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Healthy Forests = Healthy River

LMRD No 397, Monday, April 3rd, 2017
(With corrections to earlier mailing)

Film-Maker Chris Battaglia in his element

Post-Expedition Rivergator Celebration

Many readers have wondered what we will be doing with all of the stories, photos, videos and paintings we are creating and accumulating on this expedition. Documentation is part of our mission. Sharing is the other half. Sometime in June we will be hosting a post-Expedition Rivergator Celebration in Clarksdale, featuring an exhibition of paintings and photos, with live music, stories, food, drink, and etc. This will be a chance for anyone who wants to see images and hear stories do so in person with the voyageurs themselves! Date TBA in June.

1st view of Memphis in between the bottom end of Brandywine Island and Upper Hickman Towhead

Memphis, Here We Come!

Memphis friends, here we come! We will be arriving on Mud Island mid-day Thursday, April 6th. If all goes well this week we're thinking it will be a noontime landing. If anyone would like to join us for the final 17 mile paddle into the Bluff City, meet us at 9am at the Meeman-Shelby Forest Boat Ramp with your own vessel and shuttle. Wind and weather dependent of course. I will confirm time & place via this newsletter Wed evening.

Note: Experienced paddlers only! It's forecast to be windy and cool. Winds gusting to 30mph out of the West. West winds can be very challenging for paddlers. Winds this high makes the river very choppy, 3 foot crashing waves are common, which can grow bigger and more chaotic around towboats and wing dams. River is forecast to be at 18.1 on the Memphis gage Thursday (and rising). The main channel will be flowing 5-6mph, and back channels will have plenty of water, probably flowing around 3mph.

NOAA forecast for Thursday

A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 60. Breezy, with a west northwest wind 15 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph.

Bring water bottles, snacks, and lunch. Dress for the weather. Good day for wetsuits or drysuits. We've been wearing wetsuits since St. Louis because the water is still cold (mid 50s). Spring time can be the most dangerous time of year on the big river. The day might be bright & beautiful, but the water is still deadly cold.

Voyageur Deep in Thought in Deep Woods, watercolor by John Ruskey

Tennessee it's time to Vote:
Healthy River needs Healthy Forests!

Coincidentally, I received an email this morning from a friend about an important Tennessee vote coming up that would protect thousands of acres of riparian forests, cypress tupelo gum swamps, and bottomland hardwood forests. ie: Senate Budget Amendment #81 and House Budget Amendment #152 to the Budget Appropriations bills.

Forever Green Tennessee

Tennessee’s population growth threatens the forests that protect our abundant waters, our farmland and historic places.

Protecting forests is THE most important action we could take to protect our water!
A $35 million budget amendment has been introduced to conserve forested corridors to protect Water ($25 million), farm land protection ($5 million) and historic preservation ($5 million). These are listed as Senate Budget Amendment #81 and House Budget Amendment #152 to the Budget Appropriations bills.
This is not a tax increase but allocates $35 million from General Funds to conservation. Although this represents only 1/10th of 1% of our State’s $34 BILLION budget and we know it’s vital, this is a BIG request and we must demonstrate STRONG support!
Tens of thousands of Tennesseans have joined together to work for a Forever Green Tennessee.

We need you to let your voice be heard for the next two weeks!
Many of the 22 legislators we have met in the last two weeks mentioned that they had been contacted and it was important to them to hear from people. We need to have them keep hearing from YOU!
It’s up to us to conserve a Forever Green Tennessee for future generations. Can we count on you? (In order of priority)
  1. Ask the Governor – 615-741-2001 to include this $35 million to Forever Green Tennessee in his amended budget (due out 4/4)
  2. Call our sponsors to let them know you are grateful and that clean water is vital for business, energy, industry, tourism, wildlife and for drinking water. They will work harder to convince their colleagues if they hear from you.
Sen. Ketron 615-741-6853
Rep. McDaniel 615-741-0750
Rep. Sargent 615-741-6808
Rep. McCormick 615-741-2548
  1. In the Senate, ask these Senators to make this a priority!
Finance Chairman Sen. Bo Watson: 615-741-3227
Sen. John Stevens: 615-741-4576
Lt. Gov. McNally: 615-741-6806
  1. In the House, ask the Speaker to make this a priority!
Speaker Beth Harwell: 615-741-0709
  1. Follow us online and LIKE us onFacebook
On our website we have listed projects identified as immediate priorities for $25 million Water Conservation Fund. Check this list to see if there are places special to you. We know these headwaters and rivers are crucial for cleaner water. The Farmland Fund will prioritize farms based on prime soils and development threat. The Historic Fund identities 5 Civil War Battlefields and decisions would be guided by the Tennessee Historic Commission.
You can make a Forever Green Tennessee a reality for future generations.
Thank you!
Kathleen Williams, Coordinator, Forever Green Tennessee Task Force
and Patty McLaughlin, member BCCC.

We need people to call or write to the governor and our senators and reps so that they know there are many people who want this to happen. Phone numbers and emails are included in the document I am sending to you separately. Many, many TN government dollars (literally millions) will be spent on the Mighty Miss and other rivers in TN.

