It’s a great irony that the city of St. Louis, known for over two centuries as a center of riverfront commerce and culture, today has no marinas or docks for pleasure boaters.
In fact, if someone described a 6.8-mile stretch of waterway with 10 marinas and 1,167 slips, rack storage for hundreds of boats, numerous launch ramps, and multiple bars and restaurants to the average resident, he or she would probably assume it was in Florida.
A contrecoeur, that portrayal also fits a Mississippi River slough near St. Charles, Missouri, about 50 miles north of the Gateway City, that during the season can be so lively as to resemble another Missouri boating favorite — namely, Lake of the Ozarks.
Dardenne Slough (pronounced Dar-deen Sloo) runs a bit southwest from the main river channel, then turns northeast before it rejoins the river at Grafton, Illinois.
There are several reasons for its popularity. First, it attracts folks from St. Louis who want to keep their boat close to home and not on a lake hours away. Second, it draws people wishing to avoid the free-flowing river below the Melvin Price Lock & Dam 26 at Mile 200.8. Others want to avoid the barge traffic on the main channel.
While the slough only has one sand beach, there are numerous chutes between a series of islands that lead to the main channel boasting beaches created from dredged sand. Some of these chutes also serve as anchorages where people raft-up together. There’s also quick access to the lower end of the Illinois River, and many people choose that calmer waterway for water sports.
The water depth is good, and there are just a couple of navigation hazards. One is an underwater extension of the island on the upper end, so boaters go well upstream from that point before cutting across to and from the slough. The other is a rock pile just upstream from the harbor at North Shore Marina. Boaters here are advised to enter and leave the harbor going straight out and not angling upstream.
All the activity that occurs in this area at the marinas, private clubs, and bars and restaurants is well covered on a popular website www.riverbills.com. It started as a hobby and now gets 5,000 looks a day in-season.
Although reaching all the facilities by boat is easy, getting there by car requires either a ferry ride or an approach from miles up or downstream. The Golden Eagle Ferry crosses at the top of the slough, about Upper Mississippi River Mile 228.7 from the town of Golden Eagle, Illinois. The Grafton Ferry crosses just upstream from the public boat launch in Grafton.
Marina, Clubs & More
All the marinas are on the right descending bank (RDB) of the slough. The one closest to the upper end is Riverside Harbor at Mile 227.3. It offers storage for more than 100 boats and two launch ramps.
At Mile 226, South Shore Marina is rebuilding and currently has 12 small slips.
The private Yacht Club of St. Louis has 275 slips and combines amenities such as a clubhouse and pool for its members with a full-service boat facility. Its bar and restaurant at Mile 225.2 are open to the public from Thursday to Sunday.
Lake Center Marina at Mile 224.4 is also private, and the emphasis there is on taking care of its members. It has 250 slips and rack storage for another 156 but is not open to the public.
The recently re-named River Island Marina at Mile 223 has 37 slips, but the new owner hopes to have 50 by next year. He has renovated the clubhouse, has lots of storage and parking space, and is promoting a family friendly environment with events like ice cream socials.
At Mile 222.2, the Gibson Marina/Woodland Marina boasts many slip holders who have been there a very long time. Some spend the summer living aboard. It has 250 slips and 156 rack-storage slots.
One of the busiest spots is North Shore Marina, Mile 222. It has 65 slips and the Boathouse Food & Deck with a tiki bar and great sunset views. The special entertainment activities here are for both marina and bar patrons. It’s also the home of the Gypsy Rose Pirate Ship, which features a variety of private and public sailings, and the Shark Boat.
Next door is Polestar Marina, at Mile 221.8, with 64 covered slips. The facility advertises itself as a safe, tranquil and serene marina. Its biggest event is the Mississippi River Car show, where 175 cars are on display each September.
The last marina open to the public is Port Charles Harbor at Mile 221.5. With 100 slips, it is a quiet, non-partying place. It’s also well known for its service work, which includes fiberglass repair and painting.
Slip holders and transients at Port Charles have guest privileges at the private Duck Club Yacht Club nearby. The club has 114 slips, a waterfront clubhouse and pool, and sits directly across from the large sand beach on the tip of the island, where the slough rejoins the main channel. The restaurant opens to visitors several times a year.
Dardenne Slough is unique in that it has so many boating facilities in such a short stretch. Between them, they cater to a wide variety of boating interests and styles, from small to large vessels and from quiet to not-so-quiet.
On weekdays, the slough reflects a calmer personality, as it serves as a gentle conduit for those avoiding the commercial traffic on the main channel. Then, according to one marina manager, “it’s the closest thing you can get to a lake.”
But the weekends can be a different story.
Whatever your proclivity — weekday or weekend, a resident boater or visiting cruiser — a trip to Dardenne Slough is not to be missed.
Author: Gray Kramer is a regular contributor to HeartLand Boating
Duck Club Yacht Club, (636) 250-4321, www.ducktalesonline.com
Gibson Marina/Woodland Marina, (636) 250-3446, www.woodlandmarina.com
Golden Eagle Ferry, (618) 535-5759
Grafton Ferry, (800) 258-6645, www.thegraftonferry.com
Gypsy Rose Pirate Ship, (314) 541-7394, www.gypsyrosepirateship.com
Lake Center Marina, (636) 250-7500, www.lakecentermarina.com
North Shore Marina, (636) 250-3800, www.northshoremarina.org
Polestar Marina, (636) 250-3008, www.polestar-marina.com
Port Charles Harbor, (636) 250-2628,www.portcharlesharbor.com
River Island Marina, (314) 775-8622, www.riverislandmarina.com
Riverside Harbor, (636) 946-5535
South Shore Marina, (636) 250-4344
Yacht Club of St. Louis, (636) 250-4435, www.stlouisyachtclub.com