The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Introduction

What are the Wild Miles?

According to www.wildmiles.org there are 515 Wild Miles on the Lower Mississippi River between Cairo, Illinois, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which means that 71% of the scenery viewed from canoes or kayaks paddling down that stretch of river looks & feels “wild.”  Wild Miles are the places along the river where nature predominates and nothing is seen of mankind save passing tows (and other river traffic) and maybe a tiny hunting camp or a single fisherman buzzing by in a johnboat.  These are places where the landscape is filled with giant islands bounded by endless mud banks and sandbars, where the river is overseen by big skies and where the sun sets uninterrupted by buildings or wires and where big river predominates with creative wild beauty, each high water results in shifting sand dunes and re-made sandbars.  This is a floodplain valley where only deer and coyote tracks are seen along the sandbars and enormous flocks of shy birds like the White Pelican and Double Breasted Cormorant are comfortable enough to make landing for the night.  These are places where it's dark & quiet at night, where the stars fill the skies like brightly shining jewels poured out on a dark purple velvet blanket, almost as thick and vibrant as the night skies of the Great Plains or Rocky Mountains.

 

America has an opportunity to find the wilderness within by recognizing and preserving the below Wild Miles in the center of the country, and it just so happens that the gigantic floodplain of the Mississippi creates these Wild Miles.  These places have been preserved mostly by neglect, by the power of the river, by its catastrophic rises and falls, and the danger of building anything within its floodplain.  Moreover, in light of recent flood cycles and the declining population of the lower floodplain, this area is receiving attention as one of the best places to restore native bottomland hardwood forests.  Restored forest creates habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, a buffer to flooding, and is an important means of reducing the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone, caused by nutrient runoff into the river.  For this reason the recent efforts to reopen the New Madrid Birdspoint floodway would have a detrimental effect on the entire Lower Miss, at the very least in flood control.

 

Developers: Instead of building any new sites within these Wild Miles, please consider placing new industry and agriculture construction outside the Wild Miles -- and stay within those places already industrialized such as within one of the many harbors along the way, or building it far enough behind the levee that it won't be seen or heard or be directly connected to the river.

 

Big Trees and Floodplain:

The lower Mississippi River Valley was historically a vast expanse of bottomland and adjacent upland hardwood forests with scattered openings primarily created by fire, beaver, or large flood events by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These openings were generally comprised of herbaceous moist-soil areas that harbored excellent waterfowl and other wetland wildlife habitat or giant switchcane that was almost impenetrable and an extremely important habitat component for a variety of wildlife species. Once covering 22 million acres in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, bottomland hardwood forests have decreased in extent to only 4.9 million acres. Extensive clearing for agriculture (i.e. soybeans, corn, or cotton) and urbanization are two of the primary reasons giant bald cypress and oak trees of pre-settlement times no longer exist. However, giant bald cypress and oak trees characteristic of yesteryear can still be seen on some of these sections of the Lower Mississippi.