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Gators & Freighters

Paul Orr: Myths and Misconceptions

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 220

Posted Monday, Nov 16, 2015

For the completion of the

1 million words describing the Middle & Lower Mississippi River.
Written for paddlers and any others seeking the “wilderness within”


Oh the Joy! Paul, Zoe and all 9 Rivergators reach the Gulf at Southeast Pass Island (photo: John Ruskey)

Quick Re-Cap: The 9-member crew reached the Gulf of Mexico at the beginning of November. The 2011-2015 Rivergator Explorations are Complete after 18 such expeditions exploring and documenting 10 different sections of river. All writing and photos from this last stretch will appear online on the by the end of the year. (Note: go check it out now: everything else is already live!) We have been sharing guest perspectives from some of the team members. Today we are hearing from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Paul Orr. Paul's brother Michael also paddled with us on this expedition. Their father Paul Sr. provided shuttles. Their mother Marylee openend her heart and house for us before, after, and in between. Caring for the river is a family thing for the Orr family.

Paul Orr: Sunrise on Southeast Pass Island (photo: John Ruskey)

Rivergator -- Paul Orr :
Myths and Misconceptions

(photos by John Ruskey)

“It’s illegal isn’t it?”

“Don’t you have to have a permit?”

“The snakes (or hogs, or coyote) will get you!”

“You can’t canoe on the Mississippi River!”

“Ya’ll are crazy!”

We heard questions and statements like these many times on the trip, especially that last one. “Ya’ll are crazy!” We even got one or two of, “Ya’ll are f#@&ing crazy!”

Even those who had less emotional reactions seemed perplexed that anyone would paddle down the Mississippi River in South Louisiana. That doing so was somehow impossible despite the evidence right in front of them. The physical evidence of us being there and clearly having been paddling for at least a while on the Mississippi River did not seem to register as evidence that you can, in fact, paddle down the Mississippi River in South Louisiana and survive.

But there was also something else. In their faces after saying these things there was almost always a glimmer of admiration; a twinkle of excitement; a pang of jealousy; the realization that what we are doing is grand adventure in the spirit of all great human adventuring and that deep down they want to experience what we are experiencing and if they were a little less bound by the fear that that they inherited about the Mighty Mississippi they might just try it.

And thus the importance of the Rivergator and Quapaw expeditions which are helping to counteract these fears of the Big River and normalize the presence of paddlers. The simple presence of paddlers on the Mississippi can be a strong message to people standing on the banks that this is a place for all of us, a place for them, and a place we should care about.

For too long the Mississippi River has been the nearly exclusive domain of large commercial vessels. The citizens living and working along the river have felt excluded. The river is no longer their river but a scary and dangerous place that is only for industry. This has lead to an ever increasing lack of stewardship and care for the river which allows for the kinds of environmental problems that most of us have at least some awareness of.

I am excited that the Rivergator and all of Quapaw’s endeavors will continue to reconnect everyday people to the Lower Mississippi River. To give them the intimate personal connection to the River that we have and all Americans living in the Mississippi River Basin should have. The more people we have caring about the River, the better we will take care of her. If you may have thought some of the things at the beginning of this writing; call up Quapaw and schedule a trip. You know deep down you want to!

Oh, and to answer the questions:

No, it’s not illegal to paddle the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is a Navigable Waterway of the United States of America and is available for the use of all citizens.

No, you don’t need a permit (see above).

People are canoeing (and kayaking) on the Mississippi River all the time!

Well, not for canoeing down the Mississippi River… I’ll just leave it at that. ;)

Paul & Zoe on Bohemia Beach (photo: John Ruskey)

Paul also kept a running inventory of the flora and fauna witnessed along the way down through this stretch of river, the last 250 or so miles of the Lower Mississippi River. Here follows Paul’s list. This is a testament to the great vitality and variety of the river and its floodplain, which is thriving even here within the infamous Chemical Corridor:

Paul holding up a red-eared slider
retrieved from behind Bonne Carre Island
(photo: John Ruskey)

Paul Orr: Flora & Fauna:

Black Willow

American Sycamore

Eastern Cottonwood

Bald Cypress

Box Elder

Rough-Leaved Dogwood

Southern Live Oak

Southern Hackberry aka Sugarberry

Chinese Tallow Tree

Chinese Privet

Green Ash

Water Hickory / Bitter Pecan

Red Mulberry

American Persimmon

Button Bush

Poison Ivy

Pepper Vine

Trumpet Creeper

Climbing Hempvine

at least 3 species of Hibiscus

False Indigo Bush

Sesbania (rattle box)

Blue Mistflower


Ground Nut

unidentified legume

invasive poisonous legume

Burr Cucumber


number of Grape species




Roseau Cane / Common Reed

Spartina (marsh grass)

Eastern Baccharis


Giant Bulrush


Water Hyacinth

Alligator Weed


Water Clover (Marsilea sp.) - the "four leaf clover"

Pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) - the plant with all the elongated leaves floating near the surface of the water where we got stuck paddling back up.

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture?

Bald Eagle


White Pelican

Brown Pelican

White Ibis

Roseate Spoonbill

Magnificent Frigatebird

Black Necked Stilt

Red Winged Blackbird

Great-tailed grackle

some Hawks

Barred Owl vocalizations



American Oystercatcher?

Marsh Wren?

some kind of sparrows in the marsh

some kinds of swallows and/or swifts

some kind of sandpiper

some kind of warbler

Rough Green Snake

Red Eared Slider (turtle)

Common Musk Turtle


American Alligator

lots of frogs


Cottontail Rabbit

Whitetail Deer

Wild Hog


lots of small rodent tracks

Bobcat tracks?

Alligator Gar

Asian Carp

other Gar

Shad? (in the boat)



River Shrimp

Hermit Crab

Variety of snails

Horned Passalus (big beetle)

Golden Orb Weaver

number of moths and butterflies

Some links to examples of what we witnessed:

This is the night blooming flower we encountered down near the end, Moonflower (Ipomoea alba):

The baby turtle has been identified by turtle people as a Common Musk Turtle:

Blue Mistflower:

The little spiky cucumber is Burr Cucumber:

Paul walking into the surf at the Gulf of Mexico
brown pelicans flying by, oil derricks on the horizon
(photo: John Ruskey)

The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper

The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper (LMRK) is a non-profit organization in Louisiana that works to identify and reduce pollution into the lower Mississippi River. Contact them anytime to report a concern, or if you have questions or need help in addressing a problem you see along the river. Contact LMRK through their website,, email or call (225) 928-1315.

Note: in the upcoming days we will post another guest perspective -- from writer Dean Klinkenberg, the “Mississippi Valley Traveler. Mark River will continue filling in the gaps in his journal (when he gets back from helping the Augsburg College River Semester as they paddle down through the “Muddy Waters Wilderness,” Helena to Greenville).

For more photos of the Lower Miss and more reading, go to

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is a service of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation