In May 2010 I was lucky enough to spend five days on the Mississippi River with the folks from the Quapaw Canoe Company out of the small town of Helena in Arkansas and over the river at the Home of the Blues – Clarksdale Mississippi.

You can read my account of that trip – brief and incomplete as it is – in my Mud and Blood in the Mississippi in Flood post.

I’ve kept in touch with Captain John Ruskey and the Mighty Quapaw crew and in 2011 managed to get back on the river during another flood for a few brief hours at a very soggy Helena. If I’m lucky I may be able to get back there again when I’m next in the States for the Society of Ethnobiology meeting at Denton, Texas in May this year.

The Quapaw crew are not just about canoes and having a ball paddling down the world biggest river. One thing I’ve long admired about the work of the folk at the Quapaw Canoe Company and the Lower Mississippi River Foundation is that they have always reached out beyond paddles, boats and a good time getting wet.

They’ve developed and maintained strong connections to – and shown great support for – their local community, particularly local kids. And in central Mississippi many of the kids of that community are at the bottom of all kinds of social indicators and determinants.

The Quapaw crew work closely with the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which promotes access, education, and the betterment of public outdoor recreation for all on the Middle & Lower Mississippi River as it makes its way through Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.  

In a few weeks the Mighty Quapaws and Lower Mississippi Foundation crew will set off on one of their most ambitious efforts yet – a ten-day long trip through the wilds of the confluence – at an island aptly named Big Island – of the White, Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. And they are reaching out for some much needed and deserving support.

They would welcome any donation from Down Under – or elsewhere. Contact the Quapaw Canoe Company to find out more. And while you won’t be able to go on this particular trip, Quapaw have a long list of similar expeditions and day trips available through the rest of the year.

This map gives some idea of the where, why, who and how of their trip.

Jealous? Hell yes!

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 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, led by St. Ann of Normandy (St. Louis) and the KIPP Delta Public Schools of Helena, Arkansas.

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 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.

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation was created in 2011 for specific projects & programming oriented towards education, access, and enhanced environmental quality of the Lower Mississippi River & its tributaries.

If you can assist in any way please contact John Ruskey [email protected] for more information or call 662-902-7841.

Help us bring our kids to the river…

And the river to our kids…

Leave no child on shore!