The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Cape Girardeau Gage Water levels and how they affect the town of Cape Girardeau and nearby surroundings:
29 CGG The area north of the Little River Diversion Channel begins to flood.
32 CGG Minor flooding occurs. The Mississippi River backs into several creeks producing flooding.
36 CGG The flood gate on Themis Street closes.
38 CGG The flood gate at Broadway closes.
42 CGG Several homes and structures in southern Cape Girardeau County may be inundated or cut off due to backwater flooding from the Diversion Channel. Evacuations may be required. Thousands of acres are flooded. Numerous roads are closed both along the Mississippi River and due to backwater flooding.
43 CGG The flood gate on North Main Street closes.
48.5 CGG This flood will exceed the highest stage on record.
52.7 Red Star Boat Ramp
Double wide boat ramp located at the mouth and a little upstream of Sloan Creek. Good parking, and a nearby pavilion to get out of the sun or rain. This would be the easiest access point if you are starting or ending an adventure in Cape Girardeau. Your other choice is half mile downstream at the Cape Girardeau Seawall, LBD 52.2, but it’s not an official public use landing, and parking is not always available.
LBD 52.2 Cape Girardeau Flood Wall
Classy entrance into the City of Cape Girardeau at the foot of Broadway. Pull in and make your landing here if you’re ready for lunch, and stretch your legs, and see the beautiful sea wall murals. Broussard’s Cajun Cuisine is two blocks away at
120 North Main Street, and there are many other choices if you’re ready for something other than the Spam and Crackers (or whatever you’ve been lunching on since St. Louis!) This is not safe place to leave your vessel for longer stays. The flood gate at Broadway closes at 38 CGG. During the 1993 Flood the water almost climbed over the top of this seawall when it rose to 48.94.
Approaching the Ohio River
After the Mississippi River passes St. Louis it begins to change character. The river north of St. Louis is punctuated with locks and dams that allow river boat traffic to navigate the steep slope that the river follows. South of St. Louis the slope becomes gentler. At Cape Girardeau, Missouri the river passes the northernmost point of the Crowley’s Ridge. Crowley’s Ridge delineates the western edge of the Mississippi River Valley through southeastern Missouri and western Arkansas. The Mississippi River Valley at this point is called the Mississippi Embayment and the Crowley’s Ridge can be as far as 150 miles west from the current river channel. When the Mississippi River meets the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois it is halfway on its journey to the sea. It is here that the brown muddy water of the Mississippi begins to mingle with the clearer water of the Ohio. On a sunny day you can see the difference from Fort Defiance Park in Cairo or from Fort Jefferson Hill just south of Wickliffe, Kentucky. Without the locks and dams the Mississippi begins to wind and curve so much so that the distance by water from Cape Girardeau to the Gulf of Mexico is twice the distance as a crow flies. It is because of this meandering flow that it is here that the Mississippi begins to take on the moniker of “Old Man River.”
The region where the Mississippi River meets the Ohio River is an area of transition in several respects. With the river unconfined it began to create new channels and abandoned old ones. Over thousands of years this process created oxbow lakes and swamps. These features would eventually fill with silt during periods of flooding and cypress and tupelo forests would replace the oak and hickory forests that were predominate. Native Americans liked to settle along these oxbow lakes because the fishing, hunting, and water supply was good, but the threat of flooding was less than along the river. Horseshoe Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area in Illinois, Ballard Wildlife Management Area in Kentucky, and Big Oak Tree State Park in Missouri are great places to see the change in biodiversity. Culturally the region begins to take on the atmosphere of the South.
Perry and Cape Girardeau Counties lie north of Crowley’s Ridge and the topography is primarily uplands that consist of farms dotted with stands of hardwood forests. Perry County is especially colorful in the fall and the eastern portion retains the influence of the Germans who immigrated to the county in the 1830s, particularly in the small communities of Frohna and Altenburg. Cape Girardeau is the region’s largest and oldest town. The community started out as a trading post in the 1790s and has a large number of attractions that include historical and cultural museums as well as natural features. As the river reaches Scott County the Mississippi Embayment begins. Both Scott and Mississippi Counties were covered by swamps with cypress trees and virgin bottomland hardwood forest. At the beginning of the 20th century a group of businessmen set out to transform the swamp that was Southeast Missouri in the largest drainage project ever attempted at the time. The Little River Drainage District, a 15-year project, turned half a million acres of swampy cypress forests into some of the state’s most fertile agricultural land. Cotton became a staple crop in the region and its influence on the region is celebrated annually at the Cotton Festival in Sikeston.
The Southern Illinois area of the Meeting the Ohio region is dominated by the Shawnee National Forest. Most of the land added to the Forest was exhausted farmland and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to prevent erosion and help rebuild the soil. However, the Forest is also home to many hardwood trees and other plant and animal species characteristic of the region. There are numerous state parks and natural sites located within the Forest including Giant City State Park, Lake Murphysboro State Park, the Little Grand Canyon, and the Ponoma Natural Bridge. There are a few cities that lie on the riverbank. The city of Cairo is located the confluence of the two rivers and was an important community during the latter half of the 19th century. Its history can be explored at the Cairo Customs House and several historical homes. Grand Tower is more atypical as it lies directly on the banks of the river. Grand Tower provides an excellent view of Tower Rock, a landmark rock formation of the Mississippi. One of the most popular tourist attractions in the region is the Shawnee Hill Wine Trail which is a collection of approximately a dozen wineries that are nestled in the heart of the Shawnee Forest. This region of southern Illinois is particularly colorful in the fall and provides many interesting places to enjoy natures beauty. A drive up to Bald Knob, southern Illinois’ highest point, provides a colorful drive that culminates with a spectacular view of the countryside. (From Great River Road)
51.5 Cape Girardeau (Bill Emerson) Memorial Bridge
This elegant cable-stay bridge heralds your arrival into the Cape City. The towers and the slicing geometry of cables become visible far upstream and can still be seen far downstream. Cape Girardeau was once known as the “City of Roses” for the nine-mile stretch of highway lined by colorful, aromatic rosebushes. Alas, the beautiful roses were all chopped to make way for a highway expansion. Which brings to mind the Joni Mitchell song, “They cut all the trees and put them in a tree museum; and they charged all the people a dollar and a half to see’um. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone? They paved Paradise and they put up a parking lot.”