Suggested language for making phone call:

"Hello _____. We are calling because we need your urgent help to keep Tennessee green and its water clean. There is a $35 million Forever Green Tennessee 2017 budget amendment up for Governor Haslam's consideration. (House Budget Amendment 152 and Senate Budget Amendment 81.)"

The budget amendment would allocate / earmark $25 million Water Conservation Fund to protect forests along our rivers and streams, $5 million Farmland Protection Fund and $5 million Historic Fund to conserve our rich history.

Please call Gov. Haslam at 615-741-2001.

The numbers are House Budget Amendment 152 and Senate Budget Amendment 81.""

You can visit our “Forever Green Tennessee” Facebook page for more information.

And while there, please “Share,” “Like” and connect to (join) our FB page and blog:

Voyageur Sketching Sunset From Log on Rip-Rap, watercolor by John Ruskey

Big Oak Tree State Park NATURAL HISTORY:

Big Oak Tree Natural Area is a remnant of the vast bottomland forests and swamps that once covered the Mississippi Lowlands region of Missouri. Today the natural area and state park stand out in stark contrast to the miles of drained row crop lands surrounding them. The park, often called “The Park of Champions,” has a tree canopy averaging 120 feet tall with several trees more than 140 feet tall. This natural area is home to big trees! The state park has one national champion and two state champion trees. An 80-acre section of the natural area contains an old-growth bottomland hardwood forest that is also a designated National Natural Landmark.

In floodplains, the timing, frequency, and duration of flooding and soil saturation determine the type of natural community. At Big Oak Tree you can witness how slight changes in topography and elevation create major changes in the plant and animal communities. A visitor can walk from an infrequently flooded bottomland hardwood forest dominated by oaks, hickories, and sweetgum to a frequently flooded swamp of bald cypress trees while only going down in elevation by three feet!

Parts of the Big Oak Tree Natural Area evoke the feeling of being in a place farther south like Louisiana, where swamps dominated by bald cypress, water locust, swamp chestnut oak, and overcup oak are more common. Birders can see a number of bottomland forest and swamp bird species including the prothonotary warbler, Mississippi kite, wood duck, barred owl, tree swallow, hooded warbler, and pileated woodpecker – 150 species in all. The area is also home to 42 reptile and amphibian species including the green treefrog.

Big Oak Tree Natural Area harbors 10 species of conservation concern, including many southeastern species such as the swamp rabbit, bald cypress katydid, and finger dogshade Most of these species are at the northern edge of their range, but were common throughout the Mississippi Lowlands of Missouri in 1800. With the destruction of most of their habitat, places like Big Oak Tree, though small, are important refuges for the conservation of Missouri’s southern coastal plain natural heritage.

Big Oak Tree State Park was dedicated in 1938. The campaign to save the “Park of Champions” became a reality after funds were raised by local citizens to purchase a 920-acre buffer around the 80-acre core of old growth bottomland forest.


From East Prairie, head east on Highway 80. Turn right (south) onto Highway 102 and go approximately 10 miles south from the junction of Highway 80 and 102. Turn right (west) onto Highway RB. Follow signs into the park and drive to one of the trailheads. Two hiking trails traverse portions of the natural area. A 1.25 mile Boardwalk Trail leads into the swamp. The 1.4 mile Bottomland Trail leads visitors past many of the “big oaks” of Big Oak Tree Natural Area. Hunting and fishing are not permitted.

(From Missouri Dept of Conservation:

Old Moon, Ursa Major, Voyageur Canoe, Towboats, watercolor by John Ruskey

More St. Louis Thank-Yous:

We forgot to thank Tony & Snoop Dog (the canoe beagle) for the awesome home-smoked sommer sausage and brats. Now we know why Snoop Dog is always so happy! We'll be seeing this dynamic duo further downstream, in Helena, Arkansas.

Keep following us downstream in the Rivergator!

You 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 at their website — under the "Middle Mississippi" heading. 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

Special Thanks to Big Muddy Mike Clark, Dolly, Janet Morelands, and Roo Yawitz of Big Muddy Adventures for partnering with us on the 1st portion of this expedition! Big Muddy, I will remember all the miles you paddled with us, the many stories shared, I will send big river blessings back to you for the remainder of the journey, especially from the saline waters of the Gulf of Mexico! You all are always in our hearts, and like the river, flowing through our minds.

873 Miles to go! The Mighty Quapaw Rivergator Crew Continues Downstream!

Lena Von Machui - QCC secretary and 1st mate, youth leader, grant writer, anthropologist

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

St. Louis born Mark “River” Peoples is a river guide and youth leader with the Quapaw Canoe Company. Mark grew up hunting and fishing along the river with his father. After attending Missouri Central State University, and becoming defensive back with the New York Giants, Mark left a career in professional football for the river. Mark is a writer for the Lower Mississippi River Dispatch and shares his intimate & nature-filled musings about river life on Big Island. He is also the 1 Mississippi Southern Region leader. When not on the water, Mark mentors Delta youth and educates them on the importance of the protection and preservation of our national treasure for generations to come. Mark works hard on changing the perception of our great River and its tributaries. Through river trips, cleanups, and workshops, Mark’s goal is overall systemic health of the Mississippi River.

1 Mississippi - Can the River Count on You?

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