Mapping the Mulberry
By Connie Las Schneider
Spring is prime season for whitewater paddling in Arkansas, especially on the Mulberry River with its Class II rapids flowing though the Ozarks to the Arkansas River. Federally designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the Mulberry River can only be described as an Arkansas treasure.
Only a quarter of 1% of our rivers in the nation are designated Wild and Scenic, said Kristian Underwood, avid paddler and cartographer who recently updated a map of the Mulberry River. “The Mulberry is one of eight Wild and Scenic rivers in Arkansas, and we are one of the few states with that many rivers or that high of a percentage of protected streams,” he added.
Along with federal protection and great whitewater floating, the Mulberry River has cultural and
legal significance. “Mulberry was at the center of a historic legal battle in the late 70s
early 80s. State vs McIlroy was the landmark case where Arkansas defined the term of navigability
of a river/stream to include personal watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts.” explained
Underwood, who is the Northwest Chapter President of the Arkansas Canoe Club.
Is the Mulberry the best river to paddle in Arkansas? This is a subjective question that really can’t be answered, said Underwood. “Some people prefer rivers that have great fishing, some want extreme whitewater, some like to float where they can canoe camp, and some are looking for scenery/nature.
The Mulberry river offers a little of all those qualities. That is one of the reasons that makes it great
in my opinion. Furthermore, it has a pretty large watershed, so it flows more often and longer than
other streams in the area.”
However, whitewater on the Mulberry can be is challenging, especially to beginners, said Underwood. “While the Mulberry it is not one of the most challenging streams in the state or in the Ozarks, it is an ideal river to learn how to paddle in whitewater with a certified instructor, said Underwood.
As a certified ACA canoe instructor, I don’t want to encourage novices to get on this river thinking it is easy. People could get hurt or die if they are not careful.
One needs all the proper gear (warm synthetic clothing or wetsuit and a life jacket), boat control, and the ability to swim in moving water. I would first recommend taking one of our biannual paddling clinics offered by the Arkansas Canoe Club in May on the Mulberry or in June on the Spring River (www.