Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bogue Falaya: Bogue Falaya Park to Lee Rd. Bridge (LA 437)

 Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club members pose on a Bogue Falaya River sandbar just upstream from the Lee Rd. (LA 437) bridge, November 22, 2015.  A group of five paddled upstream from the Columbia St. Landing in Covington to the bar.  From left are Dirk Van Duym of Covington and the leader of the group; Evelyn Almquist, Metairie; Pierre Sargent, Baton Rouge and Gina DiVincent, Metairie.  The USGS gauge at the Boston St. bridge in Covington was reading 2.02 feet when the picture was taken. 

       For 28 miles the Bogue Falaya River flows in a southwesterly direction from the piney woods of Washington Parish to its juncture with the Tchefuncte River south of downtown Covington, LA.  It is shallow and creek-like most of this distance, running the color of caramel, taking the tint from the tannin that leaches into the stream from the pine forests that flank it.  Most of the river has been designated a "Natural and Scenic River" by the state.
       However, for much of the 19th century, the lower Bogue Falaya, was an avenue of commerce.  Covington, about 15 miles up the Tchefuncte and Bogue Falaya Rivers from Lake Pontchartrain, was founded in the early 1800s because the two rivers were deep enough most of the year for shallow draft vessels such as sailing schooners and small steamboats to navigate.  A landing was built at the foot of Columbia St., to handle the freight and passengers crossing the lake to and from New Orleans enabling Covington to become the transportation center and the economic engine for St. Tammany Parish.
          The vibrant and noisy wharves are gone now, replaced by a quiet park.  In modern times hubbub on the river most likely comes from recreational use.   Palatial homes built on high ground along the river's waterfront, many with docks and boat houses, are home to a wide variety of speedboats, ski boats and personal watercraft.  The waterway buzzes with motorboat traffic when the weather is nice.

A canoe trip is planned

           Except for those living in its immediate vicinity, the Bogue Falaya is not a favorite among paddlers.  Upstream, where the river is like a creek, winding and shaded by leafy tree canopies and too shallow for the motorboats to go, there is no public access.  Downstream of the river's only boat launch, paddlers must share the river with speeding motorboats, ski boats and personal watercraft. 
          Dirk Van Duym loves to canoe.  Born into a canoeing family, the Covington architect has spent his spare time in the years since exploring the streams and bayous of Southeast Louisiana and beyond, sometimes confidently going by himself, at other times in the company of like-minded adventurers.  On these trips he is almost always paddling his sleek lightweight, cream-white, handmade in New York state, solo canoe.
        Early in November, Van Duym had an urge to go canoeing on the Bogue Falaya River, a stream he paddles occasionally because of its convenience.  (Van Duym's favorite canoeing venue in the parish is Cane Bayou.)  Portions of the river in Covington are on track to be mapped and signed creating the parish's first "blueway" or paddle trail and some time had passed since the veteran paddler last explored it.   He especially wanted a fresh impression of the stretch between the Bogue Falaya Park upstream to the Lee Rd. (LA 437) bridge, a stretch of the historic waterway less likely to be invaded by speeding powerboats.
          A member of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club, (BHPC) Van Duym posted notice of his upcoming trip on the BHPC calendar.  He described a trip slightly different from standard BHPC outings:  It was billed as a "social trip."   And paddlers would be going upstream working against a current for half of the trip.  (The trip was out and back.)
        While all BHPC trips are, at their core "social," trips, some trips require more skill, stamina and specialized gear than others.  Leaders rate their trip's difficulty based on the distance to be paddled and the skill and experience needed to control a canoe or kayak in the expected conditions.  In BHPC Speak "social" means a benign trip where everyone is welcome, even tyros in borrowed boats with only a passing interest in paddling.  No one is left behind.  Gear or paddling skill are not issues.  Just be sure to wear a life jacket.  And if not a BHPC member bring five dollars to cover your insurance.
        Van Duym's outing plans even included docking at a riverfront restaurant for a late lunch before taking out.  The trip was expected to take about four hours at most.
         Paddling upstream is commonly thought of as going the wrong way, even by experienced paddlers.  Because most paddling trips are on creeks and rivers with currents too strong to overcome when paddling against them (even a sluggish flow of just one mile an hour can require significant effort to overcome) paddlers have to resort to tedious vehicle shuttles to complete most paddle trips on moving water.
         But based on two previous trips, Van Duym found the Bogue Falaya's current to be tame enough for paddling upstream.  His goal for the group was to paddle upstream about two miles to the Lee Rd. (LA 437) bridge then float back to the restaurant.  But this objective was not set in concrete:  If at any point the current became too strong to master easily, the group would turn around, Van Duym promised.
          The seven-day weather forecast ahead of the trip could not have been more inviting: blue skies and cool temperatures.  A prediction of rain earlier in the week did not appear to be much of a problem.  Nine paddlers expressed interest via email.
           But as the trip drew closer the forecast for Saturday changed to grey clouds with light rain followed by the coldest temperatures since March.  Surprisingly, the mid-week rain raised the height of the river to over five feet, quickening the current considerably, bringing the chocolate brown, silt-laden river to the edge of its banks.
           Paddlers contemplating an upstream paddle on the Bogue Falaya should look for a water level of 1.75 feet or below at  the USGS gauge on the Boston St. bridge in Covington to have at least a fighting chance of making it upstream to the Lee Rd. bridge. Water levels higher than 2.30 can create currents of two miles per hour or more, too fast for even a strong paddler to overcome for long.
         After the rain stopped, and the sun came out Van Duym emailed frequently about the slowly falling water levels.  A "Plan B" was proposed.  The trip roster shrank.

