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LMRD 661, Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

"The Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"

Published by Quapaw Canoe Company since 1999

America’s #1 Most Endangered River -- the Sunflower?

Yes, it's true, our stinky, slippery, serpentine Sunflower River -- *Sigh* -- only ten years since the last time this happened. Our humble little Sunflower River making national news again… this time as America’s #1 Most Endangered River. This hurts. The Sunflower seems to do this every once in a while. In 2008 it was declared #2. Our poor lonely river. The little forgotten river with a bad case of the blues. It’s been sung about, written about, legal battles fought over it. It’s virtues have been extolled. It’s flooding is always cursed. It's been celebrated, navigated, re-routed and straightened, it was once the central "highway" of the Delta (during the Mississippian era), now its mostly forgotten and dumped upon, miles of plastic irrigation pipe have been dumped over its banks alongside tires, tin cans, and decades of other trash; storm water sewer pipes spew un-mentionables from the towns along the way. And yet still it is an amazingly resilient waterway, full of life and a deep muddy beauty, rich and jungly. It is also the primary refuge in the Mississippi Delta for birds, amphibians, crustaceans, and mammals of all sorts. So, why the Sunflower?

Keep reading below in this issue for more about America's Most Endangered River, including 1) Mark River Blog, 2) Sunflower River Natural and Cultural Description, 3) A Paddler's Guide to the Sunflower River, 4) American Rivers Press Release, and 5) an update from the Lower Mississippi River Foundation -- Summer Camp still open -- and Open House May 8th.

Mississippi Drainage gets 6 out of 10:

The other thing to consider is that 6 out of 10 on the 2018 Most Endangered Rivers list are found within the Mississippi drainage (if you include the Boundary Waters - which are on the edge). That's kind of sad for our beloved Queen, the Lower Mississippi River. She is our Queen. We are her worker bees. We build canoes and paddle them on the face of her waters. What hurts her, hurts us. Her health is our health.

High Water Spring

by Mark River

Spring time in the Delta is a beautiful sight! The Mississippi River and all its distributaries and tributaries are swollen into their floodplains replenishing wetlands and estuaries, creating the perfect ecosystems for the reproduction of reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals and waterfowl. Male wood-ducks with striking arrangements of color, are looking for mates and the perfect tree to have their young. Frogs and salamanders take advantage of the shallow pools. All types of birds are arriving, heading north to their summer dwellings. Flocks of White Pelicans soar high in the sky performing mating maneuvers. The female deer are gorging themselves, taking advantage of the accelerated growth of fauna, preparing for their newborns coming in June. Many species of freshwater fish migrate into these ecosystems and spawn. This phenomenon wouldn't be possible if the waters didn't rise annually.

In 2016, Clarksdale witnessed a 1000 year flood, only to see a similar scare two years later. All across the country we are seeing an increase in rainfall due to the warming of the planet and there's more to come. Unfortunately with the increased water, we are closing off floodplains and wetland across the nation, which add to the problem. When floodplains and wetlands are drained and destroyed, we always see the effects downstream. These watery ecosystems are home to thousands of species. They say if the main stem of the river has one species, the floodplains and wetlands will have up to 10,000 more species. With the attack on our rivers and environment from our current administration, we have to come together as River Citizens and let the country hear our voice.

The Yazoo Pumps, a failed man-made concept, is back on the table. This idea was refused and labeled a failure years ago, is now being reconsidered. It was a bad idea from the start and now is revisited for political reasons. With the draining of wetlands, you not only decimate a whole ecosystem, but you set yourself up for another failed environmental catastrophe downstream. The one human trait that continues to ruin our country is our inability to admit our failures. Our pride and false perception of humanity has put us in a power position, and we can't allow it to ruin our precious natural world. We need to stop the attack on our natural world for profit or we will pay for it dearly.

Become a River Citizen today and get involve in the fight to protect and preserve our great River!

