Close Window

Lower Mississippi

River Dispatch

Vol 10 No 5b, Monday, May 5, 2014

The wedding party with Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, Jr.

Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

Rivergator Exploratory Expedition

by Stephanie Artz

Maybe some readers have read my previous three articles on traveling the Mississippi River by canoe with the Quapaw Canoe Company out of Clarksdale, MS. That was November 18-22, 2013 when we paddled out of Greenville, from Warfield Point Park to downtown Vicksburg. I wrote my accounts from three slightly different perspectives on my wide, wild wilderness experience. I was in one of 2 hand-made 30 foot long cypress canoes piloted by a capable four person crew. No experience was necessary, then as now, but you must be willing to paddle.

A Marriage during Bluz Cruz

This exploratory trip from Vicksburg to Baton Rouge, April 12-20, 2014 was a high water paddle documenting the newest section of, a free on-line safety guide for all paddlers traveling the Mississippi River. John Ruskey and the crew of mighty Quapaw (named for a Sioux speaking Mississippi Delta Amerindian group who were known as the downstream people) paddled in Grasshopper one of three canoes they built. The head-turning canoes had been towed down Highway 1 from Clarksdale in trailers. They picked me up at Winterville Mounds in the sunset to arrive that night and camp before the Bluz Cruz Race held annually in Vicksburg. The race’s course, closed to commercial traffic for the event, started 22 miles north of Vicksburg at Madison Parish Park, LA where we pitched out tents or slept in the open. Three of the five total big canoes Quapaw built were named Cricket, Ladybug and Grasshopper; all 30 long and able to carry 10 paddlers with gear, more without. John put me in the bow of Ladybug carrying among our passengers the mayor of Vicksburg, Mr. George Flaggs, Jr. and a couple who got married just south of Brown’s Point on a sandy bank along the way. (A judge traveled separately by pontoon boat and when our three canoes pulled onto the sandbar, he disembarked too, and put on his black robe.) We saged the area, played a deep-toned hand drum and became witnesses to their ceremony. After the brief and beautiful celebration, the bride threw her bouquet of wild flowers into one of the other canoes and we re-entered the race. All were in high spirits, some had been taken unaware by the planned event and then as Ladybug crossed the finish line, we were announced by the emcee at the landing in Vicksburg, as the electric keyboard sounded “Here comes the Bride” to cheering spectators. It was a wind-swept, beautiful sunny Saturday and my official trip had yet to begin that afternoon.

Vicksburg to Natchez

So around 4pm, the Grasshopper canoe packed, seven of us paddled it out of the Yazoo River, one additionally paddled alongside in a kayak, we crossed the Mississippi River, John saying from the back, “put a little steam in it” as we passed in front of an downstream barge and camped on a sandy west bank just upstream of the Vicksburg bridge. In the canoe was John Ruskey, and four of his Quapaw crew, Mark Peoples (River), Chris Staudinger (Wolfie), Adam Elliot (brand new head of the newest Quapaw office now open in Natchez), and Braxton Barden, next to me was Mike Jones, of the Mississippi Tourism office, and traveling by kayak as well as camping with us, Mike Beck, retired chemist, from Baton Rouge, LA. We made a driftwood fire, some swam in the water by our campsite as the sun went down, the first wonderful meal was prepared and we slept through a windy though dry first night.

One of the many factors that I enjoy about these trips in the surprising delicacies in the hearty guys like River who drinks ginger tea instead of coffee, Wolfie who one very rainy morning squatted, his fleece-covered arm over his eyes meticulously, ceremonially stirring the steel cut oatmeal so that it didn’t get lumpy; these touches, kindnesses really, kept the paddling, the elements, at bay. It is to what these people are so dedicated, the river’s flow, the soulful winds, the mornings of ease, the changes in water, both within and surrounding the main channel, the sky. In this mind-set is the connection to smiles as the wind blows, rains pummel, the sun beats. Like stories and folk songs, dancing and poetry, without these the skies cloud foreboding, the waves a little too high, the distances a bit too far. It’s the way they do difficult things comfortably which teaches mastery or at least makes us all nicer regular human beings.

The second day we passed Grand Gulf, Port Gibson and camped on a north facing sandbar on Bon Durant island. With a storm that evening coming from the South I set up my tent against the south facing willows, Adam and Braxton tied a tarp to willow trees over my tent, and starting around 8pm I stayed dry under what sounded like a tin roof, slept through the second round of lightning I guess because I woke up to John’s calm voice outside my tent telling me coffee was ready, might start raining ‘gain, might want to get some breakfast now. It did rain again and then stopped and we headed out under dramatic cloudy skies to explore an unnamed chute going to Rodney lake.

This was more like Quapaw’s February 2014 exploration of the Apalachicola. We left the main Mississippi River, following a chute that was narrower, cottonwood banks, even some shade. As we paddled down a second tributary that could have connected to the lake, a pile of driftwood across the narrow stretch forced us to stop. Sideways to the flow, the canoe suddenly seemed huge and after a few attempts like trying to get out of a tight parallel parking space in New York City, we simply reversed the paddling configuration. River in the bow sat up on the very front of the boat and led us out, John paddling backwards, the rest able to turn around, Mike and I looking over our shoulders as we contributed ham-handed, backward strokes. I thought it was pretty fun, reversing our way back to the chute we resumed the original forward motion; since canoes are symmetrical this maneuver makes such agility available. In fact probably the next morning, when they had packed the canoe in reverse I had a moment of disorientation thinking I should wait for Mike to get in, oh, no, that’s front. Right, I’m corrected about such things often out here.

Following the chute we paddled past a couple hunting camps ruggedly set up. At one point a cottonmouth crossing the chute, sensed us, sticking its tongue at us confidently on its unaltered course, posed for a few pictures and continued straight past the back of the canoe as soon as the path was clear. I don’t think he had been stopped by too many people out here. Just passed Rodney Lake we stopped on a wild flowered bank for lunch and when we continued the storm clouds started rolling in.

I think at times like this about sea captains of old and how sailors must have joined certain ones, about that mix of feelings and calculations, superstition, deciding who is experienced, who is kind but strong, who to cast your lot in a boat with, and how decisive that would be and yet phantastical, ephemeral, slippery and ultimately unknowable and yet entered into with complete predictability. It brings to mind principles involved with what we mean when we say we got the feel for something , like how to ride a bike downhill in the sand, how to drive through the snow, or ski mogels, or to build something. That’s how I felt that afternoon, looking at the sky, listening to the banter, feeling John paddling in the back. Mostly I followed the sky strategizing in my head where the winds were, how close that big dark cloud, where the sun could break through and the distance of that lightning.

We passed spectacular birds of prey circling or sitting in the trees, owls, eagles, osprey and eventually we re-entered the by now windy and rolling Mississippi River head straight west before turning downstream. Like being shot out of a cannon we paddled hard against the wind and felt the strong water. Everything was turning out fine, blessed by the Quapaw we were somehow always under that tiny sliver of clear patch, storm clouds ahead and to the west, we were alright and a few miles downstream we stopped paddling to rest, the camp island was up ahead, the river was dramatic, layers of clouds to the southwest, we floated for a break. Then about as soon as we started again the wind picked up. Hurricane force it blew seemingly out of nowhere. John said paddle hard on the right, of course that meant me and the force of the wind was so strong I couldn’t turn around to either catch a paddle that flew off the boat(John caught it) or to see what happened to Mike when John said Mike’s in trouble, he’s gone in. It felt like we were on a sailboat flying downstream and those of us on the right paddled furiously to keep a straight course. We had to go in for a landing, and headed behind a tiny row of willows over a few logs and then jumped out to pull the 400 pound canoe and gear up onto the bank and tied it. Then everyone but Mike and me started running against the powerful wind, jumping over downed trees they ran about ¾ miles along the bank to Mike. I stood with my back against the rain and the wind, stood away from the cottonwood trees keeping an eye on the canoe and waiting it all out. As the rain subsided I bailed a bit of the canoe and when they all returned, Mike was safe and sound, though he sprained a thumb somehow we were all smiles. No one was upset, I was through it all amazingly clear and calm and we got back in the canoe going the small distance to the island to camp. We named it skull island after finding a nice older deer skull with antlers, made a fire in the rain, cooked, the guys set up my tarp and by the time we finished eating, the rain had stopped so I got to set up my tent in the relative dry, changed my clothes and basically slept like a baby. I told Adam to make sure to get me if the water rose, we were perfectly safe, but inside my tent the sound of the waves would have been a huge selling point for some Caribbean resort, once I settled down the sounds put me right to sleep.

