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A Terrible Trip - On The Whitewater Creek

Peering over the front tip of a kayak, there is a river that flows to the horizon surrounded by bowing trees

Recently we got a call from Alex Holmes from the Missouri Department of Conservation and he asked a stupid question: “How would you like to go on a kayaking trip on the Upper White Water Creek?” As the editor of 573 Magazine, it is my duty to say “Yes!” to every request within reason. This request was right up our alley. Alex said the float was about 2.5 hours long with small rapids, but nothing too difficult even for a beginner.

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On the day of the float, we headed out to the Old Plantation Conservation Area just north of Jackson—our meeting point. We decided we would shoot both stills and video, so we arrived early to get some drone footage of the stream. Like most places in the 573, it was beautiful and wonderfully deserted.

2 kayakers drift peacefully down a calm stream on a bright sunny day

We shuttle our vehicles with help from Jaime Koehler, Nature Center assistant manager, and we drive to our upstream put-in. It was a beautiful float. The water was knee-deep and crystal clear. Fish were swimming everywhere. Large white sycamore trees bent over the water. We floated, hit a small rapid area, and then floated on. There was hardly any need for paddling.

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I could tell Alex really, really loved his job. Even when he’s not working, he can be found fishing on the stream. Did I tell you the fish were everywhere? Halfway through the trip, Alex grinned and said, “Isn’t this just terrible?” We got the joke right away.

Alex Holmes, a burly bearded man, relaxes in his kayak as he drifts down whitewater river

AJ Koehler, a woman with long braided hair paddles upstream along side a gravel bank on the whitewater river

He also told us about MDC’s new program to help novice kayakers to hit the rivers. It was designed in response to the coronavirus. Though the Conservation Center in Cape is temporarily closed, Missouri residents can still enjoy the solitude of a kayak on a beautiful, clear water stream. It was really a no brainer! The department recently bought ten kayaks to start things off, so kudos to our friends at MDC!

peering over the front tip of the kayak, a small stretch of rapids can be seen along with bowing trees and a bright blue sky

The luscious green banks along the river reflected so beautifully its a perfect mirrored image

Upper Little Whitewater Creek is a stream located just 8.2 miles from Jackson in Cape Girardeau County. Fishermen will find a variety of fish including bigmouth buffalo, bream/bluegill, largemouth bass, flathead catfish, gar, carp, sunfish, panfish, black bullhead, catfish, smallmouth bass, bullhead and rock bass. The water is clear, rock-lined, and full of life. There are several access points to the stream, though the easiest access point is the Old Plantation Access parking site. Signs are clearly posted from Hwy 72.

Fish of all sizes swim around below the surface of the river weaving in and out of aquatic plants

Tell us about yourself

Alex Holmes, a large bearded, smiling man sits on the end of his kayak with the river flowing behind him

"Are you one of those people, who when crossing a bridge over a creek, can’t help but look down into the shady reaches of some hidden stream? I am. I’m nutty about being outside. When I am not paddling, hiking, fishing, shooting, or camping, I am dreaming about the next time I will be. I have been fortunate enough to make a career out of being outside, and more importantly, introducing others to these experiences.

A large bearded man paddles his kayak upstream on the whitewater river

I grew up in Central Illinois and moved to Southern Illinois for school. It was there that my love of nature really bloomed. While a part of me will always call Southern Illinois home, Southeast Missouri and the neighboring Ozarks have long held a special place in my heart. The water in Missouri is magical, full-stop. The springs, ripples, and lazy stretches of our waterways are among the most beautiful places on earth, and I am grateful every day that they are here for us to enjoy. On a bad day I can close my eyes and imagine being on a gravel bar on some Missouri stream watching the water, and then life gets just a little better."

The sun shines brightly through the trees hitting a small gravel bar and dancing across a clear running stream

Have you always wanted to be in conservation?

"It was an interesting process. From the time I was young, my dream was to be a zoologist. I started out studying zoology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, but I fell in with an outdoor adventure program at the Student Recreation Center. Before I knew it, I was leading hiking, paddling, and climbing programs. I loved teaching people about the natural world while we were paddling or hiking. It was then that I decided that teaching about nature IN nature was my true passion. So I changed my major, like so many students do, to recreation. My career has given me the opportunity to work with and learn from many talented outdoor educators, and about a year ago I was fortunate enough to be chosen to work for Missouri Department of Conservation, an organization which I long admired despite living in a neighboring state."

2 kayakers chat while peacefully drifting down stream

What is your favorite part of your job?

"Is “all of it” too vague? As an educator, one of my biggest missions at Missouri Department of Conservation is connecting people with the land. I think this means something different to everyone. Some of us hike, birdwatch, photograph wildflowers, fish, hunt, or canoe and kayak— these connections to nature are what make us human. They help us relieve stress, teach us about our heritage, provide countless health benefits, and feed our spirits. To have the ability to help people discover those benefits is what gets me out of bed. Moreover, I think it is vital that we build a positive relationship with our natural resources for the sake of our state and planet. Helping people discover that they have a place in the natural world helps all of us make better decisions when it comes to our resources. In the end, “job” seems like the wrong word. I am just happy to make a living doing what I love."

2 kayakers paddle downstream

Tell us about your NEW outdoor programs.

In addition to our canoes, we recently acquired a trailer full of kayaks. As a result, we will be able to offer paddling programs in many new and wonderful locations. These programs will be offered roughly once a month and will cover topics such as paddling basics, kayak fishing, paddling small streams, paddling the Mississippi river, and even birdwatching from kayaks. I think paddling is something that many Missourians love doing, but barriers often stand in the way, whether it be cost, fear, or lack of knowledge. We want to get people on the water, discovering nature, and learning new skills so they can build a lifelong relationship with the outdoors. All of our programs are offered at no cost to the public and are open to all.

A woman with a long braid sits gazing at the beautiful sites from her kayak drifting down stream

A kayaker drifts downstream gazing at all the beautiful sites in nature

How can people get involved?

There are several ways to stay up to date on our programs at the Cape Girardeau Nature Center and throughout the entire region and state. One of the simplest methods is to text “MDC Nature” to 468311 for updates on upcoming programs. You can also visit us at for a more complete list. We are always offering new program topics, and there is sure to be one to suit any interest. Nature art? Cooking wild game or wild plants? Monthly programs for children ages 0-11? Our nature center programs may look little different for a while as we adapt to deal with this virus, but we will still be offering high quality nature-based education and fun to the public.

2 kayakers paddle downstream on the white water river surrounded by bowing trees

Why is the outdoors a great choice in the virus era?

I think being outdoors is a classic form of social distancing! I’ve been doing it for years and so has Thoreau! Sometimes the commotion and noise of the world or the cramped spaces of home and work life simply require that we take in fresh air and clear our souls. Missouri is blessed with mile after mile of wild places, plenty for each of us to find that little slice of solitude. It is so simple for you or your family to pack a picnic, take a hike, and discover something new about the outdoors without being too near other people. It is important to remember that some of our state’s more popular destinations can become busy during certain times of the year, so consider trying areas which are new to you and less visited. If you need ideas on where to go, Department of Conservation staff is always happy to help!

Beautiful clear water ripples over rocks and through aquatic plants


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