Evelyn Almquist heads downstream on the Bogue Falaya River north of Covington, LA., Nov. 21, 2015.  She was part of a group of five members of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club exploring the river, on tap to be included in the first blueway or paddle trail planned for St. Tammany Parish, the Three Rivers Paddling Trail.

Launching into history   

      Before the Civil War, timber, naval stores, bricks, cotton, cattle and produce from land-locked forests and farms as far away as Mississippi and Alabama were hauled by wagon to the Columbia Street Landing for shipment across Lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans and markets beyond.
        But after the Civil War, (town officials voted to remain loyal to the Union but sympathies of the townspeople were with the new Confederate nation), hard times came to Covington.  A rapidly expanding network of railroads began providing both a cheaper and quicker alternative to shipping by water.  But there was no railroad to Covington.  Business from moving freight on the Bogue Falaya River dried up.
        Finally, in the late 1880s a spur railroad from Slidell reached Covington connecting the town with New Orleans.  The northshore, long known for its healthful pine-scented environment and mineral springs, now boomed with tourism.  The train trip from New Orleans to Covington took only two and a half hours, each way.  People began to commute.  Pictures taken about the turn of the 20th century show sailing schooners and steam packets competing for space at the landing.
        The wharves and bustling commerce they enabled are long gone.   A plaque and a small, quiet park, often used for low-key outdoor concerts, commemorate those commercial heydays of the last century.  The bare clay stevedores trod toting bales of cotton a century or more ago is now a lush green and groomed lawn surrounded by tall trees.  A nice place for a picnic.
          Five paddlers, two using kayaks and three in solo canoes, gathered at 10 a.m. at the landing and prepared to launch.  The weather was a mix of good and bad; an oppressive grey sky that looked like it would pour rain at any minute balanced by mild temperatures and no wind.
          The USGS gauge in Covington had fallen, that morning measuring 2.27 feet on the still murky river.  About a foot higher than the last time he made the trip but still low enough to make an attempt, Van Duym said.  The trip was on.
             At this water level there was no sandy beach at the landing exposed.  The grass and clay bank met the water directly and was as slick as melted butter.  Trying to avoid an embarrassing and drenching capsize, paddlers briefly became comedic contortionists to get situated in their tippy craft.  Safely away from shore everyone dug their paddles into the brown water and settled into the rhythm of the trip.  Next stop- Lee Rd. bridge!

Are we there yet?