The next morning we headed out for the last six miles to Natchez. The wind was still blowing a 35 mile an hour headwind packing a westerly punch. Paddling from behind skull island the Mississippi was rough, wavy, windy and traveling down the wide River into Natchez, passing the houses up on the bluff, seeing the town, being Tuesday the American Queen was docked, it felt to me like San Francisco Bay; bright morning sun interspersed with fog, chill, wind and of course the Natchez bridge. We made a dramatic landing beside the American Queen, where her passengers could see us. We carried Grasshopper up to Bailey Park, unloaded the gear and cleaned her up for the ribbon cutting ceremony with the Natchez Chamber of Commerce for the Quapaw Office in Natchez Grand Opening. In the time being we waited inside the Under the Hill Saloon. I felt like I had been out a week, it had been two and a half days. I was happy to be here, I was happy at how we had accomplished our goals so far, and we had even made it to the ribbon cutting on time. How’s that for a couple days documenting the River, or as Mark River put it now we will have the River’s blessings for the rest of the trip. I knew that would be true, we had arrived.

Adam Elliot inaugurated the new office by taking a couple writing and photographing for Country Roads Magazine in a second canoe with us from Natchez to the Houma Chita River. We all camped that night on Esperance Island where a fair number of wild hogs had taken up residence; that night as a couple of us sat by the fire one showed up having to change his routine for that night. Until then we followed the work of one determinedly busy beaver in the shallows and watched the huge blood moon rise in the east. Mike Jones had to leave us in Natchez but Ernest Herndon, writer for the McComb Enterprise-Journal, and author of Canoeing Mississippi and Canoeing Louisiana came with us to St Francisville, LA. He played banjo to John’s guitar as another day on the Mississippi River slowed to a pause.

Author Ernest Herndon (Canoeing Mississippi)

Natchez to St. Francisville

This is the continuation of our paddle. We left Natchez, with the red bow from the Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony still affixed to the canoe, and camped on Esperance Island under a full blood moon. In the morning we held our own intimate ceremony for the signing of contracts opening the newest Quapaw Office in Natchez capably headed by Adam Elliot. Mark Peoples, known as River, beat a hand-drum and we noticed we were not alone on the island. Some guy was peering through the willows from the western side of the island where the main channel passed. John invited him over; we were friendly. For the first time on the river we met fellow paddlers as three kayakers were on the river paddling from Natchez to points south. Our friend said he had heard about us from Gail Guido, a kayaker who lives on the river in Natchez and is manager of the River Edge Suites under the hill. There are more paddlers locally now John told me; there is a big community in Memphis and also in Vicksburg, where the annual Bluz Cruz event is held, also in Greenville, Natchez and Baton Rouge. We showed off our 30 foot long hand-made canoe, Grasshopper, and explained importantly about, as a source of detailed information for paddlers on the Mississippi River. We talked more, exchanged information and parted our concurrent but separate ways.

Packing the canoe is a feat I haven’t yet understood, there is a science to the balance and depth of the weight, it carries all food, cooking equipment, safety gear, personal gear, artifacts acquired along the way, (a stalk of river cane to make a fife, two deer skulls with antlers, shells, rocks), five-gallon fresh water jugs, paddles, plenty of cameras and sunscreen and an assortment of thermoses and candy. We headed out leisurely having a look at a centuries-old cypress tree at the river’s edge near a sighting of four eagles in the sky; at one time these majestic trees had lined the Mississippi. It gave Baton Rouge its name. Named by La Salle, the red pole, it referred to a huge cypress tree in the Mississippi River that had its bark stripped like a barber’s pole into alternates of red and white by Native American groups. It separated Houma and Bayou Goulah hunting grounds and it effectively ended Mississippian cultural influence to the south.

