Photo courtesy of John Ruskey and Mark River

Mark “River” Peoples is documenting his experience while traveling down the Mississippi in Quapaw Canoe Company’s handmade canoes. Click here to learn more about the Quapaw and Lower Mississippi River Foundation’s Rivergator adventure!

Birds watercolor painting by John Ruskey

Just past Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a drastic change of topography of the landscape creates an alluvial fan. This occurs when rivers lose their gradient and silt is deposited throughout the floodplain. These areas are most important to the checks and balances of the ecosystem of the Mississippi River Valley. These wetlands, estuaries, and floodplains are home and breeding grounds for thousands species of reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and mammals. During the spring, become spawning ground for at least 53 percent of all freshwater species of fish. Mammals give birth close to these water supplies to better their offsprings chances at life. Toads and salamanders use the shallow waters for laying their eggs. Over 300 species of birds use these areas as pit stops during migration. The flies and insect larva supplies food for all involved. These places are sacred and are essential to the health of the Mississippi River Valley.

I sit at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River. The evidence of Spring is all around me. The willows are starting to bloom. Turtle tracks up and down the sandbar. The wood-ducks are pairing off. Stoneflies are emerging from warming waters and getting their wings. The greenish waters of the Ohio and the blue hazel waters of the Mississippi run side by side for miles in the channel.  Towboats are flanking to turn up the Ohio River. It’s like a race car start line.

I’m at Birds Point at mile 0 in Missouri enjoying the stunning tangerine colored sunset in a willow forest at the foot of a majestic wetland. To my right is western Kentucky, with the Wickliffe Bluffs in the distant. To my left is the peninsula of southern Illinois. This is the start of the New Madrid Floodway that extends 60 river miles and contains and sustains 53,000 acres of wetlands. This is the floodplain for when the Ohio and Mississippi floods.  The waters have to go somewhere. If we alter these ecosystems, it will cost humanity dearly. I know these floodplains have valuable soil, but why trade a few profits, for a whole ecosystem of life. It’s careless. These lands should be protected and left wild. 

The Missouri Hills watercolor painting by John Ruskey

-Mark River
1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant

St. Louis born Mark “River” Peoples is a river guide and youth leader with the Quapaw Canoe Company. Mark grew up hunting and fishing along the river with his father. After attending Missouri Central State University, and becoming defensive back with theNew York Giants, Mark left a career in professional football for the river. Mark is a writer for the Lower Mississippi River Dispatchand shares his intimate & nature-filled musings about river life on Big Island. He is also the 1 Mississippi Southern Region leader. When not on the water, Mark mentors Delta youth and educates them on the importance of the protection and preservation of our national treasure for generations to come. Mark works hard on changing the perception of our great River and its tributaries. Through river trips, cleanups, and workshops, Mark’s goal is overall systemic health of the Mississippi River.