John Ruskey

John Ruskey, founder of Quapaw Canoe Company

The Mississippi River is the most distinguishable natural local asset and a defining historic and economic feature of this region. Back in June, I had the opportunity to take a day-long canoe trip down the Mighty Mississippi, courtesy of Quapaw Canoe Company. Founder John Ruskey has an impressive bio, and is a wise and safety-conscious guide. If you think the river is impressive from its banks, you will be amazed by the perspective from a canoe.

From the About Us segment of their website:

In 1998 he founded the first wilderness outfitting business on the entire Lower Mississippi River, Quapaw Canoe Company. John has guided National Geographic Adventure, Outside Magazine, the BBC, Irish Public Television, the Food Network, ESPN and other media in various river adventures & expeditions on the Mississippi, as well as prominent authors John Barry (Rising Tide) and Tony Horwitz (Blues Latitudes, A Voyage Long & Strange).

Hand-made canoes

Hand-made canoes

I was along for the ride on this particular journey as a part of a photo/commercial shoot for a local tourism group, so I had ample opportunity to snap some pictures as well.

Big river, little canoe

Big river, little canoe

What wildlife experiences on the Mississippi (or its tributaries) are most memorable for you (i.e. close encounters with mammals/reptiles/others)?

Well, there have been so many, sneaking up on beavers, getting close to gators both in the water and out, turtles, seeing fish close up big flocks of pelicans, getting close enough to hear their gentle gutteral talking & communicating, and to smell their overwhelmingly powerful and almost nauseating smells.

What changes (beneficial, harmful, neutral – or any combination thereof) have you seen in the river and its inhabitants in the past few decades?

There has been a lot more algae and underwater vegetation, slimy stuff on the rocks and driftwood over the past couple of years, an overabundance of nitrogen running off the fields into the tributaries and into the big river. I know also that water treatment and sewer systems across America are aging and leaking more & more, and especially in smaller cities in great need of upgrade. You see more yucky algae stuff growing in the backwaters also, and in the otherwise beautiful & attractive “blues holes.”

What’s the story behind the Mighty Quapaws? How does one get involved with this as a participant or supporter?

Long Story! Started in 1999 — its basically a hands-on apprenticeship for Mississippi Delta youth involving canoe carving & guiding on the river, all the stuff the boy scouts learn, but taught in real life situations! If anyone is interested, they can actually “Adopt-a-Quapaw” which means help out with proper clothing & equipment for apprentices for any particular year.

What do you find most rewarding about being a river guide?

Sharing the heart-stopping beauty & power of the river, as well as the numbing gargantuan width & landscapes, which cause some people who are normally talkative to go mute without even realizing it.


Quapaw Canoe Company just announced their fall yoga retreat. You can find out more about the paddle and stretch journey in October through Delta Yoga. (That’s John doing a headstand on the canoe. Don’t worry; it’s not a mandatory posture for participants.)

Headstand on Canoe Asana

Headstand on Canoe Asana