"River Guide Wants People To Paddle The Mighty Mississippi, Not Fear It"

John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company, builds his own canoes, leads trips down the Mississippi, and has taught kids how to paddle down the river. He's one of my favorite people in the Delta, and I was so glad to see that NPR's Melissa Block did a story about him. John took Patrick, his family, and me on a trip paddling down the river and out to Buck Island, and we loved it. 

Quapaw has three locations: Clarksdale, Natchez, and Helena.  

During high water season, water floods the trees and you enter what seems like a secret, underwater forest. You canoe around the trees. Yes, it's as magical as it sounds. 

During high water season, water floods the trees and you enter what seems like a secret, underwater forest. You canoe around the trees. Yes, it's as magical as it sounds. 

Stars Academy, alternative school

Stars Academy, an alternative school for expelled students, was at once a dumping ground and a valuable experiment. I met Patrick here. After a run of seven years, it was shut down by the Helena Public Schools in 2006 due to lack of funding. Once shuttered, it became a playground for vandals. In 2015, two teenagers from Mississippi lit a car on fire on the property, burning down parts of the walls and roof. The Arkansas Department of Education has no record of Stars existing. 

 

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Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Stars was known as "Helena Crossing." Elderly black residents who attended the school remember it fondly, recalling that teachers held high expectations and cared deeply for the children. In 2016, one of these residents bought the property and began work to refurbish it.