Mark River

Natural and Cultural Description of the Sunflower River

by John Ruskey

The Sunflower River is sometimes difficult to access for paddlers, in part because it is carved out of the deep mud of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Nevertheless it is well worth the effort to explore. Paddlers are rewarded with abundant birds, amphibians and mammals, deep woods, endless wetlands, and the rich culture of the Mississippi Delta. How many rivers can you put-in near the Delta Blues Museum (Clarksdale), paddle behind the most active juke joint in the world (Red’s in Clarksdale), meander though the “birthplace” of the blues (Dockery Plantation) visit another legendary juke joint Club Ebony, (BB King’s haunt in Indianola) and end up near the birthplace of Muddy Waters (Rolling Fork)?

Don't look for sandbars on the Sunflower River. You will encounter nothing but thick, rich Mississippi alluvial floodplain soil, and the fields and towns and forests adjacent -- and exceptional wildlife, especially raptors & amphibians. Muddy banks make for muddy landings, muddy picnics, muddy camps. In high water the mud is all hidden. But in low water be ready for climbing and descending steep slippery banks of chocolate goo as you enter and exit the waterway. An extra rope to help in getting in and out of the river is sometimes useful. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting muddy and wet, or go barefoot. In warmer months be prepared for abundant hatches of mosquitoes!

This river has the blues. Besides the many blues & gospel musicians who were born & baptized along its banks, its mussel shell beds, which are reported to be the richest such biota in the world, seem to be in constant danger of overzealous engineering. The Sunflower River has been neglected, dumped upon and over-worked — so much that American Rivers has proclaimed it to be America’s “Most Endangered River” in 2018.

The good news is that its forests constitute the largest bottomland hardwood forests in the National Forest system (they also produce the highest carbon-sequestration of any forests in North America!), and its banks are home to every creature found native to the Mississippi Delta, winged, webbed or otherwise. It’s a beautiful place to get away, to reflect a moment on the rivers and woods of America, to walk along its banks, to paddle its waters, to enjoy its primeval scenery. Most importantly, it’s home to all of us who live on or near its banks, and second home to many others who love it from a distance. Shouldn’t we be taking better care of our lonely muddy river — the little lonely river with a bad case of the blues?

Where can you paddle the Sunflower River?

by John Ruskey

There are many places along the 250-mile length of the Sunflower River to access and paddle, but the best spots are found near Clarksdale and Rolling Fork (Delta National Forest). See below for complete listing and links to water trails in Clarksdale, Anguilla, and Rolling Fork. Canoe, kayak and paddle board are all suitable vessels. Consult river gages before going, and dress for the weather.


In the Clarksdale area, you can do a round trip from downtown, paddle upstream as far as you feel like and then turn around and come back with the flow. The Quapaw Canoe Company is a good place to base your paddle from — with easy parking, access and maps. Quapaw can also provide canoes, kayaks and paddle-boards for rent. Quapaw Canoe Company, 289 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale, MS. 38614. 662-627-4070 or

There is also a beautiful 3 mile paddle (approx 1 hr.) into downtown from the Friars Point Bridge. Or take an afternoon and put in near Clover Hill on the Farrell-Eagle’s Nest Road, 10 miles; total duration: 4-6 hrs. Best river levels: 12 or above on the Clarksdale USGS river gage. For mile-by-mile itinerary go to water trail online:

Hopson Plantation/Shack Up Inn: Start out near Red’s Juke Joint in downtown Clarksdale and paddle 5 miles downstream for a takeout at the Hopson Bridge, directly behind supporting business the Shack Up Inn. Highlights include the back-door tour blues tour of Red’s Juke Joint, Ground Zero Blues Club, the Delta Blues Museum, Riverside Hotel (Bessie Smith), Rivermount Lounge (site), Highway 61 Bridge, and Hopson Plantation (Pinetop Perkins). Warning: portages necessary when the river is below 12 on Clarksdale Gage.

River Gage at Clarksdale:


In Sunflower, put in behind the Library and do a round trip paddle, first upstream, you can make an interesting foray up to the mouth of the Hushpuckena River, and then float back into town. (like climbing the mountain: do the hard work first!)

River Gage at Sunflower:


Put in at the confluence of the Quiver River, approx 8 mile paddle to the Hwy 49 Bridge below town. Walk 2 miles north into town to reach Club Ebony, BB King’s favorite juke joint. The phenomenal BB King Museum is located nearby. Both are must-see visits!