         Passing under the Boston St. bridge, the high US 190 bridge a few yards upstream and under some power lines the group made good headway.  Here the river is about 30 feet wide and almost free of stumps and blow downs.  (Which is a mystery as post cards from the late 1890's show Gilded Age ladies dressed in long dresses shaded by frilly parasols canoeing a Bogue Falaya River clogged with much more debris than in it now.)
          Very few structures are visible from the river, a couple of houses maybe, most of them well back from the water.  Here the river flows by the muddy banks of a flood plain.  A dense covering of squat, woody shrubbery grows down to the water's edge and there is a smattering of pine trees.  This stretch of the river has an open feeling, the still air faintly smelled.
         It was only a hundred years ago that the last of the easy to reach, slow growing hardwoods and tall, old growth pine trees growing here were harvested and cut into lumber, sent by water and rail to shipyards in nearby Madisonville or to New Orleans to become homes.
          Vegetation hugging the banks is still green, lush.  Fall is a fleeting and brief season in this part of Louisiana and it really has not been cold enough long enough to kill anything yet.  When this trip was made there had not even been a night of frost on the northshore.  There was a light frost a few days later.
         The current began to make its presence felt about where the Little Bogue Falaya comes in from river left.  Paddling became labored as the water surface wrinkled into little "Vs" pointing upstream when flowing past a stump or stick in the water.  Keeping parallel with the current and maintaining headway was harder.  Failing to maintain forward motion against a current means a boat can quickly be swept sideways and pushed downstream.  If swept into a stump or blow down water piles up against the upstream side of the boat swamping it.  An unsuspecting paddler can be dumped in seconds.
          As the group nears highway 437 the scenery begins to transition from bottomland hardwood forest to upland pine.  As a result the small river becomes more like a large creek.   Paddlers are now churning a translucent stream the color of strong, sweet tea, squeezed between steep, dark loamy banks with more trees, less undergrowth.  Some taller trees grow at an angle, nearly meeting, their crowns forming a leafy canopy over a quickening but quiet stream.  It is pretty here.
         But the paddlers are too busy paddling for sight-seeing.   Paddling against an ever stronger current, hearing the traffic noise from the highway at their goal motivates the tired boaters to stroke harder.  At the bridge paddlers flail against the stiff current struggling to pass under the narrow concrete span.  Once upstream Van Duym directs the group to a slack-water pool and sandbar--the first sandbar they have seen since leaving the muddy slippery launch in downtown Covington.
          Despite the tenacious grey skies the gloomy weather seems to brighten a bit as paddlers step out of their boats onto the coarse tan sand to stretch and rest.  They made it.
         Standing on the narrow sandbar, Van Duym made a big reveal.  Up by the road and out of sight, was the lot where the first house he designed once stood.  Viewing Google Earth on his computer he saw that the house must have burned to the ground recently, leaving only a charred scar, he said.
          The group, having attained their goal, was anxious to head back.  After a brief rest they slid their boats back into the water happy to be hurried downstream by the current, now in their favor.  Somewhere near the Little Bogue Falaya, the group passed two boys fishing, one in a kayak-- the only people the group saw during their time on the river.  The boys said that the river can be busy with kayak traffic on weekends if the weather is nice.  The river as been designated a Scenic River by the Louisiana legislature.
          Several times a light drizzle would prompt the paddlers to don rain gear only to have to take it off a few minutes later when the rain stopped.
           With the current in their favor the five slightly damp paddlers made it to the restaurant dock in about an hour.  On the restaurant's back deck, chilled but pleased with their accomplishment, the quintet warmed to a repast of seafood and red beans and rice washed down with cups of hot decaf coffee before launching again for the quick paddle back to Columbia St. Landing and the drive home.

"Covington" by David Arbo, 2011.  A book in the "Images of America" series published by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina.
The plan was to launch from the Bogue Falaya Park but a festival in the park closed it to paddlers. The put-in was moved outside park boundaries a few dozen yards upstream  to the Columbia St. Landing.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Paddling the Abita River Nov. 4, 2015

On the Abita River in St. Tammany Parish (LA) about a mile east of the US 190 bridges, Bob Satterlee of Madisonville and Karen Christ of Covington paddle past old growth cypress draped with Spanish moss.  Parish officials are considering tagging the river a "blueway" to encourage recreational use of the stream.
by Jack Curry Jr.
        The winding Abita River flows just 9.3 miles SSW from its creek-like headwaters east of the town of Abita Springs, LA to its broad mouth on the Bogue Falaya in Covington.  The river, designated a "Natural and Scenic River" by the state runs through a remote flood plain in St. Tammany Parish providing paddlers a surprisingly tranquil wilderness experience in the middle of one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana.
          The river is a navigable waterway, open to the public, providing access to a lovely wetland having no terrestrial public access.
         The river will be a treat for casual paddlers and nature lovers.  After only 15-20 minutes or so on the water paddlers will find themselves surrounded by a bottomland hardwood forest unsullied by modern man-made development.  Paddlers say they have seen deer in the upland pine forest on the high ground.  There is no current for quite a way upstream so an out-and-back trip of several miles, at least up to the US 190 bridges, is easy.
      Figure a trip from the launch to the bridges and back to take about two hours.  
      Access the mouth of the Abita River by launching into the Bogue Falaya from the boat launch at the end of 4th St. in Covington.  The launch area is small and busy with people launching boats and personal watercraft from trailers.  For those paddling canoes or kayaks with tender hulls there is a patch of grass near the water.  For everyone else the concrete ramps are fine.  Launch and park for free.  There is no drinking water or restrooms at the launch. Vehicles without trailers can use the four or five parking places next to the river.
       From the launch paddle to the right or downriver.  After the first bend turn left into the Abita River.

