Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trail Guide to the Delta Country, bicycling, hiking and paddling trips in Southeast Louisiana, now on the internet.

        The southeastern Louisiana chapters of the Sierra Club have long been dedicated to spreading the news about the wonderful opportunities there are to bicycle, hike, backpack and paddle in the New Orleans area.
       Spreading the news about outdoor opportunities available to area self-propelled travelers began in the early 1970s with mimeographed single sheets, hand-drawn maps and typed directions to top attractions such as Clark Creek in Mississippi and the newly minted Tuxachanie Trail in the De Soto National Forest just north of Gulfport, MS. The effort climaxed with the "Trail Guide to the Delta Country" last updated in 1992 and including about 80 adventures for bikers, hikers and paddlers in Louisiana and Mississippi. most no more than one or two hours drive from New Orleans.  Many, such as Jean Lafitte National Park are within the metropolitan area
        Edited by John Seveniar and illustrated by the late Jeanne de la Houssaye,  the 150 page volume has been out of print for quite a while now. 
         Until an updated edition can be produced (don't hold your breath) the New Orleans Group of the Sierra Club has posted the 1992 edition at their website lasierraclub.org.  At the site click on Publications then click on Trail Guide.  The entire volume is there, divided into two parts.  Part 1 contains maps and descriptions for canoeing the rivers, swamps and marshes and bicycling in the area.  Part 2 gives the same treatment to hiking and backpacking.
         It appears none of the entries have been up dated since that last major revision in 1992.  This is not a problem for every entry.  Many popular outings such as paddling the "whitewater" on the Okatoma Creek near Collins, MS or hiking the hills in Port Hudson, have not changed in the last nearly quarter century.
           But stuff happens and things do change.  The Pearl River Basin, almost ground zero for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was hit hard by the storm's winds which knocked down trees, changing the course of many familiar passages in the featureless Honey Island Swamp.  The Tangipahoa River entry is an example of how out-of-date some of the entries have become.  A wonderful paddle when the Guide was last published the river is still a wonderful paddle but there is almost no public access  now to get on or off it and outfitters come and go.
         A short stretch of the Tammany Trace, a paved trail for walkers, runners roller skaters and, cyclists with a parallel equestrian trail had been completed and opened to the public when Trail Guide was last published.  But now, in 2016, about 28 miles has been finished with plans to finally complete it to Slidell (by a different route).  The Longleaf Trace, a similar idea running 40 miles northwest from Hattiesburg, MS, to Prentiss, MS, was not even thought of when the Trail Guide was last published.
          Do your homework before trying any of the trails detailed in Trail Guide.  Visit the internet and make phone calls to verify the details of the 26-year-old resource before launching yourself on any of the trips in the book.  Join activity clubs such as hiking and paddling clubs with active members who have first hand and up to date information about the condition of trails featured in Trail Guide.
        While the passage of time has eroded the accuracy of some of the entries, Trail Guides is a valuable first stop when checking out what the area has to offer the self-propelled adventurer in southeast Louisiana.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Canoeing Wild Rivers; The 30th anniversary guide to expedition canoeing in North America," by Cliff Jacobson

       Ever wonder how paddlers who frequently venture into the really remote areas of North America deal with dangerous bears? (Don't hang food from a tree.)  Or how canoe tents or different?  Or where you should really be putting your ground cloth when pitching a tent?
        For expert answers to these pressing problems faced by the wilderness paddler, or even someone who just wants to get the most from a weekend of camping on a white Black Creek sandbar in Mississippi, get your hands on a copy of "Canoeing Wild Rivers," by Cliff Jacobson, (2015, FalconGuides), available at the Jefferson Parish Library.
          Many consider Jacobson to be the most expert of canoe/camping writers in the field of outdoor writing.  This is the fifth edition of Canoeing Wild Rivers, first published 30 years ago.
           The book can be enjoyed by paddlers from beginner to expert.  Jacobson peppers the book with incidents from a variety of experiences he has had making 42 trips on rivers in the Canadian wilderness.  He has also canoed many of the wilderness rivers in the US, often leading groups for weeks at a time miles and miles away from civilization.
            The book has long been considered the premier guide to canoeing and exploring North America's waterways.  But this should not be the only book in your library about canoeing.  To make room for the wealth of detailed information Jacobson includes on topics not often discussed in detail in other wilderness books, Jacobson omits descriptions of how to paddle and reading whitewater, essential skills for all paddlers.  These basics are commonly covered in "beginner canoeing" books.
            Instead Jacobson includes discussions on planning a wilderness canoe camping trip in Canada from who to pick as companions for the trip and which airplane to choose when flying to a remote put-in.  A wilderness guide, Jacobson includes detailed descriptions of how to rescue and repair a canoe damaged miles away from town and sound advice and fresh ideas for making camp more enjoyable and secure.
           Jacobson can get personal.  He writes openly about his love/hate for electronic devices such as GPS and satellite phones and how and why his opinions have changed regarding kayakers and rafters over the past 30 years.
            To help broaden the discussions and opinions, Jacobson includes advice from more than 25 of his fellow canoeing experts complete with their biographical info.  Of special interests to New Orleans area paddlers, Jacobson has included a new chapter devoted to paddling desert and swamp rivers.
          Canoeing Wild Rivers is definitely a book for the paddling enthusiast to have and to red and re-read often.
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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cypress Creek Campground in De Soto Natl Forest is closed and how I know that

      The campground at Cypress Landing in the De Soto National Forest south of Hattiesburg, MS is closed.  The small, remote and scenic primitive campground was flooded this spring and facilities there damaged when heavy rains raised the water levels in Black Creek, flowing along the site, 10-15 feet above "normal" spring water levels.
         The concrete boat launch at Cypress Landing remains open.  Camping and overnight parking is permitted on land immediately adjacent to the ramp but entering the closed campground is strictly prohibited, said officials at De Soto National Forest headquarters in Wiggins, MS.
         The landing at Cypress Creek, in the 501,000 acre national forest, is a popular access point for paddlers seeking recreation on the gentle sweet tea colored waters of Black Creek.  When the weather is warm, many boaters visit the creek's many sandbars to swim, camp, picnic or just goof-off.  A 20-mile portion of Black Creek has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the only river or creek in Mississippi so designated.  The creek also bisects a 5,000 acre federally designated Wilderness Area. 
         Black Creek flows through a "wet" county but alcohol is strictly prohibited in the national forest campgrounds.  Fines are considerable and rangers visit the campgrounds looking for violators.
       Damage  to Cypress Landing appears to be extensive as no date has been set for it to reopen.
       Other boat ramps and their adjoining primitive campgrounds remain open.  They are Big Creek Landing, Moody's Landing, Janice Landing and Fairley Bridge Landing.  These sites are very primitive; only Moody's and Janice has drinking water  The boat ramps and campgrounds are free. Along the river only the campground at Cypress Landing had a camping fee.  (There is a warm water shower there.)
       An updated trails advisory (601) 528-6180, says Black Creek Trail, a 41-mile hiking trail running along Black Creek and the shorter Tuxachanie Trail north of Gulfport are open but bridges may be out and the ground soggy in places.
       For more information call De Soto National Forest headquarters in Wiggins, MS at (601) 528-6160 weekdays 7:30 am to 4:30 pm.  The forest service does not yet post updated trail condition information on social media; you must call.
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Monday, February 29, 2016

Paddling Colyell Bay with the BHPC 02/28/2016

Members of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (BHPC) pause for a moment while exploring Colyell Bay, a few miles to the east of Port Vincent, LA.  Under warm and partly cloudy skies the group paddled for a few miles upstream of Louisiana highway 42 before paddling back to a private boat launch (launch fee $7)   The trip leader was veteran BHPC member Martina Ellis.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A winter paddle on the Jourdan River (MS)

Members of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club and the Mississippi Kayak Meetup  group joined on Saturday February 13, 2016 to explore the Jourdan River near Kiln, MS.  They are from left; Marti Scheel of Greenbelt, MD; Evelyn Almquist, Metairie, LA, Paul Braud, Baton Rouge, LA; Jack Curry, Jr., New Orleans, LA; Darlene Powell of Slidell, LA;  K.T. Ashley of Laurel, MS; and David Murphey of Bay St. Louis, MS.  Also on the trip were Portia Evans of Diamondhead, MS and Michael Beck of Baton Rouge, LA.

