The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
St. Louis Riverfront
Growing up in St.Louis, one of the highlights of the city is its riverfront. In elementary school, the field trip of the year was to visit the Arch and take a ride on the Admiral. The Admiral was a sold out attraction. You had to reserve your trip months ahead of time. The Admiral had a signature song called the “Hoky Poky” in which everyone sang at the top of their lungs . It was the main event and conclusion of the field trip.
As I got older, my dad would take us to the St. Louis Cardinal baseball and football games. The ritual was, get there early and spend some time by the River before and after the game. Busch Stadium was only a modest walk from the Arch and Riverfront, so many made the park part of the day. Laclede’s Landing was the food and beverage district where everyone visited before and after games.
Coming into my teenage years, we would express our independence by spending many nights sitting on the Arch stairs gazing into the River with our favorite girl. We would walk from the Arch through the Riverfront, through Laclede’s Landing , and do it over and over. We didn’t have much money, so it was the thing to do. During the high school football season, the playoffs where held at Busch Stadium, so if your team did well, you got the chance to play in the stadium. Over the years they landlocked the Admiral and it went from a McDonald’s to a Burger King, eventually being removed for good.
The music scene in St. Louis was vibrant when the nightclub, Mississippi Nights, hosted up and coming bands on there way to stardom. They had a under 21 section so we could see great bands and watch the mischief that went along with coming of age. It has been closed since the 90’s , but everyone remembers the iconic club.They also had a club called Muddy Waters that hosted blues bands from all over. St. Louis is still a blues town.
The Riverfront is also the location for the VP Fair held every year during the week of the 4th of July. The host bands from all over for a free week of music and sun. Boats fill the port and it’s one of the biggest gatherings of its kind. During the summer months, every weekend they have free music. It is the place to be in St. Louis. -Mark River
Madison County, Ill
People always ask me, “Where you from?” I say “St. Louis”, but realistically, I come from both sides of the Mississippi River. Born in a hospital in East St. Louis, my family settle in a historical Madison County, Illinois consisting of little river towns like Venice, Madison, and my town, Brooklyn. These towns thrive on fishing the Mississippi River and semi pro baseball, which each town had a team. My grandparents lived across the River close to the Chain of Rocks where I spent my time when mom and dad worked. I was merely eight years old when we moved to North County, MO. So when people ask me that question, I just want to say, “I’m from the River.”
Growing up along the Mississippi River was a blessing. In these towns, it seemed that if you where 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, noth 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 motorcross 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 owned 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!
The Meramac River and Hopper’s Marina
Growing up in the St. Louis North Suburbs, we always would hear wild stories about the Meramac River. Many schools visited the beautiful parks along this swift deceptive waterway. Like the railroad tracks in the Delta, the Meramac River was the definitive divide between north and south counties. During the spring, wild party boats from towns like Festus, Fenton, Kimmswick, and Barnhart littered the boat ramps. Before the crackdown on excessive partying, this was the place to be for lawlessness. The River’s channels become fierce during high water, with the water rushing between high bluffs before slowing before the confluence with the Mississippi River. Every year sadly, there are accounts of novice swimmers being swept away wading in waters with a deceptively strong current. During the VP Fair in St. Louis, most of the boaters avoid the busy downtown access and use the Meramac access.
Entering the Mississippi River and headed downstream, you come across one the oldest marina’s on the River. Hopper’s Marina has been launching and supplying boaters for 80 years. This is the only marina located on the main channel along the Middle Mississippi River. The Hopper’s are very nice people and don’t deserve the infamous label the have received through the years. It’s a great place for canoes and kayaks to take break on the sandy bluffs before the marina. You can resupply on water and other beverages. The closest town in historical Kimmswick. Hopper’s an old man now, but still has stories and a deep passion for the River.
Earlier this year on our spring www.rivergator.org expedition I had the pleasure to meet the Hopper’s and when I approach him recently he remembered me. He seemed more relax than when we first met. He was in a heated battle with the Corps of Engineers about the location of two wing dikes downstream from his marina. They slowed the water down shallowing his marina channel. The dikes where place there to save the beautiful homestead on the bluffs downstream, but has put stress on his business. Apparently, things are better. He had a successful summer and had a smile on his face to show it. He laughed at our decision to canoe in frigid conditions, but you can tell his love and respect for the Mississippi River. We talked river miles and said our goodbyes. See you next year. Mark River