A living Louisiana post card

       For the first mile or so on the Abita's left bank there are a few lavish lawns leading up to large homes built on high ground.  The right bank, most of it taken up by a Tulane University research center, remains wild with thick vegetation growing down to the water's edge.
       The muddy, grassy banks of the stream, the color of army green, looks like alligator habitat to me. Surprisingly, I don't see any.  Along the banks and in the shallows of streams closer to Lake Pontchartrain the toothy, grinning reptilians are often seen sunning on logs malevolently eyeing humans paddling past.  Maybe if we were on paddle boards, and a much easier to access snack, we might have flushed a couple of the clandestine carnivorous lizards .  I just hope no one living in those nice homes on the high ground thinks it is cool to feed them--if they are there.
        There is no public land accessible to to paddlers the length of the river both because all the land on both banks is privately owned and the dense vegetation of woody shrubs and stickers grows to water; a natural defense preventing anyone leaving their boats and climbing up the short steep and often slippery banks.
         The thickets are, of course, excellent habitat for a variety of wild creatures who have continued to live their lives as if humans and their developments did not exist.  Bird life is plentiful.  Sometimes a pretty good sized fish, maybe an alligator gar, will jump making a splash that shatters the otherwise placid setting.  A couple of times the river's winding channel splits to pass around a soggy island dense with reeds and woody tangle.
         Paddlers lose the serenity of the wilderness briefly as they pass under the US 190 bridges, assaulted by the noise of the thundering traffic above.  But as paddlers continue upstream the noise recedes very quickly, apparently soaked up by the verdant surroundings.  Soon paddlers will find themselves serenely drifting amid old growth baldcypress festooned with mats of grey Spanish moss; a living Louisiana post card.
          Even this far up the short river, about an hour's travel time from the Covington launch, the river is still wide enough for paddlers to navigate around the few trees that have been blown into the stream bed.

Even the benign Abita River is not without hazards.

       Benign as paddling on the Abita R. is most of the time, be aware of a few dangerous situations.
       The most dangerous situation comes right after leaving the launch in Covington.  Immediately downriver from the launch a no-wake zone ends.  Captains of speedboats, ski boats and personal watercraft often as large as sub-compact cars, hit the gas at this informal "starting line."  Paddlers looking for the entrance of the Abita River should exit the center channel of the Bogue Falaya as soon as possible staying close to the river's left bank as they seek the partially hidden entrance to the Abita River's mouth.
         There is no United States Geological Survey (USGS) gauge on the river making it difficult to determine water levels in advance of a trip.   Low water levels may not be a big deal; snags and blow downs may require more steering to avoid but considering the negligible current this is not a problem even for beginners.  A big advantage of exploring the river starting at its mouth is if it becomes too shallow to be fun you just turn around and paddle back to the launch.
         But at higher than normal water levels the river is downright dangerous.  The river is prone to flash flooding, becoming a muddy torrent after even a brief heavy rain.  Water levels can rise very quickly creating a dangerous fast current and the steep banks make escape difficult.   Do not paddle the Abita R. without knowing the latest weather forecast and stay off of it if it is muddy.
         It can seem the Abita River is two rivers in one.  Starting at the mouth the river is deep and fairly broad, 15-25 feet wide in most places. But upstream, at the town of Abita Springs, the river is an inviting creek, flowing the color of iced tea over a shallow sand bed you can step across.   The channel appears to be free of debris as far as the eye can see.  That is the problem.  The winding river does not allow you to see very far.  That makes launching into the river at Abita Springs a bad idea.  How much of the river will you float before you come to an impenetrable log jam?  Walking a canoe or kayak back up stream is not fun.
         I don't know where the easily paddled stream I experienced November 4, 2015 changes to a twisting, narrow and shallow creek.  But somewhere between the US 190 bridges and the town of Abita Springs the "two" rivers join.  The trio I was in exploring the creek turned around about where the picture opening this post was taken.  Yet even here the current was hardly noticeable.  Looking at the USGS topo map (Covington Quad) later it looked like another mile or so of easy paddling was possible.
          As with any adventure always let someone know where who are going and when you expect to finish.  Put anything that cannot get wet in a dry bag or container.  Pack as if you will capsize suddenly at any moment.  You might.  Bring rain gear on every trip no matter what the weather is or forecast to be.  And do you need to be told that you and your children must wear life jackets when on the water?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Algiers Pt. to Gretna levee bicycle path

The Algiers/Gretna 4.7 mile paved multi-use path.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bay St. Louis (MS) to Waveland bike path

