The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Helena to Friars

But the big river got the last laugh when it decided to migrate westward and instead of commanding a good steamboat landing, Friars Point was left with nothing but sandbars and mud bars, its downtown approachable only in high water.  The river might as well have banished Friars Point to the middle of the Gobi Desert so dislocated it now found itself.  When the railroad tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad were laid through Clarksdale, Friars Point rescinded its prominence as County Seat, and then lost the newspaper and major banks.

 

Still, the town is easily accessed at mile 652.5 by anyone paddling through the area using an unimproved & very primitive landing at the edge of town, directly below the Mississippi Limestone/ADM complex.  There is an obvious open sandbar below all of the granaries and piles of gravel and docking facilities.  The Yazoo-Mississippi Levee Board has made repeated attempts to improve the landing, but every high water the river re-takes command.  Make your landing there for access to Friars Point, and also to get to Clarksdale.  Paddlers, be sure to hide your vessel well, and remove any items of value.  If you need to get to Clarksdale your best bet is to bring your canoe or kayak and all your gear with you.  Remember, the unwritten rule of the river rat is if it’s not locked it’s fair game. You can camp here if necessary, but beware midnight visitors.  Better option: visit town and then push off to camp further downstream.  

 

Even within the shadow of its blues-tourism drenched neighbor, Clarksdale, there are many reasons to walk over the levee for a quick visit.  Friars Point was the Childhood home of Conway Twitty and Aretha Franklin's Daddy, The Rev. C.L. Franklin. The postal packet the Kate Adams made regular landings here en route Arkansas City and Memphis.  Muddy Waters reported seeing Robert Johnson perform in front of Hirsberg Grocery.  The bench that Robert Johnson performed on still sits in front of the grocery, now painted fire-engine red.  Friars Point was the original ferry landing for access to Helena.  All blues musicians in the area passed through to get to Helena’s influential King Biscuit Time radio program.  If you stop, be sure to visit the North Delta Museum and Icehouse Antiques.  Paddlers can find a limited selection of groceries at a couple of markets, one of which has noteworthy take-out lunches quick fried on a gigantic iron wok.  Friars Point also has a liquor store and a post office.

 

LBD 652.5 Friars Point Landing (unimproved)

Several hundred yards below the McAlister Grain/Mississippi Limestone complex (you will see a line of shiny stainless steel grain elevators and piles of gravel and anchored tows) you can find a serviceable landing with access to Friars Point.  Unimproved location.  Primitive landing on muddy banks topped with sandy/muddy flats.  Not recommended camping.  Hide your vessel above or below and carry all valuables if you leave landing to visit Friars Point.  At low water steep muddy banks with gooey muddy bottoms.  At high water landing becomes submerged around HG 35, but paddlers can simply pull in wherever a good spot is found along the levee.

What’s to come further downstream:

Below Friars Point the big river convulses like a lazy snake on a hot summer day into the enormous floodplain added onto with the waters and wetlands of the Arkansas and the White Rivers.  The Arkansas is the largest tributary below the Ohio and its single highest drainage, having come from the Central Colorado Rockies.  This is the biggest river in North America and it sure feels like it!  Go on to the next section of the Rivergator for more mouth-watering descriptions of the Big River!



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