Mapping the Lower Mississippi Water Trail
A look at the River Gator project to map America's longest riverine water trail
THE RIVER GATOR GUIDE TO THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI
By Chris Wolf E. Staudinger. Photos and map by John Ruskey
When he brings people to his playground on the Mississippi River, John Ruskey, at right, likes to say, “The river is the rockstar here. We’re just her roadies.” But in most American minds, she’s a messy rockstar. She has a worn, faded, and even dangerous sort of celebrity that makes nervous parents cover the eyes of their children.
For 15 years, though, Ruskey has tried to clean that image up with a variety of strategies. Primarily, he guides fantastic voyages on the real river, with her wild forests and long, white, “Caribbean” sandbars. He also paints the river. He educates kids on the river. He sings songs about the river.
Then he began writing the river. He finds himself midway through The Rivergator: The Lower Mississippi Water Trail. And on Monday, he shoved off from Caruthersville, Missouri, for a 123-mile paddle to Memphis. It’s the first of three excursions to celebrate the addition of 286 new miles onto the water trail this year. In 2015, when the trail finally stretches from St. Louis to the Head of Passes below New Orleans, it will be the longest riverine water trail in America, and, he hopes, it will help change the way we think about North America’s greatest river.
The River Gator project to build a paddler’s guide to the Lower Mississippi Water Trail is now live at rivergator.org. New 2013 feature include full-color maps, hundreds of new photos, and in-depth descriptions of the Middle and Lower Mississippi River, as the guide now covers 413 miles of the Lower Mississippi from the Caruthersville Harbor Mile 850 to the Mouth of Yazoo River in Vicksburg Mile 437. A handy Reference Index also offers quick access to any landing, town, island, back channel, or points of interest along the way.
As the River Gator dives into the first of its three November trips to mark the expansion of the trail, which Ruskey describes as “the longest free-flowing water trail in the continental United States, over 1155 miles from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico (including the Middle Miss from the Missouri River confluence),” the outfitter put words around the path of the mighty river as only he can in his latest Lower Mississippi River Dispatch:
“Swirling south in giant meandering loops, she dives into the verdant and fantastically fertile Mississippi Delta, mind-boggling swaths of muddy landscapes … This is the land that gave birth to the Delta Blues, and was once the cotton kingdom of the world … she carves elegant S-curves through deep woods … Her forest was once America’s Amazon, millions of acres of deep woods now removed for farmland … Coming to you from the Pawnee Hills, the Alleghenies, the Kentucky Bluegrass, down through the Missouri Bootheel and along the fantastically candy-colored Tennessee Chickasaw Bluffs, flowing past the mouth of the wild Arkansas River (more bears than humans), and into the luxuriant Louisiana Delta … Here she swells to fullness and proudly ambles along through bottomlands, batture and battlefields … connecting cities, states, public lands, festivals and all of the people and businesses found along her way.”