 Looking east from wide concrete path between S. Beach St. and Mississippi Sound connecting Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  The path is about four and one half miles long with parking at the Washington St. boat launch in Bay. St. Louis and the fishing pier in Waveland.
       It's finally October!  Already there have been a couple of weekend mornings with temperatures in the low 60s; that kind of dry, feel good air not felt since April.  Alas, as summer lingers in the South well past Columbus Day there will be more hot, sticky days in the next few weeks but at least there will be fewer of them.
       The arrival of these occasional days of clear, crisp weather are an invitation to spend some time lazily bicycling through the coastal Mississippi towns of Bay St. Louis and Waveland.  These two adjoining small beach towns fronting Mississippi Sound can be easily explored using self-propelled, two-wheel transportation.   Almost all attractions; eateries, specialty shopping and museums in the two towns are within a few miles of each other and can be accessed using narrow but quiet residential streets or by riding a 4.5 mile paved path along the beach.  Bicycling to the county's two casinos requires some cycling on two lane roads with moderate traffic.
        But it's BYOB (Bring Your Own Bike) if you want to bicycle tour in Hancock Co.  Fall is off-season so it will be hard to find a business renting bicycles there.  Heck, its hard to find a bicycle to rent there in the middle of the popular summer season.
        If you are comfortable riding with car traffic on a narrow two lane with no shoulders, check out Beach Blvd.  From one end of the road at the mouth of the Jourdan River it's 12 miles to the Silver Slipper Casino overlooking the Sound.  All along the way are a variety of marine vistas from the dunes tufted with sea oats swaying in the breezes to the wetlands alive with shore birds near the mouth of the river.  This main road also fronts Buccaneer State Park with its popular wave pool.  This is a great early Sunday morning trek.
         The Bay-Waveland Beach Trail is a 4.5 mile paved path that parallels S. Beach Blvd. One end begins at the Washington St. Pier in Bay St. Louis.  At 2.7 miles it passes the Waveland Pier and runs almost two miles past it west to a dead end.  Join S. Beach Blvd. to continue riding west.
         Take some time to get off the trail and ride up Coleman Ave. into "downtown" Waveland.  Bay St. Louis and Waveland were ground-zero for the fury of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  A storm surge nearly three stories high came in from the Gulf of Mexico and smacked into the two towns. Buildings and homes were reduced to rubble and splinters-- many well inland from the shore--especially in Waveland.  Note the large parcels of open land fronting S. Beach Blvd.  Before August 29, 2005, there were homes on those lots.
        An historic brick schoolhouse, the only building left standing on Coleman Ave. after the storm, has been restored and serves as a museum that tells the story of the storm and of the heroic effort of those living through it to rebuild the town.
        Back in Bay St. Louis, make your way from from the Washington St. pier (boat launch,  bathhouse and parking) to Depot Row on Blaize Ave. using Beach Blvd. and Union St.  Across the street from the row of restaurants and shops is the historic L & N Railroad Depot.  Built in 1928, the two story mission style depot was a busy place years ago when "The Bay" was a vacation destination for summer fun seekers from New Orleans, 60 miles to the west.  Recently restored, the white depot with the hot pink trim, is now the home to the Depot Visitor Center and the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau.  Phone 228-463-9222 or 800-466-9848.
         At the Depot you can find the Old Town Bay St. Louis Historic Walking and Biking Tour brochure, valuable for locating other attractions in Bay St. Louis.
      Much of "This Property is Condemned," a 1966 movie based on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams, was filmed in Bay St. Louis.  (A little of the movie was also filmed in New Orleans.)   It featured a young Robert Redford and Natalie Wood in starring roles.  Ask about the many buildings seen in the film that still exist.  The Star Boarding House, featured in the film, has been restored and is now the home of the Bay St. Louis Little Theatre.
        If your ride is on a Sunday check out the Jazz Brunch at LuLu Eats, 126 Main St., 228-466-6620.  The live music packs the place on Sunday so call early to let them know you are coming.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Possum Trail resurfaced with crushed stone yet still a hazardous bicycle ride

The Possum Walk Trail, from the historic Logtown town site to NASA's Infinity Science Center, was recently resurfaced with crushed stone.  The trail attracts birding enthusiasts from around the US.  Next year visitors to the Science Center will have the option to explore the trail riding in electric trams. (Picture taken October 3, 2015)

(Note: The Roadkill Run scheduled for October 10, 2015 was cancelled.)

