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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch Vol 8 No 2

Quapaw Canoe Company

Clarksdale, Mississippi -- Helena, Arkansas

Serving the Lower Mississippi Valley


...there are 616 Wild Miles between St. Louis and Baton Rouge, which means that the scenery looks & feels wild...especially when viewed from canoes or kayaks or SUPs paddling down the river... just so happens that the gigantic floodplain of the Mississippi creates the Wild Miles. These places have been preserved mostly by neglect -- but also by the power of the river, by its catastrophic rises & falls, and the danger of building anything within its floodplain. Moreover, in light of recent flood cycles and the declining population of the Delta, this area is receiving attention as one of the best places to restore native bottomland hardwood forests. Restored forest creates habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, a buffer to flooding, and is an important means of reducing the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone," caused by nutrient runoff into the river.

(Keep reading below for more about WILD MILES)

Hush your stuff:

This is the year of the Hushpuckena!

In the words of the late great Early Wright “the Soul Man:” “Hush your stuff!” Its that time of year again: General Annual Membership Meeting of the Friends of the Sunflower River, Saturday Feb 18, 3-5pm, Quapaw Canoe Company -- on the banks of the Sunflower River in downtown Clarksdale. This year we’re celebrating the Hushpuckena, the original Sunflower...


***Slide show*** from recent expedition down the Hushpuckena with many unexpected adventures, strange sightings and spectacular visions of the good, the bad and the ugly.

***Music*** by Hushpuckena Riverbank resident Bill Abel and special guest…

***Weir Project*** to be raised another 18 inches -- local support needed to complete project... well as ***cleanups, updates, news***, and any other business that comes up...

Hushpuckena means “Sunflower” in Choctaw. It's the major tributary of the Big Sunflower River until much further downstream when the Big Sun is joined by the Quiver River. The Hushpuckena used be fed by the Mississippi through lowland connections in the vicinity of Sunflower Landing on Jackson Bend (where Hernando De Soto might have been the first white man to be awestruck by the “Rio Grande” as he called it). In pre-levee days when the Mississippi ran high its waters would overflow its banks and run into distributary rivers like the Hushpuckena. Today the Hushpuckena occupies ancient loops of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers which it jumps in and out of as it meanders through Rena Lara, Walnut Grove, Duncan and its namesake Hushpuckena. Along the way it receives waters from Annis Brake (which drains Alligator and Bobo), James Bayou, Edward Bayou, and many smaller bayous, brakes and wetlands. The Hushpuckena begins in Coahoma County, flows through the northeastern corner of Bolivar County and meets the Sunflower River in Sunflower County.

February is Sunflower River Month:

Valentine’s Day Week: show some love for your Sunflower River through the Friends of the Sunflower River!

General Annual Membership Meeting at Quapaw Canoe Company on Saturday Feb 18, 3-5pm, bonfire to follow on the banks of the Sunflower.

All winter 2012 we’ll be producing events in celebration, education and advocacy concerning the Sunflower River & its tributaries, with explorations and cleanups of the strange and important Sunflower River tributary: The Hushpuckena.


in Southern Living Magazine

March 2012:




Have you heard about the Wild Miles?


"Where the beauty of nature predominates in the heart of America"


There are 515 Wild Miles on the Lower Mississippi River between Cairo, Illinois, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 71% of the scenery viewed from canoes or kayaks paddling down the river looks & feels wild.

There are 105 Wild Miles on the Middle Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois. 56% of the scenery viewed from canoes or kayaks paddling down the river looks & feels wild.


Wild Miles is a list of the last remaining vestiges of wild places along the Middle and Lower Mississippi River, places where nature predominates and nothing is seen of mankind save passing tows (and other river traffic) and maybe a tiny hunting camp or a single fisherman buzzing by in a johnboat. These are places where the landscape is filled with giant islands bounded by endless mud banks & sandbars, where the river is overseen by big skies and where the sun sets uninterrupted by buildings or wires and where big river predominates with creative wild beauty, each high water results in shifting sand dunes and re-made sandbars. This is a floodplain valley where only deer & coyote tracks are seen along the sandbars and enormous flocks of shy birds like the White Pelican and Double Breasted Cormorant are comfortable enough to make landing for the night. These are places where it's dark & quiet at night, where the stars fill the skies like brightly shining jewels poured out on a dark purple velvet blanket, almost as thick & vibrant as the night skies of the Great Plains or Rocky Mountains.

