessed floating down the river the day before. We paddle around every bend taking guesses on where it may land. Houseboats appear around every bend and we wonder how these boats avoided disaster. Eventually we come around a tight bend where the houseboat had collided with a submerge tree. We sign of relief glad no ones home had been destroyed or hurt, but the owner lost something special.

Our last camp was Fort Gadsen. This fort was very active during the War of 1812 and later became a haven for runaway slaves and relocated indians. They thrived being less resistant to malaria and became a force to be recon with when slaves from all over converged to join forces with the indians. When we made the landing, again I could feel the mystic spirits of the fort and embraced it without fear. In our tents that night, I could see all types of shadows and silhouettes, but never felt fear. I could hear dogs occasionally sounding as if approaching only to fade away. I think to my self, " the slaves and indians are running from the dogs."


We rise with big smiles and sun. We all had encounters with spirits and someone watch something hovering around our campfire late into the night. We are all looking forward to seeing the Gulf of Mexico today as well as the beautiful oyster town of Apalachicola.

The landscape starts to flatten as brackish swamps and marshes look as if sunken into the land. Schools of mullet work the shallow banks pushing shad upon the shores. The peripheral landscape widens as we get closer to the bay.

The beautiful town of Apalachicola, caught between new development and old establishment is a site to see. Large brown pelicans soar the bay feasting on the bays bountiful givings. Big yachts, shrimp boats, and oyster boats line the cities downtown area. People from these million dollar yachts smile and take pictures. One woman comes out of her spectacular yacht and says, " nice canoe, can I take a picture?" That made my day. Grasshopper fitting in well with yachts!

We finish the day and head back to Blountstown to celebrate our journey. Ester treats us all like we were her own as we eat around the dinner table telling stories and processing data from the trip. We finish two days earlier giving us ample time to get our wits and prepare for the journey home as Christmas creeps upon us.

The following day, I get the tour of Blountstown from Laura, the daughter of Elam and Ester, and Communications teacher at Florida State. Laura, a striking woman with porcelain skin and truthful, piercing eyes, explained the social economic checks and balances of the town and its deep history of Mennonite farms and football. We all went out for cheeseburgers and had a glorious time. We went down to the Blountstown ramp and the water had risen 10 ft. Thank goodness we finish when we did or our camp spots would have been submerged.

The Apalachicola River is a beautiful, mystic river with tons history. Its crystal clear water and bountiful wildlife support thousands of houseboats and still had beautiful water and trees. The expedition was one the best I've been apart of and the relationships that were formed are forever. Our chemistry was so natural, it felt like we all knew each other for a very long time. The next time I go back, I'm checking into a houseboat!

Mark River

Mark River is big river guide and youth leader for Quapaw Canoe Company. He writes the Mark River Blog. Go to for more stories and photos. Mark River is also the Southern Coordinator for the 1Mississippi Program. Visit and become a river citizen!


For more information about Below the Surface Riverview Project write or go visit

Big Island 2014 Circumnavigation

Lower Mississippi River Foundation Inc

291 Sunflower Avenue|Clarksdale|Mississippi|38614

Circumnavigation of Big Island

A Learning Adventure March 18-28, 2014

Presented by: Lower Mississippi River Foundation

On Monday, March 18, 2014 a group of teachers, students and explorers will embark on a 10-day circumnavigation of Big Island by canoe as a learning adventure for the benefit of sponsoring schools and classrooms throughout the region. This will be the second documented circumnavigation of Big Island in the history of its existence and will involve the Arkansas, the White and the Lower Mississippi River. Big Island is thought to be the largest island within the land mass of the Lower 48 states.

Big Island Expedition is presented by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. Partners include the KIPP Delta Public Schools, US Fish & Wildlife, Audubon Arkansas, MSU Dept of Biology and Quapaw Canoe Company.

Starting at Rosedale Mississippi the explorers will paddle downstream the Mighty Mississippi to the Arkansas River Confluence, and make base camp #1 for several days of natural science research and documentation. The Arkansas is the biggest and wildest confluence on the entire Lower Mississippi, full of bear, wild boar, birds and strange muddy landscapes. During the Great Flood of 2011 the Arkansas began carving a new outlet to the Mississippi in a violent explosion of water coursing behind Cat Island.

The explorers will next paddle up the great Arkansas River 43 miles, around several dozen giant river meanders in the fashion of Lewis & Clark. This portion will involve very difficult upstream paddling, poling and cordelling (the French word for pulling a boat with a long rope). At Base Camp #2 the team will continue research and documentation into the dark heart of the deepest woods of Big Island. Finding sign of the reclusive Louisiana Black Bear will be one of the tasks at hand, as well as conducting a bird and amphibian count. The team will be collecting data about Pallid Sturgeon for the US Fish & Wildlife and helping Audubon Arkansas with their annual bird count. The next challenge will be to locate a suitable back channel oxbow or wetlands to cross over and reach the White River. A route will have to be scouted through the briars, snake-infested woods and alligator swamps. The explorers will then manually portage all of their gear and canoes from the Arkansas River to the White River, a process that might require one long dirty day.

