CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) naturalists, biologists, and experienced river guide, Dave Hardesty, led a group of 63 people in the "Floatin' on the River" event this weekend. After a Friday evening orientation participants took to the waters of the Mississippi River Saturday morning in kayaks and canoes for a 14-mile float downstream. The group leisurely stopped halfway at a sandbar for lunch before drifting downstream the rest of the way.
"Over the years the Mississippi River has been called many things including mighty, mysterious and muddy," said Frank Nelson, a participant and wetlands ecologist with MDC. "Mild is probably a departure from the typical list of adjectives associated with the Mississippi, but the majority of our group would probably agree that the big river was rather laid back and tranquil this weekend."
The pre-departure orientation included an overview of what to expect on the Mississippi and a safety presentation. The group slipped their boats into the Mississippi waters at about 9 a.m. The steady current ensured smooth sailing, without a need for paddling according to Nelson.
"Unlike smaller streams where paddlers must keep an eye out for stationary root wads and low sweeping branches, the wide-open spaces on the Mississippi afforded us ample room free of obstructions," Nelson said. "We were able to relax and just go with the flow."
The Bill Emerson Bridge, downtown Cape Girardeau and the flood wall marked the end of the float as the group reached the takeout point at the Red Star boat ramp. During the course of the float, Nelson said many of the paddlers admitted that they had never really considered floating the Mississippi River before and were happy to have discovered this overlooked opportunity right out their backdoors.
Whether that's due to the physical barrier of the flood wall that insinuates danger and conveys "off limits," or a mental barrier linked to the treacherous tales of steam boat captains or Mark Twain, Nelson said this float trip was a reminder of another value of the river.
"We saw a layer of old myths and misconceptions evaporate and many of the paddlers discovered that a float on the Mississippi isn't as daunting as they thought," he said. "This isn't to say a healthy dose of respect, common sense and boater safety isn't valid; however, I believe the group came away with the new realization that sun, sand, and floatable water is much closer than we thought."
For more information on where to float in Missouri, or for more programs like this with the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, go online to mdc.mo.gov.