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Birds Point - Ohio River Confluence

LMRD No 395, Friday, March 31, 2017

American Pelicans at Kaskaskia River Confluence, watercolor by John Ruskey

Expedition Update:

We made it to the Lower Mississippi! Now it's only 966 miles to the Gulf of Mexico (via South Pass). After 11 days the expedition thus far has paddled down the last 3 miles of the Missouri, confluenced with the Upper Miss, and journeyed down the Middle Miss through St. Lou (World Water Day) and on downstream through Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, Thebes, and now Cairo. Today we say goodbye to Illinois and hullo to Kentucky. The Missouri Bootheel continues southward for several days.

Lena, Mosenthein Island watercolor by John Ruskey

More St. Louis Thank-Yous:

Big Thanks to Tanner Alljets for his good cheer and spirited assistance during the first days of the expedition! Thanks to Abigail, Scott and Miles Lambert for the bag full of Bessinger's Chocolates - Yum! Thanks to Roo Yawitz for the delivery of Gramophone sandwiches - double yum! Thanks to Greg Poleski for his contribution to our "voyageur libations fund." And special thanks to John & Lori Moore and staff at for the website design and support. Great to see you under the Arch JM!

Blue Heron Roost, Salt Lake Island, watercolor by John Ruskey

Where are we?

This morning we are camped on the edge of Birds Point at the mouth of the Ohio River, Mile -0- of the Middle Miss, and mile 954 of the Lower Miss. This is close to the place they opened the New Madrid Floodway (by dynamiting the levee) to save Cairo in the Great Flood of 2011. See below for more about the Floodway from Mark River.

We took refuge from the storms yesterday. But today the wind has calmed and shifted (W 7mph). Today is forecast to be Mostly cloudy, with a high near 58. West northwest wind 8 to 11 mph. Great day for downstream travel on the biggest river in North America!

Blue Heron Roost, Salt Lake Island, watercolor by John Ruskey

954 - 953 RBD Birds Point Dikes

Click here for description:

Keep following us downstream in the Rivergator!

Readers following the expedition can get some idea of what we’re seeing, and what the river is like by reading along in the We will make updates using river mileage for the Lower Mississippi. We are this morning RBD at mile 954. RBD = right bank descending, which is a way to reference the “west” bank of the river (which is not always to the west due to the twisty nature of the big river!) LBD = left bank descending. This system comes from the USACE maps for the Lower Mississippi which can be viewed or dowloaded from this website:

To find our location plug island name, city name, or river mileage into the handy SEARCH button found on every Rivergator page (in upper right hand corner). The Rivergator search function will bring you to the pages in question. Click on page and follow along!

American Pelicans, watercolor by John Ruskey

Garmin Tracker:

You can also track the expedition here (thanks to Christopher Battaglia for setting this up!)

PS: I had to return to Clarksdale for a couple of days to attend to some business. Alas, the travails of the sole entrepreneur! So if you’ve seen me in town, and been surprised, don't worry! Mark River and Lena have been keeping the expedition on track (along with our partner in this section of river, Mike Clark of Big Muddy Adventures) I will return to river soon!

Rivergator Roster. Go to blogs below by crew members for writing and photos live daily from the canoe and campsites along the way!

Introducing Paddlers:

Chris Battaglia - Expedition Film Maker, from Portland ME, modeled his business after Thoreau’s “simple life” —

Boyce Upholt - Expedition chronicler, TFA leader, now turned full-time writer, his current project is called Between the Levees: which he sub-titles "America's Great, Misbehaving River—and its Walled-In Wild”

John and LaNae Abnet — paddled the Wabash/Mississippi in 2015. LaNae is blogging this trip and already posted at — go check it out!

Andy McLean - Andy is a Kiwi-based adventurer who loves the outdoors and runs a club in London called “Little Paddle” that was inspired by a trip on the Mississippi in 2015. On entire expedition to the Gulf. Will be creating a blog called the "Andigator."

Tony Long - A Brit living in Belgium, passionate pro-European, seasoned traveller and life-long environmental campaigner and political activist; on expedition for one week, to Cairo

Introducing Crew:

Mike Clark - BMA founder and leader, teacher

Janet Sullens Moreland - BMA guide, world-class paddler, teacher

(check out Janet is first person source to sea on both MO River (2013) and MS River (2016)

Roo Yawitz - BMA General Manager, Senior Guide

Lena Von Machui - QCC secretary and 1st mate

Mark “River” Peoples - QCC chief guide and youth leader, blog writer, leader of the Southern Region for the 1 Mississippi River Citizen Program

John Ruskey - QCC founder, Rivergator creator

Mississippi Map Turtle, watercolor by John Ruskey

Mark River's Thoughts - The New Madrid Floodway

by Mark “River” Peoples

Just past Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a drastic change of topography of the landscape creates an alluvial fan. This occurs when rivers lose their gradient and silt is deposited throughout the floodplain. These areas are most important to the checks and balances of the ecosystem of the Mississippi River Valley. These wetlands, estuaries, and floodplains are home and breeding grounds for thousands species of reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and mammals. During the spring, become spawning ground for at least 53 percent of all freshwater species of fish. Mammals give birth close to these water supplies to better their offsprings chances at life. Toads and salamanders use the shallow waters for laying their eggs. Over 300 species of birds use these areas as pit stops during migration. The flies and insect larva supplies food for all involved. These places are sacred and are essential to the health of the Mississippi River Valley.

I sit at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River. The evidence of Spring is all around me. The willows are starting to bloom. Turtle tracks up and down the sandbar. The wood-ducks are pairing off. Stoneflies are emerging from warming waters and getting their wings. The greenish waters of the Ohio and the blue hazel waters of the Mississippi run side by side for miles in the channel. Towboats are flanking to turn up the Ohio River. It's like a race car start line.

I'm at Birds Point at mile 0 in Missouri enjoying the stunning tangerine colored sunset in a willow forest at the foot of a majestic wetland. To my right is western Kentucky, with the Wickliffe Bluffs in the distant. To my left is the peninsula of southern Illinois. This is the start of the New Madrid Floodway that extends 60 river miles and contains and sustains 53,000 acres of wetlands. This is the floodplain for when the Ohio and Mississippi floods. The waters have to go somewhere. If we alter these ecosystems, it will cost humanity dearly. I know these floodplains have valuable soil, but why trade a few profits, for a whole ecosystem of life. It's careless. These lands should be protected and left wild.

-Mark River

The Andigator

by Andrew McLean

We are on Day 11 of the Rivergator Expedition, which is a 'lay' day due to the forecast high winds which have twice now caused us to 'drop anchor' on the side of the river. For me this is a little frustrating as I like to keep moving in the physical sense, yet it presents an opportunity to create something else, a different type of experience.

With the exception of a six-week overland trip through Africa in 1999, this is already the longest journey I have undertaken and I am blessed to be surrounded by a really great group of people, all of whom having different reasons for being here. I am purposely limiting my 'online time' as opportunities like this to be out in the open spaces are extremely rare and are often a privilege that not everyone can have.

And that is why I am grateful to John Ruskey and the Quapaw team for having me on the expedition team.

Sent from my iPhone

Confluence, watercolor by John Ruskey

Boyce Upholt Blog

March 30, 2017

In 1798, it must have seemed like an enterprising plan: on a patch of land just across from where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi, Abram Bird cleared the woods and set up a warehouse. He planned to sell supplies to the flatboatmen drifting to New Orleans.

But this water doesn’t cooperate with just any dream. This land was too muddy, too swampy, too flood-prone. (Later, rail travelers would carry guns through the area so they could shoot the snakes for sport.) Two hundred years later, it looks much the same. As we drifted ashore last night -- after 80 miles of paddling in two days -- we found a narrow strip of mud, backed by a slough of brown water. Beyond that, a stand of dead willows. Killed by some flood, of course, with driftwood scattered ankle-deep across the muck.

It’s an appropriate welcome, I think, to the Lower Mississippi, which officially begins here, at this coming-together of the waters. Everything about the evening felt like coming home to the swamps: the weather grew steamy, the mosquitoes arrived; we even at catfish for supper. We are holed up here on Birds Point -- on a second, much sandier, and much more pleasant campsite, I should add -- for two nights, waiting out the southern winds.

The great levees of the Lower Mississippi begin just a few miles upstream, and stretch nearly unbroken until past New Orleans. It's one of the most massive engineering projects ever undertaken by humankind. (Depending on your point of view, you might also call it one of the bravest -- or one of the most foolhardy -- too; we have pit ourselves in a neverending battle with nature, which in the end we are sure to lose.)

After we made camp, I hiked through the batture to find the levee. I consider Birds Point an important site, for behind it lies the first planned floodway we’ll pass as we travel down the Lower Mississippi -- a kind of release valve for the river, created after the disaster of 1927, once we learned that sometimes the river needs room to run. It’s been used only twice, in 1937 and 2011, both times over the strong objection of local farmers, who have their crops and even their homes inside the floodway. For over 50 years, there has been a battle over a small gap at the bottom of the floodway, 60 miles downstream. Should it be plugged, so that the land can be farmed? Should it be open, so that wildlife can thrive? Though little remarked upon, the debate rests on essential questions: what is our relationship to land, and to nature? Should we take dominion, and be productive, or find a way to coexist? (On his last day in office, President Obama gave his answer: he submitted an executive order, halting any work on closing the gap. Surely our new president will have his own say.)