We stopped on the east bank where two does let us come in close before turning tail into the woods. We rode the eddy, near the bank the river can run upstream, into a half-moon shaped cove for lunch. The river current looked very fast to me sitting up on the bank, faster than it had from the30-foot canoe these fifteen miles from Esperance Island. Cloud cover gave the river a cool breeze and it looked like possible rain. This mild weather can be my favorite way to paddle, dramatic, chilly, fast, and shaded by the clouds I can take off my big straw sunhat off and have a look around. We briefly discussed a recent Mound site found, ten miles north of Natchez on the bluffs above Anna’s Bottom. It began as a Coles Creek site which refers to a culture before the more widely known Mississippian culture. The people at the site were ultimately called by archeologists Plaquemine (a combination of Coles Creek and Mississippian) The Anna site had at least eight platform mounds, six around a plaza, one of them was fifty feet high which is as tall as Mound A at Winterville Mounds, just above Greenville, MS on Highway 1. Anna started as a Coles Creek site in 1000 AD, just like Winterville, and reached its peak between 1200 and 1350, also like Winterville. There's a good chance Anna was built by the predecessors of the Natchez Indians. After 1300 Anna’s occupants apparently moved to nearby Emerald Mound, about five miles north of Natchez and then on to the various towns of the Natchez in and around the modern city bearing their name.

Ernest Herndon, author of the classic Canoeing Mississippi (amongst many others) and full time journalist with the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, MS, showed us an edible plant, a saw briar or greenbriar. After lunch we stopped once more and then choose a campsite on Jackson Point. It was a pastoral, wide, grass-covered stretch offering a gentle five foot sandy cliff to the river’s edge. Here we watched the sun set, the deer grazing, the kitchen fire, and enjoyed plenty of room for our scattered tents. Importantly it offered shelter from the northwest wind that was to blow that night. I found an intact deer skeleton with a set of large symmetrical antlers, perhaps completing someone’s story about that big buck that got away. I set my tent between two stalks of tall yellow rocket wildflowers near the trees and slept to the sounds of distant towboats and willow branches in the wind. The storminess was slight, no rain, again John knows how to pick campsite locations. Ernest resupplied me with batteries for my camera so the essentials of life were covered, Mark River’s special meatballs at dinner and banjo music by the fire, gentle wind, and the promise of tomorrow.

The next morning we paddled downstream still along the Tunica Bluffs stopping to explore the sandy cliffs. Tunica Hills is the translation of a French designation for a certain section of the Loess Bluffs running from Vicksburg to Iowa Point-New Texas, just above St. Francisville, LA.

After the day of stopping at cliffs, being questioned by a Louisiana Cajun couple in a john boat with a big motor which pulled up alongside us about canoe paddling and building, and gawking at the lush Louisiana riverside, I felt light headed as we set up camp on what John called, Little Island. When someone else pressed him about our location too, I realized that was its name. John described our campsite as “can’t get here from there”, which I loved and let the questioning fall.

As a born and bred New Englander where the saying is, “you can’t get there from here”, I chuckled at the twist. Right, we are here, that’s it. The water is high, so that’s literally true. Paddling in November there would not be an island, because there would not be water on both sides. From spring to fall and with a difference of around 45 feet in water level miles of sandbar would have separated this campsite from the river. To get here on its willow laden bank one probably wouldn’t want to walk that far leaving the canoe and carrying the gear. As the Zen saying goes, you can’t step into the same stream twice.

That morning resting in my tent, several screech owls were loudly communicating as a good-sized beaver went for a morning swim not too far away in the island’s backwater chute. The river was running fast so we were a day ahead of schedule meaning that I would be going to Baton Rouge now instead of the original plan to disembark in St. Francisville, LA. We took some morning pictures, ate breakfast and set out in the sun. John uses a radio to communicate with towboat captains when necessary and from one we learned about Little Hollywood which we subsequently saw from the river. On the east bank was what looked like a movie set, an idyllic river scene was set with a tiny white church, a large house with outdoor seating under a tree by the river, grassy lawns, swings and other small buildings. According to the captain it was built for a movie that either was or wasn’t made, couldn’t be sure. We also passed two grain elevators that had been converted into residences with a nice outdoor deck furnished with grills and places to fish. Around noon we pulled into the public boat launch at Bayou Sera, an old town that used to be as big as St. Francisville, until the 1927 flood when most people in Bayou Sera moved to St Francisville on higher ground. A bright sun beat down as we again made the spectacle of landing our gorgeous canoe. We set up and ate lunch while talking with the local fishermen and fisherwomen. And I met, with pleasure, Paul and Michael Orr of the Lower Mississippi River Keeper, based in Baton Rouge.

