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					          Rollin’ on the River: The McClellan-Kerr
            Arkansas River Navigation System
                  Lesson Plan by Sherry J. Tipps, Conway, Arkansas
                              2001-2002 Butler Fellow
      Revised 2007-08 School Year Utilizing 2006 Social Studies Frameworks and
                      2007 School Library Media Frameworks.

Students will learn about the history and importance of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River
Navigation System to the Arkansas River Valley and to the state as a whole. They will also
become aware of the builders and caretakers of the System—the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. From class discussion and mapping the McClellan-Kerr System, students will
learn how a lock and dam works and the three major benefits of the project today: navigation,
flood control, and recreation.

Grades:        5th – 8th
               The lesson plan may be adapted for use with students in grades 9 – 12.

Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks:

Arkansas History Student Learning Expectations:
G.1.6.4             Explain the importance of the major river systems of the
                    United States and Arkansas:
                           *      Arkansas River
                           *      Colorado
                           *      Mississippi River
                           *      Ohio River
                           *      St. Lawrence River

G.3.6.1              Describe the location of major cities in Arkansas and the
                     United States and the availability of resources and
                     transportation in those areas

G.3.6.7              Analyze the consequences of environmental modification
                     on Arkansas and specific areas of the United States:
                            *      acid rain
                            *      global warming
                            *      ozone depletion
                            *      erosion
                            *      desertification

G.1.AH.7-8.2         Identify and map the major rivers of Arkansas

G.1.AH.7-8.3         Describe factors contributing to the settlement of Arkansas

G.1.AH.7-8.4         Research the origins of key place names in Arkansas

G.1.AH.7-8.5          Examine the economic effect of Arkansas’ natural resources

GD.8.AH.7-8.1        Describe the economic and social effects of the 1927 flood on Arkansas
                     using primary and secondary sources
WWP.9.AH.7-8.5        Identify political leaders and their major contributions after World War II

G.1.AH.9-12.2         Examine the practical uses of the major rivers in Arkansas

G.1.AH.9-12.3         Analyze factors contributing to the settlement of Arkansas

G.1.AH.9-12.4         Research the origins of key place names in Arkansas

G.1.AH.9-12.5         Examine the economic effect of Arkansas’ natural resources

GD.8.AH.9-12.1        Investigate the economic and social effects of the 1927 flood on Arkansas
                      using primary and secondary sources

WWP.9.AH.9-12.5       Investigate the major contributions of political leaders after World War II

WWP.9.AH.9-12.7       Analyze the economic development of Arkansas after World War II

Social Studies Student Learning Expectations:
G.1.5.6             Distinguish between geography terms that describe or
                    indicate region, place, or location

G.1.5.9               Compare and contrast major landforms characterized as
                      physical features of Earth

G.1.6.6               Analyze a map of the fifty states and identify regions

G.1.6.9               Compare the location of specific places on both maps and

G.1.7.6               Describe a variety of regions in the United States and the
                      Western Hemisphere

G.1.7.7               Construct a specialized map using data

G.1.7.8               Determine the importance of latitude and longitude in
                      construction maps or globes such as those used by
                      meteorologists, survey crews, or the military

G.1.7.10              Construct maps that display the location of a variety of
                      earth’s physical features

G.3.7.7               Discuss ways in which people from various regions of the
                      world have adapted to and modified the environment
                      during specific time periods throughout history

G.3.8.6               Evaluate the methods used to modify the physical
                      environment in selected places and regions

School Library Media Student Learning Expectations:
A.4.5.1, A. 4.6.1, A.4.7.1, A.4.8.1, A.4.9.1, A.4.10.1, A.4.11.1, A.4.12.1 – Use resources and/or
technology tools for a predetermined task

Related Encyclopedia of Arkansas Entries:
Flood of 1927; Transportation; Levees and Drainage Districts; John Little McClellan;
McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System
The teacher will select the appropriate student learning expectations for his or her class,
review the key terms, and make copies of selected activities included in the lesson.
Collaboration with the school library media specialist for assistance with the utilization of
the technology resource tool for Arkansas History is suggested. See above links or visit
the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture at

Key Terms:
 source   navigable          sandbar      U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  lock      dam               mouth       tributary             levee

Key Terms Defined:
source: The point of origin of a stream or river.

navigable: Deep and wide enough to allow the passage of boats and other vessels.

sandbar: A build-up of sand which often forms an island in a river when the water level is low
and moving slowly.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: A branch of service in the U.S. Government that designs,
constructs, and maintains locks, dams, and parks on inland waterways of our country, as well
as military installations and infrastructure for other government agencies.

lock: A chamber built on a river to raise and lower boats from one water level to another,
usually part of a dam structure.

dam: A barrier built on a river to obstruct and control the flow of water.

mouth: The place where a tributary empties into a river or larger body of water. tributary: A
stream or river that flows into a larger stream or river.

levee: An embankment along a river designed to prevent flooding.