Boat Ramp at the Hwy 14 bridge. Do a round trip, or make a day (or overnight) 14 mile paddle into Delta National Forest, the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the National Forest system.

River Gage at Anguilla:

Near Rolling Fork/Holly Bluff:

Good ramp on the old channel of the river off highway 16. Paddle upstream past the distributary Little Sunflower River, and meander deeper and deeper into the woods. Round trip: go as far as you feel like paddling, then turn around and return to your vehicle.

Little Sunflower River: Put in at the boat launch off the 433 (Spanish Fort Road) deep in Delta National Forest (the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the National Forest system) and explore the same woods legendary hunting guide Holt Collier frequented.

Near Eagle Lake:

Steele Bayou Confluence: put in at the Steele Bayou Control Structure and paddle upstream ½ mile to the confluence of Steel Bayou, where steamboats used to start their journey up into the frontier Mississippi Delta.

Yazoo River Confluence: put in at the Steele Bayou Control Structure for a one-mile paddle to the mouth of the Big Sun at the Yazoo, the “River of Death.” Enquire about further paddling options down the Yazoo River.

For More Information about paddling the Sunflower River contact:

John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company

America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Big Sunflower River tops list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2018 Army Corps ‘Yazoo Pumps’ Project Would Burden Taxpayers, Destroy Vital Wetlands

Washington -- American Rivers today named the Big Sunflower River America’s Most Endangered River of 2018, shining a national spotlight on the threat a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, the Yazoo Pumps, poses to wetlands, wildlife habitat and the livelihoods of local communities.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “The Yazoo Pumps project is one of the most environmentally devastating and fiscally reckless projects ever proposed by the Army Corps. It’s time to kill this boondoggle project once and for all.”

Some members of Congress are pushing to undermine the Clean Water Act to resurrect the Yazoo Pumps, a project so damaging that the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush vetoed it using the Clean Water Act in 2008. The $300 million project would drain and damage 200,000 acres of wetlands (the size of all five boroughs of New York City) to support already-subsidized cotton fields.

"The project costs would exceed a quarter of a billion dollars and would benefit a handful of landowners. It’s effectively a multi-million dollar handout to each individual landowner, on top of the farm subsidies they already get,” said Louie Miller, director of Mississippi Sierra Club. “This pork-barrel project didn't pass the smell test then and it doesn't now. This project is the poster child for wasting taxpayer money."

More than 450 species of fish and wildlife, including the Louisiana black bear, rely on the wetlands habitat that would be drained by the project. If allowed to advance, it would be the first Clean Water Act veto overturned by Congress, setting a dangerous precedent for overriding the authority of the Clean Water Act.

“The Big Sunflower River is holding its own as a functioning floodplain stream against many human impacts, primarily from agriculture,” said Andrew Whitehurst, water program director for Gulf Restoration Network. “Biologically, the river still supports a surprising variety of freshwater mussels, and research has shown that channel catfish growth is actually better there than in many other rivers around Mississippi, mainly because it is still connected to its floodplain. De-

watering the Lower Yazoo River with pumps would degrade important functioning features of this river system.”

American Rivers and its partners called on Congress and the Trump administration to cease any efforts to resurrect and fund the Yazoo Pumps project. In addition, American Rivers urged Congress to defend the integrity of the Clean Water Act, including the vitally important Clean Water Act veto authority.

“Tens of thousands of paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts come to the Lower Mississippi Valley for our beautiful muddy bayous, cypress swamps and healthy water systems - not to see dried- out rivers,” said John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company. “Nature tourism is the fastest-growing segment of all tourism. We Lower Mississippi River paddlers and our clients are very concerned about the health of the remaining rivers and floodplains in the Deep South, including the Sunflower River.”

The Yazoo Pumps project will have a negative impact on local residents. It will increase flood risk downstream and degrade natural resources in the delta, an area where low-income and minority communities rely on fishing and hunting for subsistence.

"We have seen time and time again that decreasing wetland area increases the chances of flooding downstream,” said Shannon McMulkin, Executive Director of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. “Calling this project 'flood control' is like dumping trash in the river and calling it garbage control. It solves a problem by pushing it off on someone downstream."