Wild Miles are the kinds of places that the 24 million paddlers in North America will travel long distances to enjoy, and we should preserve for future generations of Americans. In sheer "wild value" the Lower Mississippi ranks alongside the Boundary Waters, the Allagash or the Okeefenokee. The Lower Mississippi Water Trail is at least as important to our national heritage as the Erie Canal, the Santa Fe Trail or the Appalachian Trail. It has been travelled by millions of Americans including the Sioux, the Natchez, and more recently Abe Lincoln, John James Audubon and Langston Hughes, and has always been our single most important route of migration & transportation. It is the life blood of our nation flowing directly from the productive heartland through the cultural flowering of the south and into the vitality of the Gulf of Mexico.

We are identifying these Wild Miles as the focus for future preservation and as the places where new industry & agriculture installations should not be placed. One single smokestack could corrupt the feeling of wildness for miles upstream or downstream. The website will describe the Middle and Lower Mississippi River mile-by-mile with photos, videos and audio clips to document the Wild Miles, and compare the Wild Miles with the "Industrialized Miles." My last survey was completed in 2009, but we will be updating this entire listing within the year 2012.

America has an opportunity to find the "wilderness within" by recognizing and preserving the below Wild Miles in the center of the country, and it just so happens that the gigantic floodplain of the Mississippi creates these Wild Miles. These places have been preserved mostly by neglect, by the power of the river, by its catastrophic rises & falls, and the danger of building anything within its floodplain. Moreover, in light of recent flood cycles and the declining population of the Delta, this area is receiving attention as one of the best places to restore native bottomland hardwood forests. Restored forest creates habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, a buffer to flooding, and is an important means of reducing the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone," caused by nutrient runoff into the river.

Developers: Instead of building any new sites within these Wild Miles, please consider placing new industry and agriculture construction within those places already industrialized such as within one of the many harbors along the way, or building it far enough behind the levee that it won't be seen or heard from the river.



Middle Mississippi

Wild Miles: Approximate mileage on the Middle Mississippi. Subject to revision.

Mile 136 to 130 (above St. Genevieve)

Note: includes historic Fort DeChartres. The lights of St. Louis can be seen dimly above the northern horizon.

= 6 Wild Miles

Mile 121 to 110 (below St. Genevieve to above Chester)

Note: includes Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge- Kaskaskia Island and other protected public-use islands

= 9 Wild Miles

Mile 105 to 82 (below Chester to above Grand Tower)

Note: includes includes Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge- Rockwood Island and Wilkinson Island as well as other protected public-use islands, parks & campgrounds

= 23 Wild Miles

Mile 80 to 54 (below Grand Tower to above Cape Girardeau)

Note: includes protected public-use islands and Trail of Tears State Park

= 26 Wild Miles

Mile 45 to 8 (below Cape Girardeau to above Cairo)

= 37 Wild Miles

Summary for Middle Mississippi:

101 Wild Miles within 180 mile section of river

St. Louis to Cairo = 56% Wild

Lower Mississippi

Wild Miles: Approximate mileage on the Lower Mississippi. Subject to revision.

Mile 935 to 925 (below Columbus to above Hickman)

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 920 to 890 (below Hickman to above New Madrid)

Note: Near Reelfoot Lake State Park -- frequent bald eagle sightings

= 30 Wild Miles

Mile 882 to 875 (below New Madrid to above Tiptonville)

= 7 Wild Miles

Mile 867 to 850 (below Tiptonville to above Caruthersville Harbor)

Note: unbroken forests – very wild feeling

= 17 Wild Miles

Mile 822 to 812 (Tamm Bend)

Note: beautiful bend of the river -- unbroken forests – very wild feeling

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 805 to 785 (Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge to Osceola Harbor)

Note: Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, 1st Chickasaw Bluff

= 20 Wild Miles

Mile 780 to 740 (Osceola Harbor to above Memphis)

Note: Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, 1st Chickasaw Bluff, Anderson Tully WMA, 2nd Chickasaw Bluff, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, 3rd Chickasaw Bluff, several protected public-use islands including Redman Bar, Loosahatchie Bar and the Hickman Bar. Lights of Memphis seen at night along southern horizon.