Suggested Time Frame:                Two to Three Class Periods

      Access to a computer for researching background on the topic.
      A transparency of the photos of North Little Rock during the 1927 Flood (included
      A U.S. map
      An Arkansas State Highway Map for each group of three students. Note: You can
      order free copies in boxes of 25 or 50 from the Arkansas State Highway and
      Transportation Dept., Map Sales, PO Box 2261, Little Rock, AR 72203-2261 /
      phone: (501) 569-2444.
      A highlighter and black or blue Vis-à-vis pen for each group of three students
      A copy of the brochure The Flow of Opportunities in Arkansas for each group
      (available from the Arkansas Waterways Commission—(501) 682-1173)
      A transparency of Locks and Dams in the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation
      System and the figure McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Lock Lift
      (both on one page, below)
       A transparency of the List of Corps of Engineers Parks (included below)

Background Information:
        Flat-topped mountains as well as broad bottomlands characterize the Arkansas River
Valley, the natural division between the Ozark Plateau and the Ouachita Mountains. The
river valley soils support upland hardwoods, pine forests, bottomland hardwoods, and prairie
grasses, as well as cotton, soybeans, and wheat. The valley extends almost forty miles on
either side of its most predominant feature, the Arkansas River.
        The fourth largest river in the U.S., the Arkansas River is nothing more than a creek at
its source, thirteen miles north of Leadville, Colorado. It is fed by snowmelt in the Rocky
Mountains and grows gradually as it passes Salida and then Canon City. As it travels
through the Royal Gorge the Arkansas picks up speed. It flows through Pueblo and is joined
by the St. Charles River, continuing past Las Animas near Pikes Peak. As it rolls through
Kansas, it flows past Cimarron, Dodge City, Wichita, and on to Oklahoma. In Oklahoma the
Arkansas River passes through Muskogee and Fort Gibson. After entering Arkansas at Fort
Smith, the river snakes through the valley named for it, then on to Little Rock, Pine Bluff, the
Mississippi River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Today the Arkansas River is navigable
from eastern Oklahoma to the Mississippi, a distance of 445 miles.
        Before humans moved to change it in the latter part of the 1900s, the Arkansas River
was one of the most meandering rivers on the continent; the people of the valley were often
the victims of floods. Large sections of the Arkansas River were often not navigable to boat
travel because of the water level, and the economic benefit of the river was not completely
realized. During certain times of the year people could practically walk across some parts of
the river on sandbars. At other times, the river flooded and caused millions of dollars in lost
farm crops and property damage.
        In 1946, after many years of study and debate, Congress authorized the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to begin constructing a planned series of locks and dams on the
Arkansas River from the mouth of the river well into Oklahoma. (The McClellan-Kerr Project
continues for 50 miles up the Verdigris River in Oklahoma to the Port of Catoosa in Tulsa.)
Two U.S. Senators, John L. McClellan of Arkansas and Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma, worked
to get Congress to appropriate the necessary billions of dollars needed for the huge project.
After twenty years of study and work, the system was finished in 1970. The U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers constructed the locks and dams and continues to maintain them.
        The Corps of Engineers has encountered much criticism through the years from
people interested in protecting the natural environment. Most ecologists agree that building a
dam across a river causes a profound change in the ecology of the river. Fish migration is
often hindered. Water temperatures can change drastically after a dam is built. Most of all,
ecologists contend that damming a stream or river interrupts the natural process by which
excess water is held in natural wetlands and released over time. Along a river, the entire
web of life is connected to the ecology of the river—and it is a balance that is very directly
affected by the building of a dam.