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Pascagoula River (2016) and Pearl River (2015).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

  1. 1) Big Sunflower River, MS
    Threat – Army Corps pumping project
    At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat

  2. 2) Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
    Threat – Mining
    At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture

  3. 3) Boundary Waters, MN
    Threat – Mining
    At risk – Clean water, recreation economy

  4. 4) Lower Rio Grande, TX
    Threat – Border wall
    At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat

  1. 5) South Fork Salmon River, ID
    Threat – Mining
    At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat

  2. 6) Mississippi River Gorge, MN
    Threat – Dams
    At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities

  3. 7) Smith River, MT
    Threat – Mining
    At risk – Clean water, recreation

  4. 8) Colville River, AK
    Threat – Oil and gas development At risk – Clean water, wildlife

  5. 9) Middle Fork Vermilion River, IL
    Threat – Coal ash pollution
    At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values

10) Kinnickinnic River, WI
Threat – Dams
At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream


About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at,, and

For more information, please contacts:

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 503-708-1145
Andrew Whitehurst, Gulf Restoration Network, 601-954-7236
John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company, 662-902-7841
Shannon McMulkin, Lower Mississippi River Foundation, 870-753-8954 Louie Miller, Sierra Club, 601-624-3503

Update from Shannon McMulkin,

Director, Lower Mississippi River Foundation

Deadline has been moved back to April 31st for Summer Camp! See below for more information. Also, the Lower Mississippi River Foundation will be hosting an Open House Tuesday May 8, 5-7pm at 107 Perry Street in Helena, AR.

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation is moving our office to Helena! We will be located in the Quapaw Outpost at the entrance to the River Park. Come see the new space and hear about our upcoming projects!

On Saturday, May 5th, we're doing a thorough inside and outside cleaning of the office to prepare for the event. If you are willing to get dirty we could use your help! If you want to join the cleaning crew or want to help plan another aspect of the event reach out to Shannon, Jenn or Erin.

Lower Mississippi River Foundation Open House

Tuesday May 8, 5-7pm

107 Perry Street

Helena, AR 72342

For more info, contact:

Shannon McMulkin

Mississippi River Summer Leadership Camp, June 11-15, 2018

Deadline extended to April 31st!

Delta Students are Invited to Join the Crew for a Five Day Voyage on the Mississippi River

A new camp offers a unique summer experience for high school students

This summer, high school students in Arkansas and Mississippi will have a chance to join a new kind of summer camp. In the Mississippi River Summer Leadership Camp (June 11th-15th) students become part of the crew as they navigate 100 miles of the Mississippi River in voyager style canoes.

The camp was planned by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, a non-profit that connects youth to the Mississippi, in partnership with Quapaw Canoe Company, a guiding and outfitting service on the river. Students will work with experienced Quapaw guides to navigate their canoes approximately 20 miles each day along the river. Each day they will take on more responsibility for their boat and their crew.

The trip will leave from Helena, Arkansas and end five days later in Arkansas City. Each night students will camp on remote beaches and islands on the river. Each day they will practice canoe handling and navigational skills as they work together to reach the end of the journey.

Twenty students will be selected to join the trip. The Lower Mississippi River Foundation wants most of those students to come from the Delta where students live nearest the Mississippi River but often don’t have the means to access it. Through the help of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and private donations, they have raised money to provide scholarships to any student from Phillips or Coahoma Counties who wants to attend the trip.

John Ruskey, the owner of Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale, has led several trips like this one on the Mississippi with groups from all over the country. Students from the Delta are often not able to come on these trips either because the cost is too high or because they do not know about them. In July of 2017, LMRF committed to working with Quapaw to provide a trip specifically for students in the Delta. LMRF is recruiting students from local schools and youth organizations and offering scholarships for all students from the Delta.

This is the first time LMRF has offered this camp. They intend to use it as a learning experience. They intend to offer multiple camps in 2019 and beyond using what they learn from this first trip in 2018.

Applications for the trip will be accepted through April 31st. Accepted students will be informed by May 15th.


Shannon McMulkin- Lower Mississippi River Foundation


John Ruskey- Quapaw Canoe Company