More to come on points south to Baton Rouge and the work of the Lower Mississippi River Keeper. Stay tuned next week for the continuing story. For more practical information check out

Writer Stephanie Artz (also Dance Instructor and Yoga Teacher)

Mark River Blog:

The River Flows

Love is in the air as we launch our canoes at the start of the Blues Cruz. Paddlers and kayakers share the love for our river by celebrating its existence with a race into Vicksburg. Fellow river rats share handshakes and hugs, reacquainting and showing love for the Mississippi River. The future newlyweds picked the Ladybug canoe as their loveboat for the day. Being involved in my first marriage on the River, I can't seemed to not wonder,"Why me?"

From the time I first spotted a large wooden canoe straddling the banks of the River in St. Louis until now, I continue get my mind blown by the connection it makes with people throughout its meandering bends and steep cut banks. The affects on people are different, but very much the same,as they feel the volume density on their paddles. Some give up right away, but most settle into a groove and find that they are capable of accomplishing much more than they could ever imagine. Every strong, honest paddle stroke is rewarded by experiencing something new on the River and makes you hungry for more.Every time I wish for something the River finds away of pushing me in the right direction. It has giver me an opportunity to continue my athletic life. It has the strength and rate of flow to make the strongest man experience humility and respect .

The race starts and the paddlers settle in to their pace. The wedding party’s moral is high and it shows as we leisurely paddle in the middle of the pack. Kayakers and canoeist flow by yelling, “congratulations!” and some,”best wishes!” as the ladybug cuts the water and hydroplanes from side to side. The sight of the wedding appears in the distance. A boat carrying the pastor comes from around the bend and we unload to have the ceremony. The sight of the wedding is a place we once camped during last years trip from Greenville to Vicksburg. The wedding prepares to start as we bless the ceremony with the drum and sage; smudging willing participants. Like all weddings , you feel goodness and righteousness in the air. The bride and groom say their vowels, while happiness moves throughout the party. Driftwood gives me the look, and I respond, "All aboard! Reception at the finish line!"

We finish the race in great fashion as the crowd stands in the Vicksburg Harbor cheering and celebrating a great day of paddlers. Us Quapaws start immediately to prepare for our expedition from Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

That evening we paddled to the Sentinel Bar across the River from the beautiful city of Vicksburg. The bluff the city sits upon is lit up like a Las Vegas strip. Towboats zip in and out of the harbor giving me that soothing sound I've become accustomed to being a steward and explorer of this great River. The water is starting to heat up as I hear fish feeding in the shallows moving into their spawning grounds. An occasional beaver gives us a territorial splash to let us know someone already has this spot occupied. I stare at the lights in the distant recapping my many blessings and smiling. I think about the strength and unwavering faith this River has instated in me. I think about whats in store for us downstream as we prepare to continue to Natchez where we will celebrate the grand opening of Quapaw Canoe Company Natchez. Its flowing currents continue to take me to places I've only dreamed about, cleansing my mind, continuing my focus, on the systemic health of this great River-the real symbol of our country. Become a river citizen today and plan a trip using

-Mark River

Mark River Peoples: River Guide, Teacher, Writer

Rivergator Exploratory Expedition:

St. Louis to Caruthersville

May 26 - June 8, 2014

By voyageur style canoe. No previous experience necessary, but must enjoy wilderness- style camping and must be willing to paddle! We are reserving at least 4 seats on every segment for writers, photographers and any journalists who will help us share the story about the beautiful and dynamic Mississippi River and the Rivergator Middle/Lower Mississippi River Water Trail describing it!

Push off from Columbia Bottoms Boat Ramp (last boat ramp on the Missouri River) down the last three miles of the Missouri River, confluence with the Upper Mississippi River, and continue on through St. Louis and downstream the Middle Mississippi to the Ohio River confluence and onward.

