Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Here we have a video taken last year on the Sunflower River.

More great videos to come!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sighting report: On August 18th a Green Heron was Sighted on the Sunflower River. Have any animals sightings you would like to share with us? Email me at Quapawdelta@gmail.com with your picture and a comment of where you took the picture and anything else that you would like to include!

Two Quapaw employees, Charles Wright and TommyOwen take their canoes out on the Sunflower River in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I (Tommy Owen) enjoy the river very much, and wish it was getting more attention from other residents and tourist alike. It certainly is overlooked as a paddling river. It's tranquil, placid, and home for a variety of wildlife. Stuck in the city of Clarksdale and ever wondered what it is like in the natural side of the Delta? Sunflower River! Summer fun isaround the corner, however during the spring and fall it can be just as enjoyable. During the winter explore the river banks and discover nature frozen in time. on August 10th,Charles and I took our canoes out and headed upstream to see what wecould find, and to see how much natural blockage had occurredfrom falling trees, rogue branches,and the low water levels.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Preamble: Anguilla to Vicksburg
2009 Ruskey & Clark Sunflower River Expedition
"The journey of the Ram & the Rhino (Beaver)"

Welcome to all who have become new members of the Friends of the Sunflower River and a big “Thank You” all who have renewed your memberships!

Soon to be sent DAY I the first installment of seven days of the 2009 Ruskey & Clark Sunflower River Expedition Part V, Anguilla to Vicksburg.

The remaining six days of the 2009 expedition will be sent out in consecutive fashion over the next couple of weeks, as we get them written. We are on “river time” in the reporting, just as we were on river time in the canoes. The last five years 2005-2009 have allowed us to explore the Big Sunflower beginning to end, so we might have some conclusions to draw, some insights to share, and are compiling a Big Sunflower List with the following entries: the Best Landing, the Best Section to Paddle, the Worst Section to Paddle, the Best Woods, the Best Camp, the most Friendly Town, the Worst Dump, the Trashiest Home, the Trashiest Farm, the Trashiest Hunting Camp, the Best Birding, the Best Fishing, the Most Fishes, the Most Owls, the Most Wildlife Overall, the Cleanest County, the Trashiest County, the Most Dumped Refrigerators per Mile, and other categories to be decided upon.

Also we have chosen the Big Sunflower Home of the Year 2009 for the Friends of the Sunflower River, “that home located directly on the banks of the river that best cares for its location and makes the river a better place.”

We will be sharing with you our raw journals, transcribed verbatim, exactly as they were written in the first light of the day next to a smoky fire with a pot full of cowboy coffee brewing nearby, first birds beginning to sing, the reflections of the brightening sky seen in the river, the tangle of woods & vines beginning to become distinguished out of the darkness, the canoes bumping each other in the first puffs of wind, our wooden steeds impatiently tethered to shore. Our versions of the day will be posted side by side, the two different perspectives will help you better understand the full picture, maybe similar to how the Lewis & Clark journals work side-by-side. Sorry about the bad grammar, run-on sentences, uncompleted phrases, etc. Our first & foremost goal is to honestly report what we’ve seen, felt, smelled and otherwise experienced – and if there is a little spilled coffee, a few cold rain drops and some smudges of mud – well, that’s just part of the story!

Mike’s Student Sydney illustrated one of our adventures – up a tree with a camera, a snake on the limb and a gator underneath! Thank you Sydney for the great illustration!

For relief, pleased enjoy a few photos & drawings sprinkled in for affirmation & documentation and the sharing of places of great beauty, and other places of disgust and utter astonishment. Also, Mike’s students at St. Ann’s have illustrated a few of our adventures, as above. Yes, we did have encounters with snakes & gators!

When your canoe gets stuck in a floating trash pit that clogged an entire river all you can do is sit in amazement and laugh – before you break down and cry –

Maybe on the river too long? I emerged from the twilight zone of Delta National Forest sporting a Beard of Spanish Moss.