= 40 Wild Miles

Mile 725 to 664 (below Memphis to above Helena)

Note: Tunica RiverPark & Museum, Buck Island protected public-use island. Some casinos seen. Bright night lights from casinos. lights of Memphis dimly seen along northern horizon. Casino section Mile 708-695 might need to be removed from Wild Miles.

= 61 Wild Miles

Mile 650 to 588 (below Helena Harbor/Friars Point to above Rosedale Harbor)

Note: White River WMA, Great River Road State Park

= 65 Wild Miles

Mile 583 to 572 (below Rosedale Harbor to Catfish Point)

Note: Arkansas River Confluence

= 11 Wild Miles

Mile 568 to 555 (Catfish Point to Huntington Point)

Note: Choctaw Island State Wildlife Area – 8,000+ acres - possibly the most beautiful island on the entire Lower Mississippi River

= 13 Wild Miles

Mile 550 to 540 (Ashbrook to above Greenville Harbor)

Note: legendary “Greenville Bends” – very wild feeling and lots of wildlife

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 550 to 540 (Ashbrook to above Greenville Harbor)

Note: legendary “Greenville Bends” – very wild feeling and lots of wildlife

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 530 to 500 (below Hwy 82 Bridge to above Mayersville)

= 30 Wild Miles

Mile 495 to 458 (below Mayersville to below Willow Island)

Note: Shipland WMA

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 455 to 440 (Forest Home to above Vicksburg)

Note: Tara Wildlife Preserve

= 10 Wild Miles

Mile 432 to 407 (below Vicksburg to above Grand Gulf/ Port Gibson Harbor)

Note: Mouth of the Big Black River, Grand Gulf State Park

= 25 Wild Miles

Mile 402 to 365 (below Port Gibson Harbor to above Natchez)

Note: Phatwater Mississippi River Challenge

= 37 Wild Miles

Mile 360 to 320 (below Natchez to above Old River)

Note: Red River WMA, 3 Rivers WMA

= 40 Wild Miles

Mile 305 to 267 (below Old River/Angola to above St. Francisville)

Note: Very wild -- Last Loess Bluff on Mississippi River

= 38 Wild Miles

Mile 259 to 238 (below St. Francisville to above Baton Rouge)

= 21 Wild Miles

Summary for Lower Mississippi (Cairo to Baton Rouge)

515 Wild Miles within 724 mile section of river

Cairo to Baton Rouge = 71% Wild

Total Wild Miles = 515 Lower Miss + 101 Middle Miss

= 616 Wild Miles Total between St. Louis and Baton Rouge.


Quapaw Canoe Company provides guided canoeing & kayaking on the Middle and Lower Mississippi River, from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico. We are based in Clarksdale, Mississippi, with an outpost base in Helena, Arkansas. Big Muddy Adventures is based in St. Louis near the confluence of the Missouri. My name is John Ruskey. I am the founder & owner Quapaw Canoe Company (est. 1998). I first started paddling the Mississippi River with a 5 month raft trip in 1982-83. Mike Clark founded Big Muddy Adventures in 2001 with a 3-month educational expedition down the Mississippi. We guide thousands of visitors every year on the Mississippi River, mostly on overnights and multi-day trips through remote sections of water with little or no industry and agriculture. We employ dozens of guides, shuttle drivers and support staff. We engage and employ local youth through long term-apprenticeships on canoe building, canoe technique & rescue, wilderness survival, and the business of nature-tourism. We help maintain the health of the river system with cleanups and educational campaigns.

We at Quapaw Canoe Company and Big Muddy Adventures are very concerned about the detrimental effects of any future industry along the Middle (St. Louis to Cairo) and Lower Mississippi Rivers (Cairo to the Gulf). Future power plants, steel plants and refineries are of particular concern, but also grain elevators and hydrokinetic turbines. We are concerned about the remaining wild places along the Middle & Lower Mississippi River that might be compromised with any new developments industrial or agricultural.

