The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
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.
Pollution within the Helena Industrial Reach
In 1992, an Americans rivers study of the Lower Mississippi River 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.
Floating underneath a bridge is one of the most sensational of Mississippi River experiences. For the paddler on the wide open Mississippi River it’s difficult to get a sense of motion, speed, and the river current. Sometimes it feels like you are sitting in a lake not a river, even though you are indeed floating within the throes of the biggest and most powerful river in North America! That is until you pass underneath a bridge. As you scoot downstream the water piles up high against the bridge pylons and then swirls around the backside with violent convulsions and contortions of water, and you will enjoy the distinct sensation of river motion as the bridge abutments mysteriously slide by and the geometric truss work and solid concrete road bed swing overhead with surprising speed, the higher the water the faster the speed. At high water this experience can be slightly disconcerting so fast the bridge slides by with sickening sucking sounds and explosions of agitated water. If you entertained any previous doubt about the power of the big river it will now be forever dashed away!