We have been doing this every February for the past four years, paddling the length of the Sunflower River section by section, Year One we explored the tributaries above Clarksdale, “the Upper Sunflower,” (if you will) first out of the fields below Friars Point, next day following the small branch out of Long Lake where the new pumps have been installed. Day three we followed Mill Creek around the backside of Jonestown from its connection with the Yazoo Pass near Hwy 61, and then the last day we paddled into Clarksdale from Eagle’s Nest/Clover Hill. Year Two we pushed off from the Quapaw Landing in downtown Clarksdale and paddled the “Middle Sunflower” as far as Dockery Plantation before we had to bail out due to the eruption of my strange rash. Year Three it was Dockery to Sunflower. Year Four we returned to Mile 120, the hamlet of Sunflower in Sunflower County, and dropped the canoe over the steep muddy bank there with some trepidation for the surely upcoming surprising twists & turns coming our way. The river undergoes significant floodplain increase past its confluence with the Quiver River, below which it truly feels like the “Big Sunflower.” Year Five (2009) we intend to paddle from Anguilla to Vicksburg and explore the river as it flows through Delta National Forest and the infamous Big Sunflower Diversion Canal.

2009 was to be our reward for 5 years of hardship – and yes, it was indeed refreshing to be paddling in the big woods of Delta National Forest, one of the last wild wetland refugees of any contiguous size in the Mississippi Valley – but once again it was not short of more unpleasant discoveries, hard paddling, and tricks of the river. What kept us going? A little inertia, a few cups of cowboy coffee river style (made with bayou water), a little determination to finish the story unfinished, and a lot of hard paddling!

Why do we do this in February?

If you average out all of the historical rises & falls of the Sunflower River, the highest water is usually found during the winter months January-February-March, for the obvious reason of Delta rainfall. But we are living in changing times, and the Sunflower has not risen to meet our expectations, and seems to be intent on thwarting any of our ambitions. The mid-south & the entire heart of America have been in prolonged drought. Every year for the past 4 years Mike & I have missed all rises, and had to paddle through a mysterious valley where the water had recently been high and had left us a slimy mantle of slippery smelly fudge coating everything in its grasp, including all good level places near the main channel for easy camping! Three years ago, in 2006, the water was so low that we were damaging our canoe running over cypress knees, chucks of concrete and the rusted & oftentimes hidden hulks of farm machinery. We had to portage over low-water dams, and drag the canoe over some shoals – both of which are unheard of on the usually deep Sunflower. On the Mississippi, low water means slow water. On the Sunflower low water means no current at all. Thus far we have paddled approximately 200 miles of the Sunflower. So basically we have paddled across a 200 mile-long meandering lake through the Delta – or so it would seem. Well -- not really -- the Sunflower is so full of surprises and weird places that you actually don’t notice the lack of current – not much anyway. Other reasons for February: no poison ivy and no mosquitoes. Snakes, of course are in hibernation, but we like snakes. We’d rather have the reptiles but not bad enough to do it during the mosquito months.

Why the Sunflower?

I have lived on the Sunflower for longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life, near its headwaters in downtown Clarksdale. I’ve enjoyed its flowering plants and rich wildlife, smelled its bad smells, swam in it, slept by it, dreamed by it, read by it, worshipped by it, made love by it, been alternately inspired by it and disgusted by it. I make my living building canoes & paddling the Mississippi, and yet the Sunflower begs attention, I guess because it is my home river, and exploring it will help me better understand my home.

If the Lower Mississippi is the gut of America, the Big Sunflower is the liver. It receives all the bad blood, the poisons, the toxins, the greed & the guilt of a region, and deposits them in her muddy floodplain. And believe me, you feel it as you paddle along. If you live in the Mississippi Delta, or have any affinity for it, then this is your river. Its also your liver, everything that gets sent down the street drains, the sewer pipes and the farm ditches ends up in the river, or in its adjacent floodplains, especially in the 60,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods of Delta National Forest. So its your river, and its your liver.

The Sunflower is the Mississippi Delta. We define this land as the “Yazoo-Mississippi Delta,” and well yes, this might be technically correct, since the Big Sun is a tributary of the Yazoo -- but if you count the rain drops, the Sunflower is much more Delta than the Yazoo. The Yazoo should be considered Hill Country. If a rain drop falls here in the Delta most likely it enters the Big Sun somewhere in its 225 mile north-south journey. It receives all waters good & bad from Friars Point, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Indianola, Leland, Greenville, Rolling Fork & Mayersville. The only major Delta populations it doesn’t drain are Tunica, Greenwood & Belzoni. Its tributaries include the Hushpuckena, the Quiver River, Bogue Phaila, Silver River, and due to some radical canal work by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Deer Creek and Steele Bayou. The Little Sunflower, and some minor bayous and chutes (like American Chute) are considered its “distributaries,” waterways that carry its excesses during high water. It is sometimes connected overhead via Moon Lake and the Yazoo Pass to the Coldwater River and points North & East, but only during the highest of river levels. Of course, during severe flooding, the entire Delta goes under water and then you could really say “the river connects us all!”

The Big Sun has gotten all kinds of bad press, mostly about the various workings of man & machines along its banks. We’re not putting on any magnolia-leaf-colored sunglasses in this expedition, to paint the pigsty pretty pinks & purples, but we do believe the Big Sun deserves better attention than it’s gotten, and we intend to share our experiences as truthfully as we can. Who knows the river better than those who paddle it? Only the catfish & the turtles.

Friends of the Sunflower River

As you know, this expedition is being conducted partly as a function of the Friends of the Sunflower organization in Clarksdale, to which mailing list we'll be reporting the day-by-day journey over the next couple of weeks. If you care to share this with anyone -- fine -- please pass it on, but while you do please encourage each person to join the “Friends” and help us in our mission. Also please respect our writing & photography, and “give credit where credit is due.” All of our writing, photos & sketches will end up as a book some day, and these are just installments along the way.

St. Ann of Normandy

Big Muddy Mike connects students in the St. Louis area to the river via the internet, through his teaching at St. Ann of Normandy, a North St. Louis Catholic School. Mike has been posting “Turtle’s Tale”, which is an account of the journey written in the character of “Toby Turtle.” You can share in the creative narration at http://stannnormandy.wikispaces.com/Turtle+Tales

Does the Journey ever End?

Of course, the end of one river is just the beginning of another, and so the Sunflower becomes a tributary of the Yazoo River at Steele Bayou. Not far downstream the Yazoo gets swallowed by the mother river, the Mighty Mississippi. There were plans to build the world’s largest freshwater pumps where the Sunflower joins the Yazoo, which was killed by an EPA veto last year, and as we paddle along we feel the effects of the “problem” the pumps were supposed to fix, that is “backwater” building up within the Mississippi Delta, and so we might have some thoughts about this and the water situation everywhere, the lack of good water, the disappearing wetlands, the extremely low water levels on all rivers in the middle of America – and of course we’ll share with you as we go along. We aren’t scientists or any sort. We know a lot of little things, small pieces of the whole, but are experts at none. Mike is an adventure teacher and as you know I am a canoe builder & river guide. But we do know the rivers we paddle better than anyone else, if nothing else for the simple fact that we are the only people that actually get out and paddle them. This was true when we paddled 2,500 miles down the Missouri River from Yellowstone to the Great Arch, its true on the Lower Mississippi, and the same sad situation is found on the Sunflower. Why do we know this is true? Because we don’t see anyone else!

Poor neglected rivers – they have become the closet you stuff all your unwanted things in, where your guests can’t see them. But what if your guests did see them? What if your visitors to your town saw what you dumped behind your hunting camp? What if they saw how you allowed grey water and brown water to empty out of your trailer directly into the river? Maybe you’d start keeping it a little neater, wouldn’t you? And that’s what we are hoping with the Big Sunflower – we are hoping that these explorations will take some of the fear out of the mud and trashy banks, and add a little respect & recognition of the beauty & great expressions of life – and that more people will get out and paddle it. As more people paddle, maybe the people who dump things over the bank will be less inclined to do so -- and who knows, maybe they’ll even clean up some of the mess they made last year.