Our clients come from all over America and all over the world to see the Mighty Mississippi River. We call it "America's Forgotten Wilderness" because the river channels are so big & open, the islands are wild, and there are extensive unbroken forests throughout. There is abundant wildlife. It is one of the last remaining habitats for Black Bear in the center of the country. The Mississippi is the most important flyway in North America. There are hundreds of fish & amphibians. It is our strongest & most vital inland fishery. Most importantly to us and our clients when you are paddling the river it truly feels like a wilderness. It's big and open. Your imagination is intrigued by the scale of the landscape, similar to what you might feel in the Rocky Mountains or the wilds of Alaska. At night, the stars are visible much brighter than anywhere else in the Middle of America.

There is towboat activity, of course, but towboats come and go. Any permanent industrial installations within the Wild Miles would change the feeling of wilderness for paddlers & campers with visual and audible pollution. In today's busy world it is difficult to find wild places where you can leave behind the trappings of civilization and reconnect with those aspects of nature & survival that is so important to the American pysche as defined by Thomas Jefferson and championed by Theodore Roosevelt.

The floodplain of the Lower Mississippi is one of those places that the feeling of wilderness has been preserved --why?

By the power of this dynamic river. Regular high water events have kept most development away. The river fluctuates 40-65 vertical feet in any given year, high water covers most islands and floods most forests & batture areas (the river side of the levee). While the seasonal flooding prohibits industry & agriculture it actually enhances its value as a wilderness - especially for those who can reach its hidden places by water. It is a paddler's paradise. It is one of America's greatest paddling challenges. We are certain that it will become a classic destination for canoeists & kayakers alongside popular destinations such as the Boundary Waters, the Adirondacks, and the Everglades.

We enjoy the river as a "forgotten wilderness" and approach it as such with multi-day expeditions by canoe or kayak and primitive camping on remote islands, towheads and sandbars found flung along the banks of the approximately 1200 miles of free-flowing river downstream of St. Louis. Big Muddy Adventures of St. Louis provides the same along the last 340 miles of Missouri River below Kansas City.

From the Mississippi River Network:

February 14, 2012

FY 2013 Presidential budget calls for deep cuts in conservation programs

Mississippi River Network calls for an investment in existing programs to protect communities along the River

The Mississippi River flows through the heart of our nation. It nourishes our farms, providing food and other resources to the entire world. The River sustains 18 million of us with its drinking water, it gives us a place to play along its banks and it gives us hope that future generations can continue to live and thrive in the heartland. But today, our Big River is in big trouble. Increased demands on farmland to produce commodity crops, biofuels and textiles result in increased demands on the River that functions as a backbone to our nation. Funding for conservation programs that protect the River must be preserved.

President Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion budget for FY 2013 emphasizes savings by cutting direct payment-subsidies to producers and streamlining programs and costs, including those that restore and protect the nation’s lands and waters for future generations.

The proposal would cut Farm Bill conservation programs to $827 million, down from the $898 million appropriated in FY 2011. These lower numbers will likely frame the debate that will take shape as Congress considers the 2012 Farm Bill.

“While it’s clear that this is the time for cuts, we believe they can’t be haphazard. Our government’s job is to provide basic services to its people – including sustaining healthy land that can sustain us,” said Brian Moore, Director of Budget and Appropriations for the National Audubon Society. “Farmer demand for Farm Bill conservation programs continually outstrips the dollar amount appropriated.”

Over the years, Congress has created effective and efficient conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Program. These programs provide financial support to farmers to implement agricultural and conservation practices that reduce on-farm pollution, create wildlife habitat, restore wetlands and protect our water quality. These programs also help to alleviate stress being placed on the land and the environment as farmers attempt to meet the nation’s needs for food, fiber and fuel production.

“We’ve been making the same mistakes over and over – cutting conservation programs first,” said Susan Heathcote, Water Programs Director at the Iowa Environmental Council. “Farming is a risky business and so protecting crop insurance and other parts of the safety net is a top priority for producers. But we never think to consider conservation programs as an integral part of the long-term safety net.”

