The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Highlights of Civilization
Some of the highlights of civilization as you paddle out of Helena include Quincy Soybean Docks (663), Isle of Capri Casino (662), the Helena Bridge (661.8), Texas Eastern (Petroleum) Products (662), Helena Bridge Terminal (661.6), Helena Fuel and Harbor Service (661.5), the Helena Power Plant, the high voltage transmission line of Arkansas Power & light (659.9 — towboat pilots refer to as the High Wire), Texas Gas Trans Corp (Pipeline going under river at 658.7) the Helena Slackwater Harbor (652.2), the Helena wastewater drainage pipes (652), andthe ADM/McAlister Grain & Mississippi Limestone (652). All are in Arkansas RBD with the exception of the Casino and the Friars Point locations, which are both in Mississippi LBD.
Nature lovers — do not despair! — you will soon be leaving all signs of mankind behind. This eleven-mile section (to just below Friars Point) is just a little taste of some busy-ness before the wilderness. The good stuff is coming once you get below Friars Point. Furthermore this industrial section is actually a great education and should be looked upon as so. What you see in this eleven miles explains Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor and the vast inland port of Greater New Orleans — and the river’s connection to the world market. This will make a well-rounded tour for the long-distance paddler setting out from Helena down the Water Trail. You get the opportunity to experience a little industry and a lot of nature. The river is both commerce and wilds. It has always been this way since the Athabaskans first migrated across the Bering Straight and then South out of Canada and began ferrying goods along the plentiful river valleys in hollowed logs. They were of course later followed by their descendants the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw, Natchez, and many others in dugout canoes, hide-covered canoes and bark canoes. The Mississippi is and has always been this continent’s greatest highway and simultaneously also one of its greatest wildernesses. Can the two co-exist? I firmly believe so and will describe it as so.
The story of the Mississippi and its importance to the heart of America — and its connections to the rest of the world — could not be understood without seeing the monuments of mankind. As the river leaves Helena you can see examples of how it cooperates with the ambitions of modern man’s industry & transportation, and then how it seamlessly slips into its mighty realm of wilderness below where nature predominates.
According to wildmiles.org the Lower Mississippi River is 71% wild and 29% not [Citation]. (Wild Miles is a qualitative assessment of Mississippi Valley wilderness areas from the perspective of the river).
Pollution within the Helena Industrial Reach
In the 1992 Americans Rivers study of the Lower Mississippi River [Citation] Helena received a bad report card, the worst Mississippi River Polluter between Memphis and Vicksburg, annually dumping some 76 million tons of nasty stuff. Hopefully this has gotten better in the past 2 decades. At the very least there is less offending industry with the closing of a major chemical plant and a rubber plant that used to operate along the Helena waterfront. While devastating to the local economy, the closing of these industries certainly made for a cleaner river downstream. Can clean industry and a clean river coexist? This is the hope of any paddler and should be the goal of every conscientious board of directors. Any industry respectful of the guidelines of the 1972 Clean Water Act should be able to operate harmoniously with the generosity of the Father of Waters.
Unless forced by high winds or bad weather you won’t want to camp on any of the small sandbars found between the Mile 663 Helena Harbor and Mile 655 Montezuma Island. Noise, light pollution, and any nasty stuff still being dumped by Phillips County industry being the chief reasons to keep going downstream for cleaner, quieter and healthier campsites.
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando DeSoto Bridge — US Hwy 49)
Paddlers: aim for whichever bridge opening is not occupied by towboat traffic and stay away from the pylons. The parent’s mantra Look both ways before crossing applies here! Downstream Tows might be descending from behind Buck Island still hidden from your view. Monitor channel 13 on your VHF Marine radio. If in doubt announce yourself and ask any pilot in the area for recommendations. In general the left-most opening LBD is the least-used, hence safest opening, but it’s a long paddle from the Harbor opening. The fastest water flows through the right-hand opening RBD. This is also the most traffic-prone opening due to the many industrial docking facilities, fleeting, towboat and support boat activity found along the Arkansas shore RBD.