Photo courtesy of John Ruskey / Quapaw Canoe Company

Mark River’s Rivergator Journal
Day 34: Wind, Wing-Dams, and Water

Throughout my travels up and down the Mississippi River, challenges present themselves of all sorts. The river with its strong, rolling current can be intimidating, with manmade structures creating boils and eddies, with powerful towboats churning up and downstream, but nothing can compare with the effects of wind.

Many think that the current will sweep you down river with little effort, but that can be far from the truth. In a canoe, you must travel a little faster than the current to control your vessel. Yes, the current will push you downstream, but it is not your choice where it will take you, and that can be a problem.
Just recently, coming into Cape Girardeau on the Rivergator celebratory trip, I notice a fancy pleasure craft docked in an eddy, but as I got closer, it was caught on a wing-dike, forced to wait on the next rise to release itself.

Most wing-dams are set at 20ft. in height. It takes the study of Corps of Engineers maps and experience to know where they are located. These structures were built to disperse the majority of the water to the navigational channel to keep it deep, therefore limiting dredging. It’s a unique tactic, but it creates eddies of slower water, which deposits silt, that should be deposited in the gulf. The nutrient pollution from farms are making it to gulf, but not the silt, creating the dead zone. They also create islands downstream from the eddies they create. You can tell the effects by looking at the new growth of willow trees along the river. Over time, the river will get more narrow, deeper, and stronger, which can be a problem during flooding.

I’m sitting on the border of  The St. Catherine’s Wildlife Refuge just outside of Natchez. Surrounded by sycamore and tall willow trees. It’s a beautiful day, but windy. I can hear the winds hollering through the trees, but barely can feel them, as we picked a great spot to handle the high winds. White-capped swells flow over the front of a downstream barge, reassurance that this is not the day for paddling. Gust up to 35 miles per hour is dangerous conditions to be on the river. Most weather don’t effect us as much, but wind can turn a surreal flowing river into a violent,  washing machine-like, turbulent entity that could change your expedition for the worst. It just makes for a long day tomorrow in perfect paddling conditions, but it pays to be patient on the water, and take what the river gives you.

Mark River

1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant