The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Fishing Between the Chain of Rocks & McKinley Bridge
Growing up along the Mississippi River was a blessing. In these towns, it seemed that if you were not at work or school, we were fishing and exploring along the River. I remember digging for night crawlers in mosquito infested floodplains right before we made it to the channel to fish. Hobo’s and river rats up and down the gravel roads looking for bait, tackle, and most times, monetary supplements to help with their refreshments. My father would dress us in coveralls during the heat of the summer to protect us from the insects. If the fishing was good, we weren’t leaving soon.
The section of the River we fished extended from the south entrance of Chain of Rocks Canal to the Mckinley Bridge. In recent years industries have claimed these spots, but locals say they are still spots you can get to. I remember catching lots of catfish, buffalo, and white bass. When it flooded we would walk through the muddy floodplain and grab fish stranded in deep depressions. There were times when fishermen would go to popular localities and lay the fish along truck beds for sale. A lot of times families on hard times always had a freezer full of fish. Up north, there is a very dense populations of yellow perch. They were a prize fish during their annual run, but with the infrastructure of the upper Mississippi River, they are few and far between these days. My dad would bait my line with three hooks and there were times when we would catch them three at a time for an hour straight. We also would go north of Mosenthein Island, north of the Chain of Rocks and snag spoonbill catfish on their way to the Missouri-Mississippi River confluence, in route to ancient spawning grounds in the tributaries of the Missouri River. Spoonbill catfish are filter feeders so snagging and netting is the only way to catch these succulent fish. Many times when the fishing was slow, my dad would simply say, “Go play.” Those were the moments when the natural world became my playground. The moments I develop my athletic ability. I would grab a stick, transform it to a motocross handlebar and scale muddy banks, hurdle driftwood, and practice sprinting in the sand and mud.
One evening the fish were biting into the night and dad wasn’t leaving. Suddenly, a large object kept reappearing in the current and my father started wondering what it could be. It wasn’t abnormal to see pigs, cows, and other animals in the River. Then there was a splash. We knew then, it was a beaver. My dad wanted the beaver for his tail. It could be use as a sharpening tool. In order to stay in good graces with the Creator, we knew we had to eat it if we caught it. Dad signals for me to go to the car and get his pistol, which he kept in the tackle box for family safety. We were taught never go in the wild without a weapon. I retrieve the pistol, tearing up for the poor beaver, and gave it to my father. One shot and the beaver disappears into the eddy. He then pulls out a huge treble hook and snags the animal, pulling it to shore. The weekend comes around when neighbors are having fish fry’s and barbecues. My dad smokes the beaver in hickory and passes it out to the neighborhood as roast beef. Everyone enjoyed it until I told my 2nd grade class about it and it went viral. We got dirty looks for months.
The elementary school I attended was named after Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a minister, journalist,and abolitionist. He was born in Maine, but move to Alton where he own a warehouse and printing press. During the Civil War, speaking against slavery, he was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in Alton . His printing press was thrown into the Mississippi River. If you are ever in Madison County, don’t be surprised if you meet someone named Elijah. Like most river towns, Madison County has its seedy places, but if you are ever close, stop in and have St. Louis style chinese food. It’s the best in the nation!
182.5 Venice Power Plant, Venice, Illinois
The Venice Power Plant sits on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, upstream from the plant at Cahokia, and startlingly close to the approach to the McKinley Bridge.
181.2 Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge (I-70)
The beautiful cable stay Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge provides a new route for I-70 across the Mississippi. It was opened in February of 2014 making it the newest bridge on the Mississippi River.
The main span of the bridge is 1,500 feet in length, part of a total span of 2,803 feet and 86 feet wide. Cables stretch from the bridge deck to the tops of two A-shaped towers, which reach 435 feet above I-70. The new bridge’s main span is supported by 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of 0.6-inch-diameter (15 mm) stay-cable strand, enough for nearly two round trips from St. Louis to Chicago. 15,000 tons of structural steel are used, along with 8,600 tons of reinforcing steel. Some 90,600 cubic yards of concrete are in the foundation, deck slab, and towers. At its completion, the bridge was the third-longest cable-stayed bridge in the United States. Long distance adventurers will paddle under the John James Audubon Bridge between St. Francisville and New Roads, Louisiana, which is the longest cable stay bridge in North America.
180.6 LBD Schoenberger Creek
An ancient channel of the Mississippi River looped outwards from this point ten miles into Illinois, and then returned not far downstream. The largest North American city was built along its banks at Cahokia. At its height 100,000 Mississippian peoples inhabited Cahokia. Cahokia was the largest city ever built north of Mexico before Columbus and boasted 120 earthen mounds. Many were massive, square-bottomed, flat-topped pyramids — great pedestals atop which civic leaders lived. At the vast plaza in the city’s center rose the largest earthwork in the Americas, the 100-foot Monks Mound. Around the great urban center, farmers grew crops to feed the city-dwellers, who included not only government officials and religious leaders but also skilled tradesworkers, artisans and even astronomers. The city was the center of a trading network linked to other societies over much of North America. Cahokia was, in short, one of the most advanced civilizations in ancient America. Nature dictated that the settlement rise near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Geographers affectionately call the lowlands that hug the eastern bank of the Mississippi there the “American Bottom.” This fertile strip was carved and flooded summer after summer by torrents of glacial melt-off 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. As the glaciers receded and rivers shrank to their current size, the 80-mile-wide bottom was exposed. Native Americans who settled there after 700 A.D. considered this easy-to-till land prime real estate for growing corn, since they lacked the steel plows and oxen needed to penetrate the thick sod blanketing the surrounding prairie. Cahokia arose from this mini-breadbasket as its people hunted less and took up farming with gusto. By all evidence, they ate well. Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement in the Mississippian Culture which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 500 years before European contact. Cahokia’s population at its peak in the 1200s would not be surpassed by any city in the United States until the late 18th century. Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico. Today the once noble river meander has been reduced to a drainage ditch and is forced to feebly run its course in between busy highways and the Gateway Motorsports Park. After the levee was built, it was forcibly pushed underneath by the pumping station at Bloody Island, and today enters the river stained by iron ore and heavy metals accumulated in its course. (parts adopted from Wikipedia)