And guess what? We’ve been exploring the Sunflower River for the last five years. Now it’s your turn. There’s no way any one person or any two people can care for any one river and do it any justice. We hope these writings will serve as some inspiration and you will be inspired to brave the mud and some ugly man-made messes and enjoy the truly unusual environment and the rich plant & animal life found thereof. You can use these narrations as a guide and go out and do it yourself!

We recognize that canoeing is not for everybody, especially canoeing a sloppy muddy river in February. But even If you don’t like paddling, read on, we’ll get you out there in the wilds with our stories & photos, and you can share in the wonders of the river from the comfort of your home. But be forewarned: there will be unfinished sentences and metaphors that don’t entirely dovetail, and lastly, it’s going to be a sloppy read that won’t leave you entirely unsplattered with mud!

Anyway, enough talk – let’s get on with the journey!

All text & photos © 2009 John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company
© 2009 Mike Clark, Big Muddy Adventures

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Get out and Paddle the Sunflower


Heavy Rainfall this week has brought the river up. The best time to get out & paddle the Sunflower!!!!

Friday, Saturday and Sunday Dec 12-14th will be some beautiful paddling through downtown Clarksdale, and upstream & downstream as well. North wind Friday, SE wind Saturday & Sunday. Highs in the 40s. Do your own paddling & shuttling or we can provide canoes, kayaks and shuttle service. See below.

What are the options?

Clark Park to Sunflower Landing (3 miles)

Leisurely 3 mile paddle into downtown Clarksdale through some of the woods & neighborhoods north of town. Owls & beavers. Paddle through the cypress, oaks & sycamores of the Duck Walk. You’ve never seen downtown until you’ve seen it from the river!

Put-in at Clark Park
(Lee Drive & Friars Point Road)

Take out at Sunflower Landing
(Public Parking just downstream of 2nd Street Bridge)

Clover Hill to Sunflower Landing (10 miles)

10 miles. 3-4 hours of paddling. Wild & remote-feeling. Great views of Coahoma County as it used to look. Paddle through woods & fields for miles and not see anyone. No people or buildings until you get close to Clarksdale. Lots of deer, ducks, owls, hawks, and migrating birds.

Put in at bridge near Clover Hill
(turn off Friars Point Road at Kenoy’s and go East half mile on Farrell-Eagle’s Nest Road. Park on SE side of the 2nd Bridge. Put in below bridge.

Take out at Sunflower Landing
(Public Parking just downstream of 2nd Street Bridge)

Sunflower Landing to Hopson (6 miles)

6 miles. 2-3 hours of paddling. Leave downtown Clarksdale and paddle under the Railroad Bridge behind Delta Wholesale Hardware, Red’s Juke Joint, the Riverside Hotel, 61 Highway – you will see why the Sunflower River has the blues! The river alternates between short narrow passages with clogged channels through submerged trees and long pools bordered by big trees and wide fields. The banks are thick with hawks, owls & deer.

Put in Sunflower Landing
(Public Parking just downstream of 2nd Street Bridge)

Take out at Hopson Bridge

Rental & Shuttle Rates

Canoe Rental: $35/day with paddles & life jackets for 2 people
Kayak Rental: $35/day with kayak paddle, life jacket, and kayak rescue gear
Shuttle Rates (per person with canoes & kayaks):
Sunflower Landing – Clark Park: $15
Sunflower Landing – Clover Hill: $25
Sunflower Landing – Hopson: $25

20% off for Friends of the Sunflower River in current good standing!!!

Friday, February 1, 2008

2nd Annual General Membership Meeting

Please mark your calendars: Friday, February 15th, 6pm, Quapaw Canoe Company, 291 Sunflower Avenue, 2nd Annual General Membership Meeting of the Friends of the Sunflower River. $25 (Min.) Membership fee for 2008 due on or before meeting. See below for more information. Our only expenses in the past 2 years have been $65 in postage & a $20 water quality testing kit from World Water Monitoring Day (good for 30 tests).

