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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 9 No 2, Monday February 4, 2013

Big Island Update:

It's not too late to join in and help out!

The 2013 Big Island Circumnavigation will not be possible without the help of many hands committed to to bringing kids to the river and the river to the kids. Leave No Child On Shore! See below for how you can help “paddle the canoe.”

Thanks to advance commitments of support from individuals & families: Earl Peoples and Charlotte Miller (received), Dale and Evelyn Ljunggren (received), Dr. Patricia Johnson - Delta Chiropractic, Abby Ruskey, Cliff & Lucille Ochs, and Bill Gregg and Rosemary Post (received).

Thanks to Kim & Joe Townsend for joining in by engaging the homeschool option for their children.

Thanks to the Delta Cultural Center of Helena for committing their fantastic facilities and staff.

Thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, in particular Angela Smith, the “Our Mississippi” Curriculum Coordinator. BTW: Check out the Our Mississippi website at

Thanks to the teachers and administrators of the KIPP Delta Public Schools for jumping on board this year with characteristic bravado.

Thanks to the teachers and administrators of St. Ann of Normandy for continuing this annual event for 10 years and counting.

Thanks to business sponsors Quapaw Canoe Company and Big Muddy Adventures, without whom this would never happen.

Thanks to founder Big Muddy Mike Clark who initiated these learning adventures in 2001 when he dedicated himself to connecting kids and rivers starting with a 3-month expedition down the Mississippi River.

We are well on our way to raising the funds necessary to make this exciting and educational circumnavigation happen, but more support is needed. See below how you can help:

Circumnavigation of Big Island

A Learning Adventure February 18-28, 2013

Presented by: Lower Mississippi River Foundation

You can help make this learning adventure come to life with a donation to the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which is presenting this expedition. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Participation level:

____Corporate Sponsorship $2500

____School Sponsorship $1000 (Sponsor one of the schools involved)

____Individual Sponsorship $500 (Sponsor one of the classrooms involved)

____Business Sponsorship $250

____Family Homeschool Option $100

____Private Individual $100

____ Other: $__________

Thank you! Any donation will help bring our kids to the river -- and the river to our kids. Leave no child on shore!

Please make out check and send to:

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation

291 Sunflower Avenue

Clarksdale, MS 38614

Please contact John Ruskey for more information or call 662-902-7841.

Circumnavigation of Big Island

A Learning Adventure February 18-28, 2013

Presented by: Lower Mississippi River Foundation

On Monday, February 18, 2013 Mike Clark & John Ruskey and a team of Mighty Quapaws and KIPP students will embark on a 10-day circumnavigation of Big Island by canoe as a learning adventure for the benefit of sponsoring schools and classrooms throughout the region.

Starting at Rosedale Mississippi the explorers will paddle downstream the Mighty Mississippi to the Arkansas River Confluence, and make base camp #1 for several days of natural science research and documentation. The Arkansas is the biggest and wildest confluence on the entire Lower Mississippi, full of bear, wild boar, birds and strange muddy landscapes. During the Great Flood of 2011 the Arkansas began carving a new outlet to the Mississippi in a violent explosion of water coursing behind Cat Island.

The explorers will next paddle up the great Arkansas River 43 miles, around several dozen giant river meanders in the fashion of Lewis & Clark. This portion will involve very difficult upstream paddling, poling and cordelling (the French word for pulling a boat with a long rope). At Base Camp #2 the adventure duo will continue research and documentation in the dark heart of the deepest woods of Big Island. Finding sign of the reclusive Louisiana Black Bear will be one of the tasks at hand, as well as conducting a bird and amphibian count. The team will be collecting pallid sturgeon data for US Fish & Wildlife as well as participating in the annual bird count for the National Audubon Society. The next challenge will be to locate a suitable back channel oxbow or wetlands to cross over and reach the White River. A route will have to be scouted through the briars, snake-infested woods and alligator swamps. The explorers will then manually portage all of their gear and canoes from the Arkansas River to the White River, a process that might require one long dirty day.

