The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
180 Eads Bridge
The Eads bridge is a standing testament to its maker and strength of beautiful architecture. For all travelers it is a monument of the journey, and paddlers are no exception. You will get the best views of anyone from your canoe or the cockpit of your kayak. In between dodging workboats and staying in the flow below the Martin Luther King Bridge, watch for the best angle and make your shot.
The Eads Bridge was a structure of numerous firsts – it was the longest arched bridge in the world,the first river bridge at St. Louis, and the southern-most Mississippi River bridge when it opened – a title it would hold until Memphis’s Frisco bridge opened in 1892. The bridge made pioneering use of steel as a structural component. For the construction of its massive piers, it made the first use of pressurized construction chambers (and construction crews paid a heavy price due to the then-unknown effects of “the bends”.)
The Eads was the brainchild of its namesake, engineer and shipbuilder James B. Eads, who designed it in 1867. Fierce opposition from steamboat interests had thus far prevented a river bridge at St. Louis after the Civil War. No bridge meant no railroads, and St. Louis began to lose ground to Chicago. Only after some dogged legal and business battles was Eads able to get his bridge underway, and even then he faced restrictions imposed by the steamboat industry regarding free passage of river traffic.
The bridge opened in 1874, but in some ways it was too little, too late. Chicago was already on its way to eclipsing St. Louis. The bridge company would go bankrupt within a year – but the railroads did come, and St. Louis’s transformation into an industrial powerhouse began. Streetcars and carriages crossed the upper deck, eventually joined by automobiles. (Built St. Louis)
180 RBD “The Captain’s Return”
Downstream of the Ead’s Bridge, on the St. Louis side of the river, paddlers will discover “The Captain’s Return” a statue depicting Lewis and Clark returning from their two-year odyssey up the Missouri, down the Columbia and back, to explore the Louisiana Territory. Even though the statue is specifically designed to withstand Mississippi’s wild waters, a funny but historically accurate scene presents itself as the water levels climb higher in flood season: the explorers are seen wading through the muddy water. In higher waters their dog Seaman goes underwater and William Clark appears to be desperately calling for help! At writing time (Dec 2015) the statue has been moved. It was determined that, despite the initial vision of the artist to place it at the water’s edge for dramatic purposes, it was being subjected to inundation too often. So, it is being refurbished and will be located nearby on the newly renovated Arch grounds.
179.9 LBD East St. Louis Landing
Normally paddlers stay towards the Missouri shore and miss all of Illinois. This is good practice because most commercial traffic uses the Illinois side of the river. But if you do not intend to stop right bank descending at the Arch or LaClede’s Landing, you could just as well stay left bank descending. With careful paddling and utmost respect of tows, you could paddle the East side of the river LBD. Keep your radio tuned to VHF channel 13 and watch out for bridge piers and unexpected docks — and then enjoy the grand view of the City of St. Louis rising above big river.
The overlooked and less well known side of the river, gritty East St. Louis is worth stopping on and using as a picnic spot, or a place to stretch your legs. Not recommended for camping. There is a good concrete ramp within several hundred feet below the Ead’s Bridge, with the Casino Queen behind over the levee. Secure your vessel and take a walk over the railroad tracks past the Continental Grin Elevator to the nearby Malcolm Martin Memorial Park for a unique perspective back on St. Louis and the river, with a great view not often seen of the Great Arch. A 40-foot observation tower offers even better views, with a giant geyser (2nd tallest in the world!) and a round reflecting pool behind it. As with all river landings, remember to secure your vessel and don’t leave any valuables. Best practice here would be to leave one of your party behind to stand guard.
179.7 LBD Malcolm Martin Memorial Park
You can get the best view of the Mighty Mississippi river and the Saint Louis skyline from across the river in East St. Louis at the Mississippi River Overlook, which is a 4 story elevated platform that allows you to overlook the levee. If you turn around while at the top you can also get a glimpse of the Gateway Geyser, which is directly across from the Gateway Arch. During the summer (April 15th thru October 15th) you can catch the Gateway Geyser every three hours starting at noon, with the last of the 3 daily shows at 6pm. The fountain is actually world’s second tallest fountain, it is second to King Fahd’s Fountain in Saudi Arabia which reaches a height of 853 feet. When the wind is less than 4 mph, the Gateway Geyser reaches a maximum height of 600 feet into the sky, matching the height of the Gateway Arch. Each eruption of the Gateway Geyser lasts approximately 10 minutes with four smaller fountains that erupt 100 feet into the air surround the main geyser, symbolizing the Mississippi, Missouri, Meramec and Illinois rivers. From Yelp.com: “This is a really cool little park directly across the river from the Arch. The park has a security guard who walks around, is well maintained, and is usually not crowded. Although it is is East STL, I felt completely safe, and during the summer, it’s open until 10pm. The park also holds the Gateway Geyser, a 600 ft man-made fountain that matches (almost) the height of the arch. It goes off at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm for 10 minutes. The park has a 4 story high walkway/observation area that gives you a great view of downtown STL. A must-go to at dusk when the sun is setting!” This geyser was designed and constructed by St. Louis–based Hydro Dramatics in 1995 at a cost of $4 million. Three 800-horsepower (600 kW) pumps power the fountain, discharging 8,000 U.S. gallons of water per minute at a speed of 250 feet per second. The fountain has an axial thrust of 103,000 pounds of force; water is jetted out of the 6-foot (1.8 m)-tall aerated nozzle at a pressure of 550 pounds per square inch.” (Hydro Dramatics website)
179.7 RBD The Great Arch
Paddling into the Great Arch is surely one of the great thrills of any Mississippi River adventure or expedition. This is also the best place to make a mid-day rest stop. Although you can’t camp here, it would also be a good place to meet your shuttle if you are taking out in St. Louis. If the Arch is too crowded during one of its frequent events, make your connection instead at LaClede’s Landing, above the Ead’s Bridge.
When Sean and I floated out of the Chain of Rocks Canal in 1982 and rowed into the port of St. Louis ice started building on our raft. With every splash of waves against the flat edge of the raft, and every gust of wind that carried spray over the deck, ice was congealing. It was in the teens and the wind blowing out of the west. In later winter expeditions I learned to add an automobile ice scraper to my river kit. This was my first experience afloat in the winter. We gripped our oarlocks grimly and tried to keep as low a profile as possible, and then pulled hard for the Missouri shore. Under the best of conditions it would take us an hour to cross a half-mile channel like this. So we had very little room for error in making a landing. The Arch was only five miles downstream of us. It was dangerous to stand up straight because of all of the ice underfoot. One wrong step would send us reeling to our feet, with the potential for man overboard. We probably should have tied ourselves to the raft. The long sweep oars groaned under the weight of the raft and our excitement in reaching the Queen City of the river. We hoped we didn’t break one, there were no spares. At long last we were able to reach the leeward side of the channel and gain some wind protection from the buildings downtown along the river’s edge, and the bluff it was built upon, and we floated under the bridges narrowly avoiding impact with the McKinley abutment, and then made shore at LaClede’s Landing, above the Ead’s Bridge.
The Arch grounds and their periphery contain a number of simple, elegant details, such as the globe-shaped lamps, and this quiet, understated railing, its simple chain mirroring both the arc of the Eads Bridge nearby and the mooring chains criss-crossing the levee below it. The Arch grounds are beautifully and elegantly laid out, a quintessential example of mid-20th century landscape architecture, aspiring to a single purpose: to serve as a contemporary frame for the Arch itself. Two gargantuan concrete walls mark the north and south ends of the grounds. (Built St. Louis)