The Lower Mississippi River Foundation and Quapaw Canoe Company sent a full staff to attend the Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment meeting in Helena, Arkansas, to discuss fish and wildlife needs and the recreational needs along the lower Mississippi River. Before this meeting , I had conversation with local river citizens on questions and concerns involving our great River. Since many locals couldn’t attend, I took it upon myself to give them a voice.
The Quapaw Canoe Company/Lower Mississippi River Foundation representatives were Driftwood John Ruskey, Oscar “Ojay” Donaby, Chris” Wolfie” Staudinger, and myself, Mark River. Many of our concerns where river access for the public. The Corps had maps of our section of the River from Memphis to Vicksburg with markers so we could put our suggestions and thoughts on the maps. They also had aerial photos of the surrounding area, which Driftwood used to quiz us testing our river knowledge.
We didn’t hesitate. Driftwood started out marking various suggested areas where boat ramps w
ould be convenient for river enthusiasts. Places like the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi River. He also brought attention to a debris blockage along a back channel in the Memphis area that we discovered and portage over during the Rivergator trip from Caruthersville to Memphis. Two of our strongest suggestions were to make Big Island a protected parklands and a reminder to save Cottonwood Island for public use.
Many locals from the Clarksdale area expressed their concern for the Desoto Lake community. Apparently, twenty years ago, there was a northern chute called “Sam White” that was accessible during high water, which created a world class fishery at Desoto Lake. The locals recalled during the spring rise it would clean and restock the lake for the summer. It flooded the bottomland forest of cottonwoods and willows creating prime spawning for all species of fish, especially bass and crappie. The land was bought by a wealthy man who had the money and political power to dam the northern chute to build a series of hunting camps. The locals have seen a decrease in numbers of fish and declining water levels every since. One local told me that people from all parts of the state would come fish and boost the economy around the lake. In recent years the family has sold the property and the locals want to remove the dam a restore a world class fishery.
The staff was very informative on the checks and balances of the river, the importance of it’s overall systemic health and how vital it is to the introduction of the next generation of river citizens. I had a very interesting talk with new River Citizen, Jay Sherrod. He is the assistant to congressman Rick Crawford and is terrified by the idea of the navigating the River in a canoe.
I answered every one of his fears and by the end of the conversation he felt closer and more comfortable with the River.
Julia, the tourism director, looked at me and said, “what do you know, Mark River selling the River — as always!”
I reply, “facts only!”
Throughout the meeting, I realized how important the partnerships between the Corps, the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, the LMRF, the Quapaw Canoe Company, 1Mississippi, and all the other groups are to the communicating factors in bringing all the Big River’s issues to the forefront. It is up to us to bring these issues from our meetings locally to engage all walks of life in our fight for a healthier, sustainable Mississippi River for generations to come. Please make the Mississippi River a priority in your life and become a River Citizen today.
Mark River is a Big River guide and teacher with the Quapaw Canoe Company, and serves as t