The Middle Miss carves an wide elegant valley in between the Shawnee Hills of Illinois and the Missouri Ozarks. At Cairo Illinois the Ohio River and the Mississippi meet, shake hands and continue on downriver as the Lower Mississippi River. At this point the Mississippi becomes the biggest volume river in North America. We’ll paddle 108 miles of the Lower Miss to Caruthersville with the Kentucky Bluegrass Hills on our left and Missouri Bootheel on our right. American Rivers has added the Mississippi to America’s Most Endangered River 2014 list because of the New Madrid Floodway. At Bessie’s Bend the Mississippi makes a giant 20 mile loop to cover one mile of distance, the biggest and most prominent bend on the entire Mississippi River system (New Madrid at its crown), so big it can be seen from outer space. You can join us for a short portion or the entire expedition. Two weeks on the river including St. Genevieve, Grand Tower, Tower Rock, Cape Girardeau, Trail of Tears, Thebes, Cairo, Hickman, Reelfoot Lake, Bessie’s Bend, and Caruthersville.

Itinerary subject to adjustment depending on wind, water levels and prevailing weather conditions.

May 26 - June 8

St. Louis to Caruthersville

Monday, May 26th: Meet 1pm at Columbia Bottoms Boat Ramp (on the Missouri River). Pack your gear into drybags and load the big canoe. Push off around 2pm down the last three miles of the Missouri River. Sites of interest include the Missouri/Mississippi Confluence, Duck Island, Route 66 Bridge, City of St. Louis Waterworks, the I-270 Bridge, and Chain of Rocks. Camp on Mosenthein Island.

Tues May 27: Paddle through St. Louis with the best views you’ve ever had of the Great Arch, LaClede’s Landing, the Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge (newest bridge on the Mississippi), Eads Bridge, the McKinley Bridge, East St. Louis, Anheuser Busch Brewery, Jefferson Barracks, JB I-255 Bridge, Meramec River Confluence.

Wed May 28: Herculaneum, Harlow Island, Fort DeChartres

Thurs May 29: St Genevieve, Moro Island, Kaskaskia River, Chester, Rockwood Island

Fri May 30: Tower Rock, Grand Tower, Trail of Tears State Park, Devil’s Island

Sat May 31: Cape Girardeau, Marquette Island, Thebes, Pawnee Hills

Sun June 1: Big Bends of the Middle Miss around Dogtooth Island and Missouri Sister Island, Cairo, Fort Defiance, Mouth of the Ohio River

Mon June 2: Wickliffe, Columbus Belmont, Wolf Island

Tues June 3: Hickman, Is No 8, Reelfoot Lake

Wed June 4: Bessie’s Bend, New Madrid, Kentucky Point

Thurs June 5: Tiptonville, Lee Towhead, Hathaway/Island 14

Fri June 6: Sandy Hook Bar, Caruthersville

Itinerary subject to adjustment depending on wind, water levels and prevailing weather conditions.

Rivergator Mileage:

St. Louis to Caruthersville

The Middle Mississippi River is measured upstream from the Ohio-Mississippi Confluence at Cairo Illinois.Lower Mississippi River is measured upstream from the “Head of Passes,” the center of the birdsfoot of the Mississippi Delta, where all the major channels split and drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

----Middle Mississippi River ----

196 Missouri-Mississippi Confluence

190 Chain of Rocks

188 Mosenthien Island

180 Ead’s Bridge/Great Arch

169 Jefferson Barrack’s Bridge

148 Calico island

139 Salt Lake Chute

134 Fort Chartes Island

123 St. Genevieve, MO

122 Moro Island

118 Kaskaskia River

110 Chester, IL

102 Rockwood Island

94 Red Rock Landing

81 Grand Tower, IL

80 Tower Rock, MO

76 Big Muddy River

67 Moccasin Springs

52 Cape Girardeau, MO

44 Thebes, IL

24 Dogtooth Island

14 Missouri Sister Island

0 Fort Defiance/Cairo, IL

----Lower Mississippi River ----

952 Wickliffe, KY

937 Columbus, KY

934 Wolf Island Bar

919 Hickman, KY

911 Chute of Island No. 8

890 New Madrid, MO/Kentucky Point

872 Tiptonville, TN

859 Lee Towhead

855 Hathaway, Island No. 14

846 Caruthersville, MO

307 miles total

The Rivergator: Middle/Lower Mississippi River Water Trail is overseen by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. Join us in the big canoe for an unforgettable experience on the beautiful river that runs through the heart of America. Visit: Please contact John Ruskey, 662-902-7841 or to reserve your seat, and for more information.