          In Hancock Co. MS,  the Possum Walk Trail opened over a year ago as a graded dirt trail connecting the cemetery at the historic Logtown town site with the parking lot at the NASA Infinity Science Center 3.2 miles to the northeast.  To ready the trail for electric trams that will carry Science Center tourists on nature treks on the trail in 2016, work began resurfacing the dirt trail with crushed stone in September.  By Oct. 3 the work on the trail has progressed to the point users are now allowed back on the trail, though a short stretch near the boardwalk at the Logtown end of the trail still needs to be graded and resurfaced.
           While the dirt surface was fine for walkers, runners, equestrians and the occasional golf cart, the soft dirt made riding a bicycle on the trail dicey.  Even bicycle wheels with fat tires would sink into the powdered dirt making it difficult to steer without falling.  Bicyclists had hoped the new crushed stone surface would open the trail to bicycle use by providing a harder surface to ride on.
           The new surface is worse than the dirt.  The coarsely crushed stone sits loose, like gravel, providing less traction for a bicycle tire than the dirt.  And falling on the crushed stone could be more painful than falling on the dirt.
         Not only is the new stone surface a hazard to those on two wheels, the loose stone presents a risk to those on two feet.  Hikers, walkers, and trail runners should be careful when treading the shifting stone surface.  Eventually the crushed stone will be pounded into the dirt underneath by the tires of the electric tourist trams, (and other motorized vehicles using the trail), smoothing the surface. Until then footing on the loose rock is iffy.  If planning to walk the trail, popular with birdwatchers, be sure to wear sturdy shoes offering good ankle support.
         The trams themselves could be a hazard when they are introduced next year into the mix of trail users.  A tram ride will be included with every admission to the Science Center--adults $12.  The trail is not that wide.  Trams will have to be equipped with a warning device to alert walkers who will have to move to the edge of the trail and walk single-file to allow the tram to pass. The trail may be wide enough for two trams to pass abreast but it will be a tight squeeze.  Other trail users will probably have to step off the trail to allow room.  And how often will the trams run?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Covington, LA rivers may become "blueways."

A pontoon boat cruises past the shore of the Bogue Falaya Wayside Park in Covington, LA.  The park is one access to a proposed "blueway" (paddle trail) that would include portions of the Bogue Falaya, Abita and Tchefuncte rivers.
        The area where the Tchefuncte, Bogue Falaya and Abita Rivers converge in Covington, LA., is closer to becoming St. Tammany Parish's first blueway or water trail*.
         The latest draft of the Three Rivers Paddling Trail map was shown to about 30 St. Tammany residents and others, September 17, 2015, at the Christwood Retirement Center.  The meeting was the latest in a series of public meetings to gather feedback on the proposed blueway.
          The proposed map runs the trail down river on the Bogue Falaya River to its confluence with the Tchefuncte River and then up to First Avenue Park. The latest draft extends the trail on the Bogue Falaya upriver from Bogue Falaya Park.  On the Tchefuncte the trail is extended past First Avenue Park.  There is no access to the river at First Avenue Park but blueway supporters hope a kayak ramp can be built there.  The Abita River, which flows into the Bogue Falaya is also included as a blueway.
          Supporters say a map of a signed water trail will encourage canoe, kayak and paddle board enthusiasts to visit the streams for recreation.  Also they hope the map will be a tool for environmental conservation and spur development of  more public access to the three rivers.
       Opinions given by participants of previous meetings and the observations of experienced paddlers who have recently traveled the rivers are helping map the route.  The project is under the direction of the St. Tammany Parish's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and is receiving assistance from The National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA).
       The project will serve as a model for developing similar trails in the rest St. Tammany Parish, Wensel Conroy, St. Tammany Parish's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism director told the gathering of paddlers and others from as faraway as New Orleans an Houma.
       The group also heard from Rick Wilke, a Land Trust for Louisiana board member who said the private conservation organization came up with the idea of a blueway in the Covington area several years ago.