Now begins the downstream portion of the adventure. The explorers will paddle approximately twenty miles of the White River, a very remote and wild river which is here surrounded by the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Base Camp #3 will be established for the exploration of some of the most remote bayous around which are found the giant Bald Cypress, a favorite haunt for bears, raccoons, prothonotary warblers and bald eagles. The mouth of the Mississippi is now fenced at the White by its newest lock and dam, through which the adventurers will have to negotiate by being flushed through a 1200 foot lock chamber controlled by 120-ton steel gates. The last segment of the journey is a 25 mile run down the Mighty Mississippi, along the way the explorers will visit a steamboat wreck (the Victor) which was exposed in the 2011 Flood, as well as the old channel of the White behind Montgomery Island.

Big Island is a truly spectacular natural phenomena, a landscape cut by, flooded by and defined by three biggest and most important rivers of deep south, the Mississippi, the Arkansas and the White. This will be the first documented circumnavigation of Big Island in the history of its existence.

Sponsored by St. Ann of Normandy and KIPP Delta Public Schools. Special thanks to partners Delta Cultural Center of Helena and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

What is the

Lower Mississippi River Foundation?

Description: The Lower Mississippi River Foundation was created in 2011 for the betterment of public outdoor recreation on the Lower Mississippi River with projects and programming oriented towards education, access, and enhanced environmental quality of the Lower Mississippi River & its tributaries & distributaries & drainages. The LMRF oversees the Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program and the KIPP Delta Public Schools Canoeing Program. The LMRF will now be in charge of Lower Mississippi River Water Trail ( The LMRF will also be responsible for the Friends of the Sunflower River, for the WILD MILES ( and for the stewardship of Buck Island.

Purpose: to recognize, protect and promote the Lower Mississippi River as a viable wilderness for its overall ecological betterment and for increased enjoyment of future generations of American citizens.

Definition: the Lower Mississippi River begins at the confluence of the Upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and flows down to its terminus in the Gulf of Mexico, including its tributaries such as the Arkansas, the Yazoo, and distributaries such as the Atchafalaya.

States include Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi & Louisiana.

Goals: Outdoor Education for Regional Youth, Outdoor Survival Training for Disadvantaged Youth, Access for Recreational Paddlers, Ethical Water Use & Stewardship, Ethical Outdoor Recreation, Sustainable Eco-tourism, and Holistic approach to Eco and Cultural Tourism.

Objectives: Specific projects & programming oriented towards education, access, and enhanced environmental quality of the Lower Mississippi River & its tributaries & distributaries & drainages, including but not limited to the following activities:

Specific Programs:

Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program

Lower Mississippi River Water Trail (

Save Buck Island Campaign (completed)

Buck Island Stewardship -- Friends of Buck Island

Muddy Waters Wilderness

KIPP Delta College Prep Canoeing Program

Friends of the Sunflower River (


Chain of Command: Board of Directors, Executive Director, Paid Help, Volunteers

Board of Directors: 5 member Board of Directors to meet quarterly to direct projects & programming, to fundraise, and conduct any other business on hand. Positions: President, Secretary, Treasurer + 2 Board Members at Large. Ideally local members reflecting demographics of Lower Mississippi Valley.

Advisory Board: 15 member Board to meet annually or bi-annually to visionquest and establish long term goals & activities. Regional membership ideally reflecting demographics of Lower Mississippi Valley with members from all the states along the Lower Mississippi River including Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.

For more information, please contact:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation Inc

291 Sunflower Avenue|Clarksdale|Mississippi|38614

February is Sunflower River Month!

Sat, Feb 16th @ 2pm -- Meeting for Friends of the Sunflower River

at Quapaw Canoe Company -- 3rd & Sunflower Avenue

In downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi

This is the first week of February -- which means Mardis Gras, Black History Month -- AND it's our annual month in celebration of our beloved Sunflower River!

Get out and walk the banks of the river. Its fairly high, the banks are full from the last rain, but now starting to fall and leaving the tell-tale muddy bathtub ring around the edges. Its a very cold day today, but the skies are beautiful, even more beautiful in their reflections in the brown water. It will only get more beautiful towards sundown…

Note: Its also of course Black History Month. You could mix the two with a "Backdoor" tour of downtown Clarksdale: paddle behind Red's Juke Joint, underneath the Martin Luther King Street Bridge, and the new KABOOM! playground in the same-named park, past the Riverside Hotel (Bessie Smith 1937), the old location of the Rivermont Lounge, over the weir, and then on downstream to Hopson Commissary Plantation where the mechanized cotton-picker led to the "largest peace time exodus in the history of man."