From American Rivers:

America’s Most Endangered Rivers For 2014:

Middle Mississippi River: Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky

Threat: Outdated flood management
At risk: Habitat and public safety

The Mississippi River’s ability to spread out into its floodplain is important for fish and wildlife and for protecting downstream communities from floodwaters. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to cut off the Mississippi River from one of its last floodplain connections by constructing a new levee at the bottom of the New Madrid Floodway. The Corps should abandon the New Madrid Levee project. If they do not, the Environmental Protection Agency should veto the project.

The River

The great Mississippi River once experienced seasonal floods that spread out over its floodplain, creating a mosaic of backwaters, wetlands, and sloughs. These periodic floods were the driving force behind robust and diverse ecosystems that were home to an amazing array of fish, birds, and wildlife. The Missouri “bootheel”, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, was once one of the nation’s largest and richest wetland areas.

As people altered and harnessed the Mississippi River to advance navigation and reduce flood damages, these floodplain ecosystems were drained and cut off from the river with levees and other structures. The New Madrid Floodway within the bootheel was also drained for intensive agricultural production.

Despite these modifications, a gap in the bottom of the floodway levee system provides a critically important natural connection that allows the river to sustain vital backwater floodplain habitat, including bottomland hardwood forests that are home to bald cypress, nuttall oak, and tupelo gum. The floodway is critical for migrating ducks, geese, and shorebirds like the golden-plover. It supports a rich and regionally distinctive fishery that includes an important white bass fishery and rare species like the golden topminnow, chain pickerel, and banded pygmy sunfish. The gap in the floodway levee system is the key to supporting this diverse backwater floodplain.

The Threat

The proposed New Madrid Levee project will hurt the Middle Mississippi River by cutting off one of its last floodplain connections

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to cut off the last connection between the Mississippi River and its natural backwater habitat in the State of Missouri by constructing a new 1,500 foot levee across the gap at the bottom of the New Madrid Floodway. This levee would prevent water from reaching 75,000 acres of floodplain habitat, eliminating the most important spawning and rearing habitat for fish in the middle Mississippi River and destroying habitat that is essential for an array of birds, waterfowl, and mammals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly called upon the Corps to stop this project because it will cause, “dramatic losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife resources that cannot be mitigated,” and will, “greatly diminish rare and unique habitats found in southeast Missouri.” Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the project, “will cause the greatest loss of wetlands functions in EPA Region 7’s history.” Many outside experts agree that the adverse impacts of the project are so significant that they cannot be mitigated, and believe that the project will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for the health of this portion of the Mississippi River.

In addition to the significant and unacceptable harm to fish and wildlife, the proposed levee puts river communities at increased risk by promoting more intense use and development in the New Madrid Floodway, which in turn will make it even more politically difficult to activate the floodway during catastrophic floods. The New Madrid Floodway is used as a relief valve when high water in the Mississippi threatens nearby towns like Cairo, IL. During flooding in 2011, a last minute lawsuit attempted to stop the Corps from taking this important action. When the floodway was finally activated, water levels in the Mississippi River dropped 2.7 feet at Cairo in just 48 hours, sparing the city from potentially devastating flood damage.

The Corps is currently finalizing an Environmental Impact Statement for this fundamentally flawed project that was first dreamt up more than 60 years ago. Cutting the river off from its floodplain would destroy critical fish and wildlife habitat and is an entirely unacceptable practice for modern floodplain management.

What Must Be Done

The New Madrid Floodway Project, as proposed, is so environmentally destructive that it simply should not be built. The Corps should abandon this project by selecting the “no action” alternative in its final EIS. If the Corps refuses to abandon this environmentally devastating project, the Environmental Protection Agency should veto it under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.

For More information about the

please visit American Rivers at:

Sweet Home, Sweet Mississippi

River guides now have a place