          A chilly breezy day with clear skies and bright sun greeted nine paddlers in canoes and kayaks as they launched from McLeod Park into the Jourdan River, February 13, 2016.  The trip was an outing of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (BHPC) that also attracted members of the Mississippi Kayak Meetup group.  The group planned to paddle upstream to the beginning of the river: the confluence of Catahoula Creek and Bayou Bacon, turn around and paddle back to the park.
          Given the name Jourdan River Blueway Trail, the five and a half mile stretch passes through the eastern portion of a 125,000 acre acoustical buffer surrounding the NASA rocket engine testing site at the Stennis Space Center.  The land flanking the stream is undeveloped, the result of an agreement between landowners and NASA in the 1960s when the space center was established.  Those with land within the buffer zone were allowed to retain ownership of the land with with the promise no permanent structures would be built and no camping would be allowed in it.
          For the first several miles upriver of the park the Jourdan R. is a estuary of Mississippi Sound.  It is broad and there is no current.  Several oxbow lakes connect to the river affording paddlers a chance to just drift in this haven for birds and wildlife.
          There are small signs, in half-mile increments, marking the mileage along the stream.  Mile 0 is at the confluence of Bayou Bacon and the slightly larger Catahoula Creek.  McLeod Park is about mile 5.5.  The markings continue to Bayou Talla, about 2.5 miles downriver from the park.
         The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, www.ltmcp.org, a private conservation group promoting the Jourdan River and several other coastal streams as "blueways" warns in their brochure and map of the Jourdan that the "Jourdan River below McLeod Park is a popular area for high-speed water sports, so remain aware!"
        Paddlers on this winter trip saw only one boat.  The trip ended up a round trip of about 6.5 miles, the group turning around about where the stream narrows and the slight current begins.  From where the group made their turn around the river becomes creek-like and the current increases.  It is not strong but it will require about 30-45 minutes of steady paddling by a paddler using a double bladed paddle to make it to the confluence. 
       Saturday's trip took a little less than four hours and that included a break to snack and recover after one SOT kayak capsized in water waist deep.  The unintended dunking was quickly taken care of.   After the paddler changed into the dry clothes he had in a dry bag the group continued upstream.  There were no other incidents after that.
          This was the first-time many of the paddlers on the trip had visited the Jourdan River despite the river being almost in their backyard.  (Two paddlers drove from Baton Rouge for the trip.)  Paddling the Jourdan River is one of the best kept paddling secrets in the area but if the praise this group had for the trip goes into wide circulation the river won't be a secret much longer.
           After the trip members of the group recharged with a delicious meal at the Dockside, 6061 Texas Flat Rd.,(228-344-3247) just off MS 43 and on the way to and from the McLeod Park.  Famous for dozens and dozens of snowball flavors the eatery also serves hotdogs, burgers fried seafood sandwiches, poboys and plate lunches in a small dining room or to be enjoyed on tables outside, all at very reasonable prices.  Beginning March the restaurant which serves lunch and dinner, will be open seven days a week.
          McLeod Park is a large park with both developed and primitive camping.  There are ball fields and pavilions too.  There is a $2 charge per vehicle to enter the park and no alcohol is permitted.  The park can become quite busy when the weather is warm enough for swimming.  Contact the park at (228) 467-1894.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Camping in the Old Style," looks at early 20th century camping practices


