Last fall when the state Department of Conservation announced that the Truman Access on the Mississippi River in southern Jefferson County would be closed indefinitely, the prospects of getting back to the mighty waterway seemed even more remote than the site itself.
But earlier this month the state issued a release that the 20-acre property adjacent to the Rush Island power plant reopened for public use. With improved drainage and higher roadbeds, the area is expected to be less affected by frequent flooding in the future.
With the river hovering near its zero level this month, high water worries may seem like a low priority, but the Mississippi has been out of its banks five times in the last two years including an event in March of this year when it exceeded flood levels by over a foot. (The zero-level does not mean there is no water in the river, but it indicates that the nine-foot deep navigation channel needed for commercial barges may not be maintained.)
Flood events in the past have deposited significant amounts of silt sediments, so the department used that material to raise the road levels. The excavation work also included adding new drainage pipes.
“After the long closure of Truman Access, we have reopened the gates,” said Tim Schuette, a conservation department maintenance supervisor. “With the combination of raising the road and parking lot and replacing a couple of culvert pipes that were silted in, drainage will be much better.”
Portions of the access road, and the parking lot near the boat ramp, were raised from two to four feet using the accumulated river sediment. After the silt was bulldozed into place and graded, conservation department crews covered those areas with an additional foot of rock base.
“I believe we have the road and parking lot at an elevation where excessive silt deposits should not form during a typical high water event as they’ve done in the past,” Schuette said.
The strategy to allow the sediment to build up and use it to in the fight against future floods has been successful at other river accesses in southeast Missouri. It is opposite of previous recovery efforts, which worked to remove the silt and replace it with rock. But every subsequent flooding event buried the new rock surfaces in more silt.
The single-lane boat launch ramp at Truman Access is concrete, but the parking area and roads are all gravel. The current low river levels showed the bottom structure for the large fishing areas that attract summertime anglers. A wing dike just upstream from the ramp creates a large pool away from the river’s strong current.
In addition to fishing opportunities, Truman provides access to Harlow Island, a 1,200 -acre tract that is part of the Middle Mississippi River Natural Wildlife Area. About 800 areas of the property had been cropland, but the flood of 1993 over-topped the agricultural levee protecting the property, and it has since be allowed to return to its natural bottom land forest habitat.
The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is one component of a network of lands along the river between St. Louis and the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. The wetlands and woods are set aside for the protection of plants and animals that call the habitat home.
A mile-long slough creates Harlow Island, separating it from the Missouri mainland. The current low river level has the slough looking more like a wet ditch, but spring rains and snow-melt in the north will bring the river and its side channels to their former glory soon enough. Hopefully the raised roadways and improved drainage will limit the time the area is closed “indefinitely” in the future.
Truman Access is on Big Hollow Road about 10 miles south of Crystal City off US Highway 61 at Hwy. AA.
Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 9, 2021.