I’ve hiked in the batture many times, but I almost always arrive from the levee side: climb up that slope of green, and then slip down the other side, into the woods. So it was strange yesterday to do that walk in reverse. I followed a game trail through the last stand of forest, and then walked up the levee to see the endless expanse of farms on the other side. Many people might consider this the middle of nowhere; but after 10 days in the wilderness, you start to see a farm for what it is: the starting point of all civilization. After 10 days of sweat and no showers, I stepped back into a different world. Which one is the real world? I'm not sure. But I know that there atop the levee it felt like an entirely different day, brighter, sunnier, with purple flowers -- weeds, I should note -- blooming in the fallow fields, and new saplings blowing in the breeze.

I stood there for a moment, and then turned back and walked down the levee, back into the walled-in wild. I was surprised by the thought that stuck with me: that farm was quite beautiful. Anyone would think so. The control of nature makes our lives possible.

As I returned to the river, the smell of mud came first -- refreshing in its own way -- and then, at the bank, a cool breeze off the water. Our catfish supper was baking in the Dutch oven, and soon enough was served with fried potatoes and fire-roasted corn on the cob. We ate in a nook of trees, watching the sunset blaze across the water. Here Abram Bird failed to control nature -- and that has made beauty, too.

Update: I said above that the willows here on Birds Point were dead, killed by a flood. But as I sat and watched the storm roll in, I saw buds on the treetops, newly sprouting since yesterday afternoon. Welcome to life, and to springtime -- and welcome to the Lower Miss!

For more writing and photos by Boyce Upholt go to Between the Levees.

The Missouri Hills, watercolor by John Ruskey

2017 Juke Joint Festival
Thursday April 20 – Saturday April 22
Clarksdale, Mississippi

Quapaw Canoe Company Activities During

2017 Juke Joint Festival April 20-22

1. Canoe-Carving Demonstration & Workshop

2. Paddling on the Sunflower River

3. Sunflower River Camping

4. 1Mississippi -- Can the River Count on You?

All events will meet & take place street level 3rd & Sunflower in downtown Clarksdale all day 9 - 4pm every day Thursday April 20 – Saturday April 22. For more information contact Quapaw Canoe Company or 662-627-4070, Mark “River” Peoples 662-902-1885 or Lena Von Machui 662-313-6220.

Canoe-Carving Demonstration & Workshop

Quapaw Canoe Company

9 am to 4 pm Wednesday - Saturday

Location: Quapaw Canoe Company, 289 Sunflower (Third Street & Sunflower, opposite GRIOT Arts). Contact: 662-627-4070 or 902-7841. Catfish Dugout Canoe carving from 3-ton cottonwood log. Partnership with Spring Initiative and GRIOT ARTS youth programs. This project supported by the Mississippi Arts Commission. All ages welcome. We provide instruction, tools and safety equipment. Children under 12 must be accompanied by parents. Contact: Quapaw Canoe Company 662-627-4070 or

Paddling on the Sunflower River

Quapaw Canoe Company

9 am to 4 pm Wednesday - Saturday (Pick your time and stay out as long as you want)

Canoe or kayak or SUP. Paddle the beautiful (and muddy!) Sunflower River through downtown Clarksdale with the “back-door view” of Red’s Lounge, The Riverside Hotel. Possible run through a Delta Wilderness with a take-out at Hopson Plantation. Meet Location: Quapaw Canoe Company, 289 Sunflower Third Street & Sunflower, opposite GRIOT Arts). Contact: 662-627-4070 or 902-7841. See below for options & rates.

1Mississippi -- Can the River Count on You?

Quapaw Canoe Company

9 am to 4 pm Wednesday - Saturday

Ongoing Exhibit and Southern campaign headquarters for the 1Mississippi River Citizen Program. Come on over and learn about how you can help protect and better the waters of America, our drinking water, swimming water & lifeblood of the nation. Become a River Citizen and join us in making the Mississippi River sparkle like the beautiful “Queen of Rivers” that she is. Contact: Mark “River” Peoples 662-902-1885 or email

Quapaw Canoe Company Stage

2017 Juke Joint Festival

Kremser Plaza/Sunflower River Overlook

3rd & Sunflower

Downtown Clarksdale

10:00 am

Krista Shows & Scott Sharpe

11:00 am

Anthony 'Big A' Sherrod & the Allstars w/ Space Cowboy

12:00 noon

Pat Moss

1:00 pm

Brad 'Bebad' McCloud & His Case of Blues w/Philbo King

2:00 pm

Butch Mudbone

3:00 pm

Jesse Cotton Stone

4:00 pm

Kenny Brown

5:00 pm

Shine Turner & Rocket 88 Revue

Go to for complete festival schedule. Go to for all festival details, contacts, etc.

Scorpius Rising over St. Louis, Mosenthien Island, watercolor by John Ruskey