Following the trend of years past, cuts were made in Farm Bill conservation programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Wetlands Reserve Program, among others, with over $1 billion in permanent cuts. The budget calls for reducing conservation funding by $1.8 billion over 10 years “by better targeting conservation funding to the most cost-effective and environmentally-beneficial programs and practices.” These cuts are so targeted, in fact, that unless it is reauthorized in the next Farm Bill, the Wetlands Reserve Program is effectively eliminated by this budget.

The Mississippi River Network, a coalition of 38 organizations, advocates better management alternatives that include effective funding levels and implementation of Farm Bill conservation programs.

As residents of a Mississippi River state, we all have a responsibility to help protect this national treasure. And as representatives sent to Washington, our legislators must protect the conservation programs in the FY 2013 federal budget.

The Iowa Environmental Council and National Audubon Society are members of the Mississippi River Network, a coalition of organizations working to protect the land, water and people of the Mississippi River. The Network works with an ever-growing number of River Citizens through its 1 Mississippi program. River Citizens are dedicated to learning more about their River and taking action to protect it.

For more information, contact:
Amy Sauer, Program Manager
Mississippi River Network


Become a 1 Mississippi River River Citizen:

go to:


Surfing a 300 Mile-Long Wave:

A Canoe Expedition during the Great Flood of 2011

Photos, videos and music from a 300 mile long Canoe Adventure from Memphis to Vicksburg on the Lower Mississippi River riding the crest of the Great Flood of 2011 from May 16th - May 19th with guide John Ruskey, writer W. Hodding Carter & photographer Christopher LaMarca on an unforgettable voyage down the main channel, down the back channels and through the flooded fields & forests of the Lower Mississippi River Floodplain.

Documenting the islands, the bridges, the hunting camps, the landings, and what remained of the landscape of the Lower Mississippi Valley in the highest water ever recorded in Vicksburg & Natchez, and the biggest volume water ever recorded on the Lower Miss. Scenes of the catastrophic flood as viewed close up at water level from the gunwhales of a canoe, including Arkansas River Confluence, Catfish Point, Choctaw Island, Yellow Bend, Tarpley Islands, Greenville Power Plant, Leland Neck, The Highway 82 Bridge, Kentucky Bend, Cracraft, Trynsalvania, Eagle Lake, Paw-Paw Bend, the Yazoo River, Steele Bayou Control Structure and flooded downtown Vicksburg Waterfront.

Documenting environmental hazards such as flooded oil refineries, petroleum storage facilities, chemical warehousing and flooded power plants. Also flooded grain elevator facilities, farms, and hunting camps. We discover where floating freezers and refrigerators are born. Destruction of fields and farm lands nutrients scoured out and washed out downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.

Spring songbird migration in progress as we paddle. Least terns with nowhere to land and lay their eggs. Animals exhibiting strange behavior. Discovering the cycle of life in the flooded bottomland hardwood forests. Finding evidence for the leveling effect of the extensive forested places that absorb the river’s destructive flow and allow sediments to settle out and phytoplankton to absorb excess nutrients perhaps blunting some of the Dead Zone. 1Mississippi River cleanup following the flood with action scenes of the the Mighty Quapaws cleaning the river using canoes, kayaks & SUPs.

Written & Narrated by John Ruskey, Photography & Film Clips by John Ruskey, Music by John Ruskey from the “Riverman” CD, Text excerpts by W. Hodding Carter, Additional Photos by Christopher LaMarca. DVD created by TK Production Studios, Hernando, 24 foot long Cricket Canoe Louisiana Bald Cypress Voyageur Canoe designed & built by Paul “Bubba” Battle

Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi the DVD “Surfing a 300-Mile Long Wave” has been created -- 46 minutes with photos, film clips, narration & original river music.

Sales from this $15 DVD will be set aside for our one-on-one apprenticeships in canoe carving, big river canoe guiding, and wilderness survival skills for Mississippi Delta Youth.

Contact: John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company

291 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale, MS 38614