Upcoming expenses: A high quality water-testing station so that we can begin a database for the Sunflower's water quality. Also, an online subscription to the Delta Democrat Times, which has been carrying a lot fo stories about the Yazoo Pumps (as well as other matters concerning the Big Sunflower in the Lower Delta). Also, maybe a subscription to the Deer Creek Pilot. Does anyone have an objection?

Why join the friends? Because the river needs us!

2008 will see us knee deep in the mud (hip deep in the water) cleaning up the river in downtown Clarksdale. Also, we have been coordinating a water quality workshop with MDEQ (Mississippi Dept. of Environmental Quality) sometime this Spring/Summer.

The illustrious Mike Clark and I will be paddling downstream the last 2 weeks of Feb, continuing the annual Sunflower River Expedition. And you can paddle with us and help us document its dark muddy mysteries. Contact me for more info. If you can't paddle with us, your membership ensures that you receive the whole story & photos from the adventure along the way! (sent to you via this e-list).

And lastly, your membership entitles you to a 25% discount in canoe rentals and shuttles from Quapaw Canoe Co. to get out & enjoy our mysterious muddy waterway yourself, this deal good only on the Sunflower River. We have a special set of canoes, paddles & lifejackets made for the slippery banks and many log jams encountered on the Sunflower River. Bring your own snake repellant! We will drop you off and pick you up. Shuttles provided by none other than Welsey Jefferson, who you probably know better as "the Mississippi Junebug" when he's playing bass & singing on stage at Red's, Ground Zero, and other jukes & festivals in the area.

Make out your check to "Friends of the Sunflower River" and bring to the meeting on Feb 15th, or send to:

John Ruskey
Friends of the Sunflower River
291 Sunflower Avenue
Clarksdale, MS 38614

-------------------------cut here and mail -----------------------------

Yes! I want to _____ join or ____ renew my membership with Friends of the Sunflower River to help care for the muddy river we call home. Please find enclosed my $25 check:

Name: __________________________________________________________

Address: ________________________________________________________


___add me to the mailing list for (infrequent) updates on the river, photos, stories, news items, the annual Sunflower River Expedition, etc.

___ Please send information about Friends of the Sunflower River to my friends/family/loved ones:

___ I am particularly interested in the following activities in connection with Friends of the Sunflower River:

___ Other:

------------------------cut here and mail -----------------------------

Who Are We?

Friends of the Sunflower River is all about appreciating and caring for the lonely little river that winds its way through the center of the Mississippi Delta, from Friars Point to Clarksdale, from Mound Bayou & Merigold to Sunflower; from Indianola to Anguilla, from Holly Bluff to Vicksburg.

This river has the blues! Besides the many blues & gospel musicians who were born & baptized along its banks, its mussel shell beds (which are reported to be the richest such biota in the world) seem to be in constant danger of overzealous engineering. The Sunflower River has been neglected and over-worked; so much that it was proclaimed America’s “Most Endangered River” in 2003.

The good news is that its forests constitute the largest bottomland hardwood forests in the National Forest system (they also produce the highest carbon-sequestration of any forests in North America!), and its banks are home to every creature winged, webbed or otherwise, found native to the Mississippi Delta. It’s a beautiful place to get away, to reflect a moment on the rivers and woods of America, to walk along its banks, to paddle its waters, to enjoy its scenery. Most importantly, its home to all of us who live on or near its banks, and second home to many others who love it from a distance. Shouldn’t we be taking better care of our lonely muddy river?

Physical Description: The Sunflower River is born in the bayous and lakes of Northern Coahoma County and meanders South some 250 miles through the Yazoo/Mississippi Delta paralleling the Mississippi River on the West and the Yazoo on the East, (with which it confluences with 10 miles above Vicksburg). A small but dynamic river, once forested, now mostly bordered by fields, the Sunflower is a rich habitat for all creatures native to the region, including black bear and panther. Its muddy current averages 2100 cfs (cubic feet per second) at Sunflower, 3461 at the mouth of Bogue Phalia, and approximately 4500 where it empties into the Yazoo River at Steele Bayou. Its drainage includes most or all of Coahoma, Bolivar, Sunflower, Washington, Sharkey & Issaquena Counties, some 3,689 square miles, inhabited by 169,150 people.