The best way to enjoy this back-door Blues & Civil Rights tour is from river-view by canoe or kayak. Stand-Up Paddleboards are great fun on the Sunflower. Don’t forget the lifejacket, and save the libations for after you get off the river. No drinking & paddling. Especially not during this time of year when you might have 15 minutes maximum survival time in the water.

Remember, you will receive a 20% discount on rentals with Quapaw Canoe Company if you want to get out on the river and paddle some. And its pretty reasonable to begin with: $35/canoe/day. That’s a lot of fun for 2 people, and of course includes your paddles and life jackets.

Are you a Friend of the Sunflower River? See below if not.

And have a good month in celebration of our river.

Why is February is Sunflower River Month?

Its that time of year: If you’ve never before participated in Sunflower River Month this year you can catch up and join in the fun.

What is Sunflower River Month? Its a month-long celebration for the sad & neglected & lonely little bluesy river we call our own.

Why February? Its that time of year that things slow down enough we can take a little extra time to look over the 2nd Street Bridge and gaze at that interesting dark muddy ribbon of fluid magic flowing through downtown Clarksdale. Or maybe a noon-time walk during lunch break? The riverwalk has been closed off to vehicular traffic. Walk across the bridge, or park your car at Soldier’s Field and enjoy a peaceful stroll down the only street in the Mississippi Delta that is reserved for pedestrians only (or bicycles, skate boards, and other self-powered means).

Why Walk? Its peaceful. Its rejuvenating. Its good for you. You notice things you’ll never see from your car. At dusk you might notice waves emanating in a v-line as a Beaver noses his way upstream in search of supper. Or you might see a River Otter playfully diving & re-surfacing. You will hear Snow Geese overhead and Blackbirds in the trees. If you’re quiet & keen-eyed you might spy Mr. Red Fox darting into the shadows as his nightly hunt begins. Or maybe catch Mr. Big Horned Owl as he swoops onto the high branches of a bald cypress to stare with those killer eyes at all things that make motions below.

Why the Sunflower? Because its our river.

How about its tributaries? This Year we will be making an expedition down the strange and important Sunflower River tributary: The Hushpuckena.

Where can I find out more about the Friends?

Go to our blogsite Please contact me about adding photos, stories & details. Become a friend on the Facebook Page

Isn’t the Sunflower a dirty river? Walk along or canoe down the river and decide yourself what’s dirty and what’s not. Your opinion does not count if you have only seen the river from the bridge out of your car window.

Isn’t this Black History Month? Yes. In respect to Black History Month, let me share a few details of note concerning the Sunflower River. In its journey through the Delta, the Sunflower winds through the layers of mud and history that gave the world its first great blues singer (Charlie Patton, Dockery Plantation), the first mechanized cotton picker (Hopson Plantation), its oldest African-American founded community (Mound Bayou), rural Civil Rights era leaders (Fanny Lou Hamer, Sunflower County; Aaron Henry, Clarksdale), the Teddy Bear (Delta National Forest), King of the Chicago Blues (Muddy Waters, born in Rolling Fork, lived 25 years at Stovall) and the renowned ambassador of the blues (B.B. King, Indianola). The Rev. C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s Father) is just one of many who were baptized in her muddy waters. Bessie Smith died at the G.T. Thomas Hospital which sits on her banks in Clarksdale (now the Riverside Hotel). Today you can hear live blues along the river at juke joints Red’s and Sarah’s Kitchen. Legendary woodsman, Holt Collier (1846-1936), who cornered the Teddy Bear, reported its waters to run clear & clean, and Roosevelt started each day of the hunt with a cold-water swim. One of our long-term objectives is to make the waters safe once again for fishing and swimming.

Is it safe to paddle on the Sunflower River? Ask my 5-year old daughter Emma-Lou: She says its okay, but wear a life-jacket! Recent paddlers on the Sunflower River came from Washington State and Memphis. The wildlife on the Eagle’s Nest to Clarksdale run has been spectacular!