Day One Activities:
1. Locate North Little Rock on a map of Arkansas and show the class the transparency of the
photos of North Little Rock during the great Flood of 1927. Ask why cities like North Little
Rock, Conway, Morrilton, Russellville, and Fort Smith were prone to flooding in the past.
Explain that since the Arkansas is one of the largest tributaries of the Mississippi, both rivers
usually experience floods at the same time.

2. On a map of the United States quickly locate the course of the Arkansas River from its
source to its mouth.
3. Using the background information above, explain the need for and history of the
McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. Explain that the McClellan-Kerr System
is made up of a series of locks and dams on the Arkansas River. Ask the students to define
the terms lock and dam. Ask if anyone has seen a lock function; if yes, ask them to explain
the process of how it works. (See the Corps of Engineers’ explanation of how a lock works at

4. Divide the class into groups of three or four. Give each group an official Arkansas State
Highway Map, a light color highlighter, and a black or blue Vis-à-vis pen. Show the
transparency of the list of Locks and Dams in the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation
System, but don’t show the Corps’ diagram of the Lock Lift yet. Have students highlight the
Arkansas River on their maps, then draw a cross mark in Vis-à-vis pen to show the location
of each of the Arkansas locks and dams.

5. After the groups have mapped the Arkansas portion of the McClellan-Kerr System, ask the
class why they think it was necessary to construct so many (12) locks and dams on our
state’s portion of the Arkansas River. Show the students the diagram, McClellan-Kerr
Arkansas River Navigation System Lock Lift, which illustrates the change in elevation from
the Mississippi River to the end of the lock lift system. Explain that the Arkansas River
increases in elevation more rapidly than does the Mississippi. (From New Orleans the
Mississippi River rises only about 100 feet per 500 miles.)

6. Ask the students to determine the difference in elevation on the diagram from the
Mississippi River to Catoosa in Oklahoma and calculate the rate of increase per mile.
Answer: 432 feet (532 minus 100); .97 feet per mile or about a 1 foot per mile rise.
       That’s a 40-story climb! The Corps of Engineers built a 40-STORY STAIRCASE OF
WATER made up of navigation pools connected by locks. Remind students that before the
construction of this water staircase the Arkansas was not navigable for large river traffic.
Thus the first main function of McClellan-Kerr System is navigation.

7. Give each group a copy of the Arkansas Waterways Commission brochure entitled The
Flow of Opportunities in Arkansas.

Day Two Activities:
1. Review the learning from the previous day, making sure to discuss the first function of the
McClellan-Kerr System is navigation.
2. Direct students to review information from the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History
and Culture.
3. Lead a class discussion to answer the following questions:
   * What is the primary mode of transportation on the Arkansas River?
   * What types of cargo do barges transport?
   * What types of resources are developed along the Arkansas River and are transported
       via the McClellan-Kerr?
   * What is an advantage of transporting goods by barge compared with trains and
   * How many port cities are on the Arkansas portion of the McClellan-Kerr?
   * What are these port cities?
   * What might be an advantage of having the McClellan-Kerr System next to a railroad or
       a major interstate highway like I-40?

4. The second main function of McClellan-Kerr is flood control. Refer back to the pictures of
North Little Rock during the 1927 flood. After construction of the dams, the Corps of
Engineers could better control the flow of water on the Arkansas River. This helped to
prevent devastating floods. More levees were also constructed on the river to control

5. The third main function of McClellan-Kerr and other Corps projects is recreation. Explain to
the students that the Corps of Engineers has constructed parks along the inland waterway
systems of Arkansas. The parks are used for picnicking, camping, biking, hiking, fishing, and
in many cases appreciating historical places of interest. Show the students the List of Corps
of Engineers Parks, which gives the names of parks on the river and its tributaries. The
students might recognize some of the parks on the list.

6. Be sure students understand that the three major benefits of the McClellan-Kerr System
are navigation, flood control, and recreation.

Day Three Activities:
The teacher may choose one or both.
1. Rollin’ on the River writing prompt: Have the students pretend they are the captain of a
barge that will take a shipment of grain or some other product from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the
port of New Orleans. Have the students use their Arkansas Highway Map and brochure for
assistance. The students should mention port cities and the names of some of the locks and
dams. They can also mention some of the sights they see along the route.

