Helena - Buck Island
Map and Description
Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
Lower Mississippi River Mile 664-669
Buck Island is a 1,498 acre island located 1 mile upstream of the mouth of the Helena Harbor. It is one of the big islands of the Lower Mississippi. At low water its sandbars stretch 5 miles north to south and 1 ½ miles east to west. The forested high ground of the island is approximately 2 miles tall and a mile wide, in kind of a half moon shape, with a smaller forested “splinter island” found to the east. (During low water this splinter island becomes joined to the main island by a wide valley of sand & muddy pools).
Like all the big islands of the Lower Mississippi a wide variety of micro-ecosystems are found on and around Buck Island, including a bottomland hardwood forest, younger willow/cottonwood forests, small grassy fields, sandbars, gravel bars, blue holes, and muddy flood pools (left behind in the flats after high water), each with its own particular inhabitants and characteristics. It should be noted that the Lower Mississippi fluctuates 45-50 vertical feet in an average year -- as such much of the island and most of its habitats become covered with flowing river water at some point during a normal year. For instance, at high water the only portion of the island found above water is the mature floodplain forest and its isolated grassy areas.
Helena & Buck Island sit at the base of Crowley’s Ridge 74 river-miles downstream of Memphis and 226 river-miles upstream of Vicksburg. Crowley’s Ridge is a 200-500 foot tall hilly ridge that parallels the St. Francis River north to the Missouri Ozarks, a geographic anomaly in an otherwise flat delta floodplain. Helena was built at the southern terminus of Crowley’s Ridge, a wise founding decision that has provided the city with consistent river access – while other Delta cities have been left dry (Greenville/Vicksburg) or had to retreat (Friars Point) from meandering ways of the Mississippi. Crowley’s Ridge creates an unusual hill-country environment with habitat for plants & animals not normally associated with the Delta (such as rhododendron and may apple). St. Francis National Forest begins at the Helena City limits with hiking, camping, birding, hunting & fishing. Helena & Buck Island are considered to be part of the Arkansas Mississippi Delta, both are found in between the mouth of the St. Francis and the Arkansas River. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta is on the opposite shore (mostly within the State of Mississippi).
Due to its location on Crowley’s Ridge Helena is the only city in between Memphis and Vicksburg that actually sits on the main channel of the Mississippi River. This makes it an important resupply stop for long distance paddlers, and an ideal location for day-trippers or weekend adventurers who want to get a taste of the river. Anyone paddling the river along the Arkansas/Mississippi/Tennessee border will necessarily pass near or through Helena. Helena recently completed a beautiful park adjacent the main channel of the Mississippi with camping, walking trails, a boardwalk, and one of the best boat launches on the entire Lower Mississippi River. This new boat ramp is wider than most others, is good during all but the highest of river levels, and has good parking. Helena hosts one of the best blues & gospel festivals in the world every October, and is the birthplace and/or stomping grounds of many great blues musicians including Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Lockwood, Cedell Davis, Johnnie Shines, Frank Frost, Sam Carr, The Jelly Roll Kings & Lonnie Shields.