       
        Around the turn of the 20th century, when Americans took their first steps to preserve some of the wild and spectacular public lands at their disposal, camping in those lands became all the rage.  From crowded, dirty and polluted cities, throngs of greenhorns, taking advantage of the newly invented "weekend" to escape the drudgery of office or factory work, streamed into new and vast public wilderness parks to camp, canoe, hike and ride horseback breathing fresh air under bright blue skies.
        This was the Golden Age of Camping, roughly the years between 1880 and 1930, a time when some say more Americans went camping than at any other time before or since. In a time years before synthetic fabrics such as polyester and waterproof coatings such as GoreTex would make clothing and tents warmer, more waterproof and comfy than ever dreamed of, early sourdoughs did quite well battling the elements using the natural fibers available to them; cotton for tents and wool, skins and fur for clothing.  The practice of woodcraft--skill and experience relating to matters in the woods--often satisfied the need for food, shelter, water and warmth, when store bought gear fell short.
        First-person tales of adventure found exploring the mountains and great forests of North America, and told by experts of the time--George Washington Sears aka "Nessmuk", Daniel Carter Beard, Frank H. Cheley, Warren H. Miller and Ernest Hemingway-- inflamed  imaginations of the city-bound with stories of a trackless wilderness just over the horizon.  Hundreds of how-to and where-to-go guide books were published.  There were columns in magazines; newspapers carried advice on the latest gear, news of newly opening public lands.
         Urbanites in newly electrified cities with indoor plumbing read about the right way to cook over an open fire, to strip the lower branches of a small tree to make a mattress (bough bed) and how and where to pitch a tent.  No one wanted to look like a "chump" when making camp.
          Upper and middle class urbanites in the Gilded Age formed the vanguard of these woods worshipers.  Taking trains (there were few roads and fewer reliable vehicles) then hiring guides, gear and pack animals at their destination the urban upper crust explored the pristine mountains and valleys of recently established national parks in Montana, New York, Vermont and California.  Later the working class hit the road in their Ford Model Ts, stuffed with canvas duffle bags of wool clothing, blankets and cotton tents.
       But as new technologies brought about new, lighter, stronger, warmer and drier clothing and gear, the old ways faded from use.

Bringing the old ways back

          The publication of David Wescott's "Camping in the Old Style" in 2000 marked the beginning of the classic camping revival in America.  Wescott is a camping in the classic style evangelical, with little use for modern day fabrics and gear.  At times inferring that clothing and gear made from modern materials is "wonder-junk," Wescott proclaims that while replacing wool and cotton with synthetics is convenient, the knowledge required from working with nature rather than against it is lost.
         "The pioneers knew their clothing and how to dress--they survived for hundreds of years with fur, hide. and natural fibers.  We wouldn't be here now if it didn't work," he scolds.
         Wescott has updated his book for 2015, expanding it, including new pictures of the gear and techniques he advocates, revising some text.  It is published by Gibbs/Smith.  The book is mostly a cut-and paste-collection of excerpts gleaned from Wescott's library of more than 400 books written by outdoor writers of the time. When Wescott has something to say, his contribution is set in sans serif type to separate it from the quoted passages from writers of the past.
        The book is richly illustrated with black and white photographs of turn-of-the-century campers in action and drawings of techniques and gear used by them.  Augmenting this historical record is contemporary color photography of modern day re-encampments with participants in full period costume.  It is annoying that few of the illustrations, old or new, have cut lines (descriptions).
          Excerpts from seminal guide books in Wescott's library not only detail what gear was used and how, turn of the century outdoor writers were lavish in their encouragement to city dwellers to answer the siren's call and head to the outdoors to explore it.  Leaving fetid cities packed with humanity behind, to live close to nature, breathing clean, fresh air, even if only for a weekend, is described as, "the best vacation an over-civilized man can have," (1917).
           Some worried this might be the last chance to even see their country's spectacular natural heritage.  The 1890 census confirmed that the American frontier no longer existed.  There was concern to see it now before it's gone; gobbled up by rampaging industrialization.
          Some "outers" (experts) expressed surprisingly modern day concerns about what and how to pack.  Cutting down on "duffle" was a constant theme.  One turn of the century sage admonished city slickers "not to carry something 400 miles they were only going to use once," or "...it is well to guard against taking a lot of stuff that is likely to prove more weight than worth," (Nessmuk, 1884).  Weight is the issue for another sourdough who advises: "...an article must pay in convenience or comfort for the trouble of its transportation."
          Modern day "weight weenies" will be horrified to read one of the first backpacking tents weighed 23 pounds.  It was used in a 1864 solo attempt to summit the Matterhorn (14,692 feet) in the Pennine Alps (Europe).  Not all golden age of camping gear was heavy.  A tent made with Egyptian (long staple) cotton could be half that weight.   

Camping in the Old Style or "Glamping?"