Paddling the Bogue Falaya River (LA); Two miles of it anyway

by Jack Curry Jr.          
        No need to wait for a "blueway" map to launch a canoe, kayak or paddle board into the three waterways under consideration for inclusion into the Three Rivers Paddling Trail.  They can be paddled now.  The Bogue Falaya, Tchefuncte and Abita rivers are attractive and easy to explore.  
          The lack of a current at normal water levels on the stretches of the three rivers under consideration for the blueway make out and back trips easy.  No shuttle needed.
        The scenery is typical south Louisiana: bottomland hardwood forest wetlands fringed with tall pine trees on the high ground.  And urban too.   Large developed waterfront lots, many with boat docks and boat houses are spaced by a jungle-like shoreline of tall pines and dense undergrowth; a scenic and peaceful place to fish, watch birds or just goof off.  
         When the weather is warm, all manner of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and even inflatable rafts can be seen drifting on the broad section of the Bogue Falaya River between the Bogue Falaya Park and the Menetre boat launch at the end of Fourth St, two river-miles downriver.
           The waterways under blueway consideration are also popular with motorboat owners.  Between the park and the Menetre launch the river runs through several "no wake" zones calming the speeds of the variety of speedboats that like to travel the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers.  But elsewhere on the Bogue Falaya River, except for upstream from the park where the river is normally too shallow to run an outboard motor, there are no speed limits.  A plethora of speed boats, ski boats and personal watercraft can be heard hitting the gas as soon as they clear the last "no wake" zone and head down river from the Menetre launch, many on their way to Madisonville or Lake Pontchartrain ten miles away.
          The exception to this waterborne Indy 500 is the Abita River where few motorboats venture far upstream because trees have fallen into the river blocking part of the channel.  There are also a few hard to see black stumps in the channel.
            Paddlers looking to spend as much time in the water as in their boats may be disappointed that while the dense vegetation growing to the water's edge might be pretty, it makes access to the banks very difficult and stepping out of a boat unwise. Downriver from the Boston St. bridge in Covington there is only one sandbar: the "beach" at Bogue Falaya Park.  No swimming is permitted along the park's long shoreline and because the park closes at night there is no camping. 
          On the Abita River there are no sandbars where most paddlers are likely to go and none on the Tchefuncte River on the stretch favored by blueway planners.

Public Access 

          Access the Bogue Falaya River at Bogue Falaya Park near downtown Covington or at the boat launch two river-miles down stream at the end of Fourth St, (Menetre boat launch).  This launch also provides public access to the Abita River and to the Tchefuncte River.  At First St. Park  there is a covered deck overlooking the Tchefuncte R. but no access to the water there.
      At Bogue Falaya Park, paddlers can carry from the parking lot about 50 yards to the water and launch from the sandy bank there. 
         From the park paddlers can go upstream or downstream.  Upstream is the wilder stretch with thick woods growing to the water's edge.  There is little evidence of human habitation.  With each paddle stroke upstream the current strengthens as the water becomes shallow and assumes the tint of Southern sweet tea.  Depending on your stamina sooner are later you will have to turn around and float back to the park.  There is no public access to the Bogue Falaya upstream of Bogue Falaya Park.
          Leaving the park and heading downstream paddlers will likely have to share the broad river with motorboat traffic.  Paddlers may see a nicely restored classic wooden runabout or a family packed onto a pontoon boat for a weekend excursion but not much really fast marine traffic.  There are several "no wake zones" in this stretch to slow hotshots down.  The trip to the Menetre launch from the park is two miles, one-way.
         At the Menetre launch there are several concrete boat launches, a smallish parking lot and a covered bench.  No water or restrooms but the launch is free.  Canoes and kayaks with tender hulls can be launched from the grassy shore.
         To avoid high speed motorboat traffic after leaving the Menetre launch go upstream (turn left).  Or veer right (downstream), cross the Bogue Falaya as quickly as possible to get out of the way of motorboat traffic there and on the east bank of the river look for the mouth of the Abita River, a bend or two from the launch.     
        This junction can be fun to explore.  Drift among the marsh grass islands and peer at the shoreline hard enough and you might see a relic from the time steamboats brought freight and passengers up the Bogue Falaya R. from New Orleans to Covington.
         The Abita River flows through a flood plain devoid of human intrusion, a surprisingly wild trip considering it is in the middle of one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana.  Definitely a destination for nature lovers, bird watchers and solitude seekers.  It may be the only one of the three rivers under consideration for blueway status that actually deserves it.  (see Paddling the Abita River Nov. 4, 2015 in this blog.)
          As of fall 2015, finding a kayak, canoe or paddleboard to rent to use on these three rivers will take some time and effort.  There has never been a viable canoe livery in the area, though canoes were rented when the Bogue Falaya Park was a state park years ago.  Today the closest kayak rental is in Lacombe, LA at Bayou Adventure.  Massey's Performance Outfitters rents canoes and kayaks but only at their Mid-City New Orleans location. There are no public liveries on any of the three rivers in the Covington area.
          Most canoeing guide books published in the last twenty have ignored the waterways in the proposed blueway.  Neither the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers are even mentioned in the seminal "Canoe Trails of the Deep South," Estes, Carter and Almquist, published almost 25 years ago and long out of print.  "Trail Guide to the Delta Country," Sevenair, last published by the New Orleans Group of the Sierra Club in 1997 and also out of print, does not mention the Bogue Falaya but includes a section of the Tchefuncte above US Hwy 190 (which is accessible only occasionally) as a "grim warning" of the high bacterial levels that can exist in a stream draining dairy farming country.
       However, in the excellent "Canoeing Louisiana," Herndon, 2003 and still in print, Summit, MS author Ernest Herndon takes the opposite tack.  Herndon gushes that the five miles of Bogue Falaya between LA 21 (E. Boston St.) and its confluence downstream with the Tchefunte is "glorious," citing the mix of hardwood forests along the banks and "grassy lawns reaching back to beautiful houses," as the attractions.
         All of the AbitaBogue Falaya and the Tchefuncte rivers--a little over a hundred miles total--are included in the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1970.
        The river has its moods.  The day I paddled the Bogue Falaya between Bogue Falaya Park and the Menetre launch, a USGS gauge at the E. Boston St. bridge was reading 1.76 feet.  At this level the water lapped a short steep sand bank at the park and exposed a narrow sandbar.  In the picture above, a pontoon boat is motoring upstream toward the Boston St. bridge.
         But the river can get much higher.  In May of 2015, a gauge reading of 6.52 feet, just above flood stage, brought flooding into the park.  September, thirteen years ago, saw water levels rise to a disastrous 14 feet.  Gauge readings can also go into minus numbers during very dry periods.
Parking for vehicles without trailers at the Menetre Park boat launch on the Bogue Falaya River at the end of Fourth St., Covington, LA.

 *Blueways aka water trails, are what canoe trails, float trails and paddle trails used to be called; smaller rivers, creeks and streams with features that appeal to paddling boaters such as; pretty scenery, lack of motorboat traffic, good fishing, public land for overnight camping, or just a place for goofing off away from common urban distractions. Establishing a "blueway" on any public body of water does not confer any legal status or special protections or exceptions.  Anyone can call any stretch of water anywhere a "blueway".


Sunday, September 20, 2015

It's not official: The Lafitte Corridor bike path (New Orleans) is open

The paved path in the Lafitte Corridor as it crosses Jefferson Davis Parkway in New Orleans heading north.

        A 2.6 mile paved path passing through several neighborhoods between the French Quarter and City Park, is open.
          The path runs through the Lafitte Corridor, a skinny park or greenway beginning at the north border of the French Quarter in New Orleans at Basin St. Station and ending at Alexander St. three blocks from City Park. There is parking at Basin St. Station but none at Alexander St.
          Near the French Quarter the park is wide and there are ball fields and play areas near a public housing development.  The corridor narrows after passing Broad St.  The view of the derelict industrial area between Broad St. and Jefferson Davis Parkway is softened by freshly planted landscaping.  There are lights along the length of the trail though some residents have lingering concerns about security.
          Riders connecting the French Quarter with Mid-City and City Park also have the option of using the striped bike lane on Esplanade Ave.  The striping stops about two blocks from the FQ leaving riders between a narrow traffic lane and solid on-street parking but there seems to be be more two wheel traffic using it than the Lafitte Corridor.
         Maybe people don't know the Lafitte Corridor Tail is open.  There has not yet been a ribbon cutting signaling the end of construction. yet people have been bicycling and walking it for about two months now.  Almost every day or so workmen add something to it; a sign here, a fence there, a sprinkling of vegetation.
Can you find the blinking yellow lights?
Note:  Expecting those little flashing amber lights to have any influence on the drivers traveling busy four and six-lane streets and avenues crossing the trail equals crazy here in New Orleans.  As often noted in the Times Picayune, drivers here have long been proud of their reputation of ignoring crosswalks, striped or not.  The amber flashing lights, (which, by the way, are hard to see in the daytime anyway) at the intersections of the trail and Carrollton Ave., Broad St., Jefferson Davis Parkway, Galvez St. and N. Claiborne are next to useless in stopping two or three lanes of approaching motorized traffic so you can cross.  (Any driver stopping is probably from out of state.)  Crossing the street when a car is coming is very dangerous.  Wait until there is no traffic before crossing these busy streets.

         There is a deep crack on Broad St. a right angles to the path just as you come off the path heading north.  It might spill a rider on a bicycle with skinny tires into traffic.
           There is still landscaping work to do flanking the asphalt trail.
         Several businesses of interest to bicyclists cluster near N. Carrollton.  A high-end outdoor clothing retailer also selling camping gear and kayaks, sells bicycles and offers repairs.  A bicycle shop, with an entrance off Toulouse St. backs up to the trail next to the post office.  Neither shop rents bicycles.  Two grocery stores with deli's and outdoor seating share the trail's property line.
        Near the N. Carrollton intersection is a shopping center with a few trendy, inexpensive franchise eateries.  (You can get your nails done too or buy a phone)  You and your friends can celebrate your ride by having a burger, beer, tacos or frozen yogurt on the raised patio there.