The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge
The Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge was established as an individual refuge on May 31, 2000. The refuge consists of seven divisions including the Meissner Island Division near Valmeyer, Illinois; Harlow Island Division near Festus, Missouri; Beaver Island and Horse Island Divisions near Kaskaskia, Illinois; Crains Island Division across the river from Chester, Illinois; Rockwood Island Division near Rockwood, Illinois; and the Wilkinson Island Division near Gorham, Illinois. Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge lands were purchased in response to the great flood of 1993 and are unique in the refuge complex. The refuge tracts lie within the uncontrolled portion of the Middle Mississippi River, below the confluence with the Missouri, where river levels are not regulated by the lock and dam system. Water levels may fluctuate greatly in this “open river” section of the Mississippi, and frequent flooding occurs on these lands.
Much of the refuge land had previously been cut off from the floodplain by private levees that protected agricultural lands. Most of the levees were breached by the 1993 flood and will not be repaired. These lands will provide access to the floodplain for native fish during high water stages and create a corridor of floodplain forest habitat for migratory birds and resident wildlife. The refuge was designated as an Important Bird Area in 2008. Frequent flooding occurs on refuge tracts due to their position in the river floodplain. Modifications to man-made structures such as levees promotes healthy and diverse fish habitat for native Mississippi River fishes. Where possible, old river channels and swales are managed with passive water control structures to provide seasonal wetlands for migratory birds. By allowing these lands to flood and re-connect with the river, the refuge contributes to the overall health of the ecosystem. Former agricultural lands are allowed to return to forested habitat, with the occasional tree plantings to promote species diversity and abundant food for native wildlife. Many species of fish and wildlife will benefit from the habitat restoration, and the public will have increased opportunities for wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation.
106.5 LBD Marys River
41 mile long Mary’s River enters the Mississippi left bank descending several miles below Chester, draining a small watershed between the Big Muddy River and the Kaskaskia River which includes Randolph County Conservation Area and Turkey Bluffs State Fish and Wildlife Area. You could make a quick exit off the main channel by jumping into Mary’s River, and paddle upstream a short ways to find beautiful forested bottomlands capped with tall trees and steep ridges running into the Illinois dolomite hills protected here by Turkey Bluffs State Fish and Wildlife Area. Paddle upstream and turn in wherever you see a neat-looking ravine tumbling off the bluff (or out of the forested floodplain) and go exploring!
106.5 – 104 LBD Turkey Bluffs State Fish and Wildlife Area
Rounded dolomite bluffs and luxuriant forests border the Mississippi for several miles below Marys River, although you have to get behind Knight Hawk Coal Co. Dock to reach it, and cross a busy railroad line and Highway 1. 2,264 acre Turkey Bluffs State Fish and Wildlife Area is open for fishing, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and observing wildlife. Squirrel, wild turkey, and deer are the most common game species. Upland game species such as rabbit and quail also occur at the site primarily in the open areas. Dove hunting is provided in large sunflower fields on the area. Hunting for all species with statewide regulations is permissible at Turkey Bluffs. (From Illinois DNR website)
105.5 – 103.8 RBD Crain’s Island
Archipelago of four or more islands (depending on river level) open for exploration around 12ChG but slow moving water, good full flow around 20ChG, and most islands completely covered in water at flood stage 27ChG.
102.5 – 101 LBD Rockwood Island
Most beautiful campsite and picnic grounds in the area, full of families of bald eagles, coyotes, beavers, and a Noah’s Ark of creatures common to the Middle Mississippi. A separate and shallow sandbar island forms below 28 SLG with shallow inlet choked with driftwood, fish and bald eagles. Shallow flow at 18SLG, slow flow at 20SLG, good flow at 25SLG, shallow sandbar island gone at 30SLG. The big back channel behind Rockwood starts slowly flowing in low water around 5 ChG, but you might have to drag your vessel over shoals, and you might scrape rocks on the dikes. By 10ChG it is good paddling in wide open water with good flow, and by highwater 18ChG it is a vigorous back channel with lots of boils and turbulence over the dikes. In low/medium water more choices for camps and exploration on secondary Liberty Island.
101 – 100 LBD Liberty Island
Liberty Island is a secondary island to Rockwood, the two become connected in extreme low water (with a beautiful inlet in between). If Rockwood is not available, or you find others camping/picnicking on Rockwood and you seek more privacy, continue downstream to Liberty. Plenty of options for sandy camping up to high water.
100 – 98 RBD Jones Point Islands
Long series of islands caught behind dikes right bank descending, one bar for each dike. Excellent low water camping, becoming bank bars in medium water, gone in high water.
98 – 87 LBD Liberty Bar
Liberty Bar back channel opens up around 12SLG with good flow by 18SLG. No open sandbar camping (except in extreme low water), but good winter storm protection. The back channel creates a turbulent eddy at the bottom of the island where the next back channel enters at RBD 97 above Jones Towhead.