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Helping Paddlers Down the Mississippi River

Charlie Poche provides a campsite, firewood and other necessities from his family's land

Charlie Poche standing on the beach of his land along the Mississippi River

Rush Jagoe

My dad bought the family homestead in 1936. Our land is in Paulina, La., on the banks of the Mississippi. The only time I've ever lived out of Paulina was after I finished high school and joined the Army; I was in Germany for 30 months.

I started working in operations at the Texaco refinery in 1967. It was a hazardous job, so as soon as I could retire, I did. I first got on the computer the year after that. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have known about the river travelers.

I came across Big River magazine on the internet in 2009 and learned that a group of travelers were paddling a canoe down the river. My son-in-law and I went to hear them talk in Baton Rouge, about 230 river miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. I offered to fix them a meal if they'd stop downstream at my place, at mile 149. They got here on the coldest day of the year, seven people in one big canoe. We had cooked a big jambalaya, and a gang of family members welcomed them. They slept in one big tent by the water, about a quarter mile from our house.

My whole family enjoyed that experience, so I started scouting the internet for people floating down the Mississippi, and I cleared out a camping space for them. Whenever I learned someone was coming, I tried to get in touch. One year I met about 40-some paddlers. We always chop some firewood to leave for our guests. We've taken them to the store, given them water; some of them have taken a shower and washed clothes at our house. I feel good when I can lend a helping hand to perfect strangers and become their friend.

I read about the “river angels” in the upper river who host a lot of paddlers. They're good-hearted, charitable people. It makes me feel good to be called a river angel, too. I'll do this as long as my health keeps up. We're Cajuns — we welcome people.

— As told to Mary Ann Sternberg

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