Now begins the downstream portion of the adventure. The explorers will paddle approximately twenty miles of the White River, a very remote and wild river which is here surrounded by the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Base Camp #3 will be established for the exploration of some of the most remote bayous around which are found the giant Bald Cypress, a favorite haunt for bears, raccoons, prothonotary warblers and bald eagles. The mouth of the White is now fenced at the Mississippi by its newest lock and dam, through which the adventurers will have to negotiate by being flushed through a 1200 foot lock chamber controlled by 120-ton steel gates. The last segment of the journey is a 25 mile run down the Mighty Mississippi, along the way the explorers will visit a steamboat wreck (the Victor) which was exposed in the 2011 Flood, in the Old Channel of the White behind Montgomery Island.

Big Island is a spectacular natural phenomena, a landscape cut by, flooded by and defined by three biggest and most important rivers of deep south, the Mississippi, the Arkansas and the White. This will be the second documented circumnavigation of Big Island in the history of its existence.
For more information about the Big Island Circumnavigation: John Ruskey (662) 627-4070 or cell: 902-7841

Quapaw Canoe Company

Tax Fight Update

Two bills in favor of nature tourism are now alive in the Mississippi Legislature: SB2972 and HB1604. Mississippi voters, please ask your Senators and Reps to vote “Yea!” for these bills and petition the Governor to sign them into law. March 18th deadline. See below for links to petition. Outside of Mississippi? You can still sign petition. Be sure to comment on your reason for doing so and your connection to us or the river. Thanks! We’re aiming for 3,000 signers (Petition found at:

SB2972 and HB1604 would add language to the tax code describing our river guiding services as tax exempt, in accordance with Federal Law. These are not retroactive. We'll still have to appeal the DOR for what's already been assessed $41K and pay accumulating lawyer's & accountant's fees of $25K. But it will pave the way for our future survival and success, and anyone else pursuing this type of business. And that's the most important thing.

Friday Feb 28, 2014

Dear Friends of Quapaw Canoe Company:

We’ve made a positve legislative breakthrough this week. If passed into law we (and any businesses like ours) will be exempt from taxes on river guiding and outfitting services in the future (but of course still liable for any sales or rentals). SB2972 passed the Senate. Another bill HB 1604 passed the House. They have to cross rotunda to opposite chambers, and get voted upon, probably next week. If the vote goes well, it goes to Mississippi Gov Bryant. Last step: Governor signs into law. These are both considered revenue bills. The Revenue deadline is March 18th.

This is good news for the future of nature tourism along the Lower Mississippi River. Please contact any Mississippi Senators and Representatives you know, especially in the Finance (Senate) and Ways & Means (House) Committees, to support and vote for HB1604 and SB2972. These are not retroactive. They will not rectify our 2009-2012 situation with the DOR, nor take care of any legal/accountant fees. But it will pave the path for future fair treatment on the river for us and any others involved in this type of nature tourism.

The river angels must be watching over us. Thanks to all of you for your prayers, petitions, and acts of kindness and generosity. Thank you all for believing in us, sharing your feelings about the river and our services, and for standing beside us in this fight!

You can Track the Bills:

Please Sign the Online Petition:

Mississippi Business Journal Blog Update:

Mississippi Business Journal Story:

Lower Mississippi River generates $152 billion, 585,000 jobs

Outpouring of Comments, Stories, and Passion for the River:

Quapaw Canoe Company Legal Defense Fund:

You can help us survive this unfair tax fight at:

Or send a check made out to:

Quapaw Canoe Company

291 Sunflower Avenue

Clarksdale, Mississippi, 38614

$25,000 goal to help with legal and accounting fees

Fundraising Report as of this Morning (March 13th):

$13,861 raised at

$8,095 received in checks

= $21,956 total donations to legal fund

We’re now 88% towards our $25K goal

We have 50 days left in this 60-day campaign

(ends April 23, 2014)

Special Thanks: Thanks to everyone who has joined us Mighty Quapaws in the big canoe and grabbed a paddle to help in this difficult upstream journey! We're now about 88% towards our goal in three weeks! This is an amazing testament to your good spirit and faith in our work. We have been receiving checks in the mail. I will deposit all checks we receive to the Indiegogo platform so everyone sees where we're at. And then whatever we end with in 60 days will go completely to the cause. And with good people like yourself on our side I am certain we will make our goal.

Win-Win Situation: thanks to a very generous offer this week from one of our benefactors we're in a win-win situation. An anonymous benefactor has committed to donate whatever fee Indiegogo charges us at the end of 60 days so that we will receive 100% of the donated funds.

Our story is hitting regional networks:

Mississippi Business Journal:

Gulfwaves: Keep Quapaw Canoe Afloat:

“The Mississippi State Tax Commission is threatening one of the state’s best eco-tourism successes of recent years. The Quapaw Canoe Company of Clarksdale, which has benefitted from a federal exemption for businesses operating on U.S. navigable waters, was recently hit with a $41,000 Mississippi