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Mississippi River trail: A good idea

11/21/2007

Mark Twain's Mississippi River is still there.

Don't believe me?

Look at a map of the United States: There it is. Right in the middle of the U.S.

See it?

It starts in Minnesota and flows all the way down to Louisiana and Mississippi. It directly touches 10 states on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Water from more than two dozen other states feed its flow, making it the world's third largest river behind only the Amazon and the Nile.

Yet most of us never pay any attention to it even if we live next to it.

My romance with the river faded as the years separated the adventures I shared with Huck and Tom. Even though I've lived in states adjacent to the river for the past 23 years.
It seems no one pays attention to the river unless it floods as it did in 1993 or someone tragically drowns in it. Several generations have now grown up around the river without ever directly experiencing it.

"Stay away. It's too dangerous and polluted," we were told. And we listened.

Where Mark Twain's society revolved around life on the Mississippi, we turned our backs on the river.

A land trust, the American land Conservancy, is trying to change all that. And it's a great idea.

It is working on helping develop the Mississippi River Fishing & Boating Trail. The trail will be a series of river islands and stretches along the river — all in public ownership — where people can go from point to point in a boat or canoe and experience it firsthand.

It's a beautiful river of deeply wooded islands, long stretches of white beach-like sandbars; a river of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bear, monster catfish, gar, bass and migrating waterfowl.
The planned trail would run from St. Louis, Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico. To date, the American Land Conservancy has helped secure more than 25,000 acres of islands, chutes and riverbanks along the river between Missouri and Illinois.

Now, it has set its sights on the stretch along Arkansas and Tennessee. More than two years ago, the American Land Conservancy bought Buck Island, just upstream from Helena, Arkansas. Since then, it has tried with no luck to get a public agency in Arkansas to purchase the 1,500 acres.

The group has several other islands on the river in Tennessee and Arkansas it wants to purchase for the fishing and boating trail but needs to sell Buck Island first. The deadline to place it in public ownership is by year's end - December 31.

It would be a shame if Arkansas missed this chance to begin building its part of the Lower Mississippi River Fishing & Boating Trail.

An economic impact study indicates the Buck Island purchase when linked with the downstream state-owned Choctaw Island Wildlife Management Area would create a 106-mile section of the river trail worth $18-$23 million of new money in the Delta counties of east Arkansas and more than 350 service related jobs.

Buck Island recently appraised for $1.5 million. The American Land Conservancy will make the deal happen for just under $1 million.

The numbers certainly make it worth a serious look.

A precedent is certainly out there. It's a hiking trail from Maine to Georgia called the Appalachian Trail. People from all over the world come to hike it and spend their money to do it.

This could be the water equivalent, Mark Twain's river rediscovered.

Huck and Tom would jump at the opportunity.