          While the urge to explore America's newly accessible wilderness areas was strong, the urge to do it comfortably and with style was apparently stronger.  Excerpts from books written over a century ago, emphasize the genteel nature of camp life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  For his part, Wescott includes many contemporary color photographs of camp scenes showing spotless tan tents furnished with polished wood bureaus, folding director chairs and tables, all sporting shiny brass corners.  Heat for the drafty open tents came from iron stoves.  Many campers from that era would be quite at home with a group of contemporary "glampers," those who combine the glamor and comforts of a hotel with camping.  Much of the appeal of camping in the old style appears not to come from camping but from spending the time learning how to recreate the gear used a century ago and keeping it clean and polished.
          Fashion was every bit a part of the camping scene, just as it is today.  Bandanas, men and women wore some really big bandanas, were ironed after they were washed.  Ladies tending to the cooking over an open fire wore starched white aprons over ankle-length skirts topped with billowy blouses with mutton sleeves, at least in the color photographs.  Men and women both wore broad-brimmed Smokey the Bear hats or straw boaters.  Some of the men are wearing ties.
       Wescott is passionate about old style camping and wants you to be too.  Taking a page from a 1910 guide to youth camping, Wescott challenges today's tenderfoots (of any age) to become "Master Woodsmen." There are four grades beginning with the least experienced, Apprentice Camper.  Learning additional woodcraft skills will move a camper through the rankings of Journeyman Camper, Journeyman Woodsman then Master Woodsman. Those serious about it are encouraged to have a mentor.  The subjects are Firecraft, Cookcraft, Toolcraft, Ropecraft, Campcraft (Shelter and Bedding is separate from Campsite Campcraft and Gear and Clothing Campcraft) and three Fieldcrafts: Health and Safety, Navigation and Travel and Nature and Conservation.
        There are numerous inspirational quotes about how important a camping vacation, no matter how brief, is to restoring the soul.  "Camping has two purposes," writes Frank H. Cheley in "Camping Out: A Handbook for Boys," 1933.  "To make us acquainted with our own souls: and to renew our acquaintance with each other.  To camp badly is to frustrate both."
        Then there is the snarky comment by George Washington Sears, "Nessmuk" in 1884:  "Nearly all busy, hard-worked Americans have an intuitive sense of the need that exists for at least one period of rest and relaxation during each year, and all--or nearly all--are willing to pay liberally, too liberally in fact, for anything that conduces to rest, recreation and sport."
          Answering the call of the wild a century ago was not easy.  There were few trails and even fewer marked trails even at popular outdoor destinations.  Maps were poor and roads were often unsigned gravel or dirt tracts.  Anything you did not bring with you, you went without as there were no stores for miles.  This meant that even first-timers had to know what they were doing to avoid an unpleasant experience.
          The book is crammed with the outdoor lore of that age, a time when, for the first time in North America, camping became a recreation and not what you had to do because there was nowhere else to stay.  Today's camping dudes will be both entertained and enlightened by solutions early campers found to many camp situations faced by modern day "Nessmuks".  Advice on campsite selection, building a campfire, why to chose an ax over a hatchet (the longer handle of the ax makes it more safe) and how to whittle will ad enjoyment to any outdoor camping trip.
        Natural fibers, such as cotton in the construction of tent walls, floors and flys and wool used to make warm, water and wind resistant clothing, are carefully considered.  There are more tent designs than you can shake a tent stake at, once again proving there is nothing new under the sun.
        This is not an academic history of turn of the century camping practices in America.  There is a lot of "how-to" here.  But the emphasis is uneven.  Cotton tents receive a great amount of attention.  Coleman products, lanterns and stoves were developed during this time, but are hardly mentioned.  Canoe camping, in canvas covered wooden hulls toting woven pack baskets, gets a lengthy treatment.  I don't remember seeing LL Bean mentioned in the text. The focus is on style and recreating the period in intricate detail.  There is little social context in the book. 
        There is a primer on natural fibers and fabrics and a list of slang names for beginners: tyros, cheechakos, sagebrushers, dudes, duffers, crusters or sports.  Nimrods are hunters.  To finance cross-country hikes, "road tramping gypsies" would carry and sell postcards of themselves to curious fans they met on the road and in towns. 
        The book falls short of being politically correct measured by today's standards.  Most of the contemporary women pictured are either shown cooking or modeling camping costumes.  Excerpts from women writers are few though a few of the historic black and white photographs show women hunting or fishing.
           
