• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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A Riff on the Kaskaskia River: Illinois’s Second Longest Tributary to the Mississippi

I was first drawn to the Kaskaskia when I noticed that wheat flourishes in its basin, a place where nineteenth century-town proprietors platted towns and built flour mills and churches to provide anchors for their communities.

KaskaskiaVenedy

Brockschmidt Mill, 1859, Razed 1995, Venedy, Illinois

I next noticed the Kaskaskia when I flew over its channelized lower reaches and noticed the cut off oxbows that bracketed its new straight channel.

KaskaskiaAerial

Channelized Kaskaskia River south of New Athens, Illinois

Again, I noticed the Kaskaskia when I crossed its floodplain daily, sometimes twice a day as I traveled east to North Prairie to photograph a red shed that stood between two wheat fields.

NorthPrairieApril23

North Prairie, April 23, 1992

I first photographed the Kaskaskia when I came across an a natural cutoff, a wetlands, on Illinois 177, near Venedy, Illinois.

KaskaskiaQueensLake

Queen's Lake, Kaskaskia Oxbow, near Veneday, Illinois

Years ago I came upon Highbank, a right angle bend in the unchannelized stretch of the river, one that would have been cutoff if the river had been straightened at that point. Here the river shaved sediment from the outside of the bend and deposited sediment on the inside of the bend, a perfect illustration of how meandering rivers work.

KaskaskiaHighbank

Flooded Kaskaskia at Highbank near Mascoutah, Illinois

Highbank is very different from the channelized portion of the river at New Athens.

KaskaskiaRiverChannelized

Channelized Kaskaskia at New Athens, Illinois

The Corps of Engineers channelized 36 miles of the Kaskaskia between Fayetteville, Illinois and its mouth and built a lock and dam near its confluence with the Mississippi in order to turn it into an efficient barge canal to ferry the 1.8 billion tons of coal that lay under glacial till and Pennsylvanian rocks and within 15 miles of the river

Now, I come to the place where Peabody Coal drained a cutoff channel of the Kaskaskia and stripped the coal from its river bottom and adjacent floodplain. When the mine played out, Peabody donated the site to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the Peabody-River King State Fish and Wildlife Management Area.

KaskaskiaPeabodyLeveeLake

Levee Lake, Peabody River King State Fish and Wildlife Management Area, Mined Oxbow of the Kaskaskia River

The coal in the Lower Kaskaskia basin lies close to the surface. When Peabody drained the cutoff section of the Kaskaskia to mine it for coal, it found a vain seven feet below the river bottom. They had to go deeper in the adjacent floodplain.

Copyright © Quinta Scott, 2009, All Rights Reserved

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2 Responses

  1. […] 1974 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the channelization of the Kaskaskia River from Fayetteville, Illinois to its mouth at the […]

  2. […] the landscape for good or for ill, mostly for ill. I have already addressed this in two posts: A Riff on the Kaskaskia River and the Peabody River King Wildlife Management Area, about strip mining in Southwestern Illinois. […]

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