The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
139.5 – 136.5 LBD Salt Lake Island
Salt Lake Island is a beautiful two-mile long island that hugs the left bank descending in a beautiful wall of bluffs. Salt Lake Island Chute is a wide back channel that opens to easy passage in low water 8-10SLG. A smaller island inhabits the top of the back channel, with its own back channel that offer fun exploring. But it doesn’t open until higher water levels, maybe around 15SLG. Gentle inflow at 18SLG. Unfortunately Salt Lake Island is cornered by two giant limestone quarries and a power plant on the Missouri bank. Generous sand bars are found all around the island, top end for the highest sand, but bottom end sandbars are equally expansive in low water.
Mark River: “We paddle along and see a large structure in the distant. We land to find an old barge(LBD) that has been silted in to the sandbar. Maybe landlocked during the 2011 flood, it was halfway buried with coyote tracts of all kinds scattered through the wreck. The sun starts to dim so we see a eagle sitting high in the trees on Salt Lake Island. We pick a campsite, while we marvel at the heron rookery in the distance that was 100 nests strong. The only time to spot these rookeries is in the winter after the trees have fallen. We camp at the bottom of the towhead across from Fort Chartres chute, with a beautiful view of the River and the bluffs. We enjoy a meal of roasted pork chops and fried potatoes , while numerous coyote packs serenade each other in the distance. I take a walk in the morning down the Fort Chartres chute and look to the sky to see over 50 herons leaving the rookery headed towards the River. When they spotted me, they “parted like the Red Sea.” This was one of my most spectacular wildlife encounters ever. (Mark River)
134.3 – 132.3 LBD Fort Chartres Island
A narrow wildlife-packed chute wanders behind Fort Chartres Island, leaving the river at a perpendicular to the north-northeast, and curving around a small island to make a one and half mile run southeasterly, parallel to the main channel. Full of eagles, beaver, river otters, deer, and infrequent bobcats.
132.2 LBD Fort Chartres Landing
Primitive landing up muddy bank with access to historic Fort de Chartres. Make your landing and pull vessel out of water. Should be safe to leave for a walk up the levee to the Fort and nearby State Park, but if you plan on staying any length of time hide your vessel and carry all valuables.
132.2 LBD Fort de Chartres
For almost a century, beginning in 1673 when Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River, France claimed the Illinois Country. In 1718 the French reorganized the administration of their American possessions and removed the Illinois Country from Canadian jurisdiction and made it part of Louisiana. The Government of this vast territory was located in New Orleans and turned over to the Company of the Indies, a commercial enterprise chartered by King Louis XV. In December of 1718 a contingent of soldiers, officials and workmen were sent north to establish a civil government in the region. A wooden fort was soon constructed eighteen miles north of the village of Kaskaskia from which the civil authority would operate and whose military presence it was hoped would pacify the Fox Tribe.
This wooden stockade was surrounded by a dry moat held several interior buildings including a storehouse and a counting house used by the Indies Company. The stockade, named Fort de Chartres in honor of Louis duc de Chartres, son of the regent of France, quickly deteriorated due to frequent flooding. Work on a larger fort, located farther inland, began around 1725. By 1731 the Company of the Indies went out of business due to bad management, poor relations with the local Native Americans, and the failure to discover any gold or other precious metals. In January of 1731 the company returned control of Louisiana back to the king. In 1747, with the second fort in considerable disrepair, the garrison relocated to nearby Kaskaskia.
During the 1730’s the French leaders began discussing building a stone fort (outline left) to protect their interests in the region. Though no precious metals were found, profitable lead deposits had been found on the west bank of the Mississippi near Ste. Genevieve and the rich bottom lands yielded substantial crops which fed New Orleans, St. Louis, and the rest of the territory. Construction of the new fort was slow due to dissension on where the fort was to be located. Construction finally began in the 1750’s and although the fort was operational by 1754, additions and improvements continued until 1760.
In 1763 France surrendered the Illinois Country along with most of its North American possessions to Great Britain when it signed the Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years War. British troops of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment took possession of Fort de Chartres on October 10, 1765. The British did little with the newly renamed Fort Cavendish although its engineers attempted in vain to control the erosion caused by the Mississippi. Eventually the British concluded that the fort had little value and it was abandoned in 1771. A year later the south wall and bastions collapsed into the Mississippi River. Continued flooding, erosion and decay caused the fort to slowly disappear so that by 1900 the only remnant of the fort that existed above ground was the powder magazine, considered by many to be the oldest building in Illinois. (From Great River Road)
Visiting Fort de Chartres State Historic Site Visiting Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 9 am to 5 pm; Closed on Major Holidays. There is no charge to visit Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, although donations are appreciated.
133.7 RBD Top End of Establishment Island
After 50 miles of paddling below the Great Arch you can finally stretch out a little and enjoy the spiritual quietude emanating from the natural landscape of the Middle Mississippi, here stretching out below you in undulating alternating waves of Limestone Bluffs and American Bottom floodplain. Leaving the noisy and unsightly Brickeys behind the forested bluffs ripple downwards from scraggly cedar & oak heights above forming myriads of steep ridges and secret hollows. A few meandering streams like the Saline carve out fertile alluvial flats between the bluffs. Further down at Trail of Tears State Park tall horizontal patterned cliffs crowd the river’s edge rising dramatically upwards as if yearning towards beauty and perfection. But here the cliffs gleam through thick forests like grinning whales opening their giant mouths and showing baleen.
Establishment Island creates enticing opportunities for exploration of the Mississippi Hills landscape from your canoe. In low and medium water levels go around the island bottom end and cut up Establishment Creek as far as you can go, and explore the secret side creeks spilling in waterfalls over the limestone bluffs. In medium-high water (20-30SLG) you can slide behind Establishment Chute. When the river is bankfull and higher you can jump through low spots in the woods at the top of the island between 133.7 and 133.1 and follow narrow old river channels through the forests and then at the edges of the fields, to eventually drop into Establishment Creek, which you can then paddle all the way through to the bottom of the island and rejoin the big river. Total journey would be about four miles.