The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Tunica to Helena

A rock weir was installed several hundred feet up from the river to hold water in the lake.  The Tunica Runout opens over the weir at 14 feet on the Helena Gauge (HG).  Below 14HG you will have to portage to get to the lake beyond.  Below 0 HG you won’t be able to reach the weir at all by canoe or kayak, but you can dock your vessel at the mouth and walk in.  According to local expert Rick Howe the “top of weir is at about 8 MG or about 14HG and there is notch in the weir about 20 ft wide with base at 6MG or about 12HG.  Same effect as rock dike with water flowing over it….not advised to cross it or enter the notch.  If stable…OK.  Portaging around it is a bugger since banks are really snotty and steep, so only route is over it.  Rocks and concrete can be treacherous.  I’ve never tried it but not sure I would want to.”

 

The runout is a dynamic three-and-a-half mile long passage connecting the big river and the giant oxbow Tunica Lake.  As a true pass it can reverse directions depending on river conditions.  In a rising river the water flows in, and in a falling river the opposite.  The faster the change in river level the faster the water responds in the pass.  In extreme river changes (more than 2 feet a day) a strong current can be expected, and sometimes whitewater conditions are found at the weir.  As the river rises above 10 HG the water begins pouring into the lake in a falls over the weir.  By 15 the weir is completely submerged and turbulence can be encountered.  Above 20 the turbulence lessens and by 25 there is smooth laminar flow into the lake.  The reverse is true in a falling river; the water will begin cascading over the weir around 15.  In a fast falling river watch out for a big drop between 10 and 15HG.  Sometimes a challenge to paddle against, these same in-and-out powerful currents keep the Tunica Runout open and free for passage.  Self-dredging.  Self-supportive.  Self sufficient.  Around 35 the river here is bank full and the runout becomes a long channel meandering through a flooded forest, for the paddler an experience bordering on the sublime.  The Runout becomes a vibrant reflecting pool for the trees, the sky and everything contained therein.  On a bad day you will be uplifted, on a good day you might find ecstasy.   Everything seems perfectly balanced between heaven and earth.  The scenery is beautiful and the wildlife spectacular.  There is always something going on.  Numerous game trails cross the pass, predominantly those of the white tailed deer, but also wild hogs, raccoon, and coyotes.  Beaver are common, and river otter sometimes seen.  Black bear are infrequently reported, and there are rumors of cougar, none verified.  But if the elusive red panther is going to be found anywhere in the south, this floodplain this sure feels like the place!  Ditto for the ivory billed woodpecker.  Pileated woodpeckers are frequently seen crossing from side to side, red-headed woodpeckers, and dozens of other bird species.  Red winged blackbirds love the flooded woods closer to the lake, especially during their late fall and early spring migrations, and of course great blue herons and white egrets are common, but to a lesser extent the green heron.  In the colder months giant flocks of white pelicans and double breasted cormorants frequent the open lake beyond the pass along with coot and numerous ducks.