Brand-New 'Rivergator Paddler's Guide' Provides a Map to the Lower Mississippi

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The Lower Mississippi River "meanders in giant loops out of the heartland of the country into the deep South." - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN RUSKEY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN RUSKEY
  • The Lower Mississippi River "meanders in giant loops out of the heartland of the country into the deep South."

From the city of St. Louis to the bayous of Baton Rouge, the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail spans hundreds of miles of water and thousands of picturesque sights. John Ruskey has been studying this watery trail for more than 30 years — and now he's making his knowledge available to the rest of us.

"The Rivergator Paddler's Guide to the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail," a six-year effort spearheaded by Ruskey's Lower Mississippi River Foundation, Inc., lays out tips and tricks for paddling across the lower Mississippi. Published online at www.rivergator.com, it's a free resource for anyone interested in paddling all or part of the mighty Mississippi.

“All these great important landscapes in our country, you always find a guidebook to help you,” Ruskey said. “In all these years, there’s still is not any single, good guide for people to use to go down the big river.”

The Lower Mississippi River is an unbroken trail about a half-mile wide, Ruskey says. It flows between giant sandbars, tall bluffs, lavish forests and overflows with birds, mammals and fish as it passes through Memphis, Clarksdale and Vicksburg.

“[It] meanders in giant loops out of the heartland of the country into the deep South,” Ruskey says. “It is founded by the Earth on one side and the sky on the other.”

Originally, Ruskey thought the guide would take about a year to put together. It ended up taking six times that.

“After a year of researching, paddling and documenting, we covered a hundred miles of the river and we realized at that point that it was going to be a much bigger challenge than we had originally anticipated," he says. "What started as a personal project then grew into ten people working on it.”

Ruskey serves as the director of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, Inc. The foundation’s mission is “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.”

To that end, the foundation — in conjunction with companies specializing in canoeing, such as Big Muddy Adventures located here in St. Louis — put together an expedition of about 45 paddlers. Over two months, they'll be exploring the river and putting the guide to use.

Going down the Lower Mississippi and leading expeditions in nothing new to Ruskey, who also owns Quapaw Canoe Company, which has locations in Clarksdale, Helena and Natchez, all located in Mississippi. What will slightly differ with this trip is that more time will be spent exploring the sights and shores. Ruskey is always excited to discover something new as he paddles onward.

“I’ve written a million words about the river, I know that there are a million things I don’t know about the river that I’ll see some of on the way downstream,” Ruskey says.

His goal now is to share that experience with other people. “To get out there and experience what you felt, that’s actually the most beautiful thing,” he says.

The expedition begins this afternoon in St. Louis at the Columbia Bottoms Boat Rack. The participants will meet at 3 p.m. and depart at 4 p.m. It will end at the Gulf of Mexico on May 10. Anyone, regardless of experience, can still join the expedition, even if it is just for a day. A shuttle service is provided for those to return them to their hometowns, which varies in fees.

The cost is $150 per day, per person. That payment will include canoes, paddles, lifejackets, first aid kits, cookware and other necessary gear. Every night, the participants will camp out on islands, sandbars and towheads before setting off the next morning.

Those seeking more information are encouraged to email Ruskey at john@island63.com.

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