Cultural/Historical Mélange: In its journey through the Delta, the Sunflower winds through the layers of mud and history that gave the world its first great blues singer (Charlie Patton, Dockery Plantation), the first mechanized cotton picker (Hopson Plantation), its oldest African-American founded community (Mound Bayou), rural Civil Rights era leaders (Fanny Lou Hamer, Sunflower County; Aaron Henry, Clarksdale), the Teddy Bear (Delta National Forest), King of the Chicago Blues (Muddy Waters, born in Rolling Fork, lived 25 years at Stovall) and the renowned ambassador of the blues (B.B. King, Indianola). The Rev. C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s Father) is just one of many who were baptized in her muddy waters. Bessie Smith died at the G.T. Thomas Hospital which sits on her banks in Clarksdale (now the Riverside Hotel). Today you can hear live blues along the river at juke joints Red’s and Sarah’s Kitchen. Legendary woodsman, Holt Collier (1846-1936), who cornered the Teddy Bear, reported its waters to run clear & clean, and Roosevelt started each day of the hunt with a cold-water swim. One of our long-term objectives is to make the waters safe once again for fishing and swimming.
Mission Statement: The Friends of the Sunflower River was established in 2006 to bring attention, understanding and care to the Big Sunflower River and its tributaries, The Little Sunflower, the Bogue Phalia, Mound Bayou, Indian Bayou, The Quiver River, Silver Creek, Deer Creek, Rolling Fork, Steele Bayou and the Hushpuckena River.

Board of Directors: Five members: Executive Director, Assistant Director, Secretary, Treasurer, and Attorney; to meet quarterly to discuss ideas, activities and any items concerning the health of the Big Sunflower River.

Honorary Directors: to meet annually with Board of Directors for participation in long-range planning and organizational philosophy.

Annual Membership Meeting: to be set annually by Board of Directors.

Goals: We, the members of the Sunflower River, are committed to a clean-flowing Sunflower River that provides sustainable habitat for the humans, animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish that are found native to the Mississippi Delta. We dedicate ourselves to protect and restore its aquatic environment. We strive to supplement the current body of knowledge with observations, recordings and documentation of animal movement, water quality, soil quality, and other concerns of the natural science of the Mississippi Delta.

Activities: involve understanding and enjoyment of the Sunflower River and its riparian environment: paddling, clean-up, water-quality monitoring, animal tracking, bird watching, crustacean counts, amphibian and insect observations.

Membership: You can become a charter member of our fledgling organization to help us appreciate and take care of this lonely little river that winds its way through the center of the Mississippi Delta. $25/year basic membership.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

get off yer muddy stumps!

All ye river Chumps
get off yer muddy stumps
and write these grumps
to Dump the Pumps!

Dear Friends of the Sunflower River:

See below for complete list of addresses to individuals involved in the decision-making process for final approval of the Yazoo Pumps.

Please consider writing a letter to each of the following to halt the construction of the Yazoo Pumps. Our friends with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oppose this project. At the very least, this project needs a scientific assessment from an independent group. Compose your own letters, or if you want to save time, American Rivers makes it easy for you, go to their website and click on board, personalize one letter and they take care of all necessary addresses & delivery. www.americanrivers.org.

The report comment period will be open to the public until January 22, 2008. The EPA has the power to veto this project under Clean Water Act section 404(c), and the president can direct the White House's Counsel on Environmental Quality to ensure that it’s never built.

Mr. James Connaughton
Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality
722 Jackson Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20503chairman@ceq.eop.gov

Mr. Stephen Johnson
Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyAriel Rios Building1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20460
Mr. Dirk Kempthorne
Secretary, US Department of Interior1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240webteam@ios.doi.gov

Marvin Cannon
Vicksburg District of the US Army Corps of Engineers
4155 Clay Street
Vicksburg, MS 39183-3435

Colonel Michael C. Wehr, District Engineer
Vicksburg District of the US Army Corps of Engineers
4155 Clay Street
Vicksburg, MS 39183-3435