          This book is available from the Jefferson Parish Library, though expect it to show up on the remainder rack at Barnes and Noble before too long if you are willing to wait.
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Friday, December 11, 2015

Fall color on Bayou Lacombe (LA)

Paddlers admire a bit of fall color on the banks of Bayou Lacombe in late November 2015
 
         A late November canoe trip on Bayou Lacombe revealed a colorful surprise.  On the banks near the water, amid a green forest of pines and broadleaf evergreens, grew several red maples, widely spaced, dotted with bright scarlet leaves, as if hung on the tree like Christmas ornaments.
          Scenes of fall color such as this, a solitary tree or two, their leaves aflame with the bright colors of fall, are not uncommon in southeast Louisiana.  But sometimes it is a surprise to see them.  Colorful fall displays of bright reds, oranges and yellow leaves are more commonly associated with colder climates and rolling hills than with warm and flat southeast Louisiana.  Here, most deciduous trees--those trees that lose their leaves at the end of the growing season--produce leaves that just turn brown and fall.
          The balmy late November day the paddlers were on Bayou Lacombe revealed a smattering of colorful exceptions.  The group launched at the Main St. boat launch in "downtown" Lacombe and were about a mile and a half upstream, at the edge of the Big Branch Marsh NWR when red and yellow leaves were was first noticed floating on the surface of the dark stream.
           "The red leaves were most probably from the red maples, one of the few native trees to produce the bright red you saw," refuge manager Daniel Breaux said later in a telephone interview.  "Or they could have come from the Chinese Tallow tree, an invasive tree species with leaves that turn red or yellow this time of year."
         The soil determines where a tree grows.  The torpid bayou is flanked mostly by pine flat woods; sandy soil, well drained and elevated, a favorite soil for growing pine trees. But deciduous trees prefer a more moist soil to grow in.  This is why fall color in the trees in southeast Louisiana is most likely to be found in swampy wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests and near the banks of streams and bayous such as Bayou Lacombe.
        Other trees along the Gulf Coast also signal the season is changing.  The star-shaped sweetgum leaf can turn red or yellow in autumn.  The American elm, a tree that can grow as tall as a ten-story building. can produce bright yellow leaves in autumn.
          The American Holly is often seen in northshore forests.  Its bright green leaves and deep red berries are popular additions to holiday decorations and table centerpieces.
          Evergreen trees have green leaves year around, hence the name "evergreen".  Most evergreens here are pines, their leaves are needle shaped.  But a few evergreen trees here have broad flat leaves which stay green through the fall and winter.  Live oak trees and southern magnolia trees are two of the best known examples of broadleaf evergreens down South.
          The opposite is also true.  Baldcypress trees have needle leaves but the tree is not an evergreen; each fall their needles turn a rust color and drop leaving the baldcypress branches bare.  A pine tree with brown needles is thought to be dying and it probably is.  But a baldcypress, its branches covered with brown needles that are soon to be shed leaving bare branches is just going through its life cycle and will grow new bright green needles in spring.

Sources:
Fountainebleau State Park Nature Trail Guide, revised by Rita McMurray, park naturalist, Fountainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA., 12/99.

More Info:
Rent a kayak from Bayou Adventure, 985-882-2908, to explore the bayou yourself.  The business, which also caters to fishermen, will deliver and pick up your rented kayak from the Main St. launch for no additional charge.
While paddling the bayou, take time to come ashore at the headquarters facility for the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Complex.  From the 110 acre site, eight refuges in southeast Louisiana are managed.  There is also a visitor center in a building that was once a chapel.  Inside is a wonderful museum with dioramas and interactive displays.  There is a gift shop too.  Paddle about a mile and a half upstream of the Main St. launch, look on river left for a mowed lawn sloping down to a narrow sand beach and dock.  Beach is hidden by hardwood hammocks so poke around to find it.   There is no sign.  Walk up the rise and continue past the law enforcement office about a quarter of a mile on a blacktop road to the visitor center.  Volunteers operate the museum and gift shop so call 985-882-2000 for hours and days of operation.
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