2. Have the students create a giant wall map of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River
Navigation System. The map should include cities (port and non-port), locks and dams, and
Corps of Engineers parks. They can include a map key that also shows resources that are
transported by barge on the river. This map can be displayed where all of the students can
see it in the classroom, the hallway, or the library media center.

   1. Student participation in class discussions can be evaluated.
   2. Discussion question answers can be evaluated.
   3. A rubric for the writing prompt can be used for evaluation
   4. Group work on any of the map activities can be used for evaluation purposes.

1. Research and report on the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), a
division of the Federal Government that dates from the time of George Washington.

2. Research and report on the functions of the United States Coast Guard on inland
waterways in the United States.

3. Report on one of the Corps parks in Arkansas. Information can be found on the Corps of
Engineers web page:

4. Invite a Corps of Engineers employee or park ranger to speak to your class.

5. Research and report on the Corps of Engineers’ role in promoting water safety in

6. Research and report on how the work of the Corps of Engineers impacts the
preservation of wetlands in Arkansas.
7. If possible, make arrangements to tour a lock and dam on the McClellan-Kerr System.

Bolton, S. Charles. 25 Years Later: A History of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River
Navigation System in Arkansas. Little Rock: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock
District, 1995.

Foti, Thomas and Gerald T. Hanson. Arkansas and the Land. Fayetteville: University of
Arkansas Press, 1992.

Mapes, Ruth B. The Arkansas Waterway: People, Places, Events in the Valley, 1817-1971.
Little Rock: University Press, 1972.

Rathburn, Mary Yeater. Castle on the Rock, 1881-1985: The History of the Little Rock
District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Little Rock: U.S. Army Engineer District, Little Rock,

Stroud, Hubert B. and Gerald T. Hanson. Arkansas Geography: The Physical Landscape
and the Historical-Cultural Setting. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Co., 1981.

Suggested Websites:
Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department:

Arkansas Waterways Commission:

McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Waterway Fact Sheet:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District:

     These lesson plans are made possible in part through the support of the Arkansas
   Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arkansas Natural
    Heritage Commission, and the Bridge Fund at the Arkansas Community Foundation.

      The Taylor Foundation (Little Rock, Arkansas) makes Butler Center lesson plans possible.
  Contact the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, 100 Rock St., Little
             Rock, AR, 72201. 501-918-3056 and
Photos of North Little Rock during the 1927 Flood

   Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.
      Locks and Dams in the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System

Note: The names of the locks and dams are in small, red letters on the Arkansas state
highway map.

1. Norrell Lock & Dam (Tichnor, AR)
2. Wilbur Mills Lock (Tichnor, AR)
3. Joe Hardin Lock (Altheimer, AR)
4. Emmett Sanders Lock (Pine Bluff)
5. Lock & Dam Number 5 (Tucker, AR)
6. David D. Terry Lock & Dam (Scott, AR)
7. Murray Lock & Dam (Little Rock, AR)
8. Toad Suck Ferry Lock & Dam (Conway, AR)
9. Arthur V. Ormond Lock & Dam (Morrilton, AR)
10. Dardanelle Lock & Dam (Russellville, AR)
11. Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock & Dam (Ozark, AR)
12. James W. Trimble Lock & Dam (Barling, AR, near Van Buren)

          Figure appears courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District.
                        List of Corps of Engineers Parks
                    on the Arkansas River and Its Tributaries

Parks are listed by Corps of Engineers Project Office.

Arkansas Post Area:
Merrisach Big Bayou
Morgan Point
Wilbur D. Mills
Little Bayou
Wild Goose
Pendleton Bend
Jardis Point
Notresbes Bend
Moore Bayou

Pine Bluff Area:
Rising Star
Huffs Island
Sheppard Island
Ste. Marie
Dam Site 5
Willow Beach
David D. Terry East
David D. Terry West
Tar Camp

Toad Suck Area:
Cook’s Landing
Point Remove
Cypress Creek
Old Ferry
Cadron Settlement
Toad Suck

Ozark Area:
Clear Creek
Reed Mountain
River Ridge
Vine Prairie
Bluff Hole
Aux Arc
Vache Grasse
Citadel Bluff
White Oak

Dardenelle Area:
Old Post Road
Shoal Bay
Piney Bay
River View
Cabin Creek
Dwight Mission
Flat Rock
Bona Dea
Sweden Island
Cane Creek

     From the Corps of Engineers website:

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