Monday, October 15, 2012

Jourdan River offers kayakers a challenge and some nice birding.

     Near Kiln, MS, a gin clear Bayou Bacon fans out inches deep over a tabletop flat, tan sand shelf.  The flow joins a slightly larger and cola-colored Catahoula Creek to form the Jourdan River, about 20 feet across here at the confluence.  Shrubs and small trees punctuated by the occasional tall pine tree crowd Bacon's bank, hiding the source of the clear flow from view.  But looking upstream at Catahoula the landscape is more open, the vegetation well back exposing lots of nearly white sand as if proud to display the pristine waters of the Catahoula at its center.
     Bacon and Catahoula flow through private land so both, and the land around them, are off-limits to the casual explorer.  But the confluence of the two creeks can be explored by the paddler--canoe or kayak--willing to make the effort to get there.
     Because all the land on either side of the Jourdan from Bayou Bacon to McLeod Water Park,  five miles down stream, is private, McLeod is the closest access.  There are no shuttles, no access across private property, no roads with bridges that cross upstream that could shorten the trip.  If you want to experience this little slice of heaven in Mississippi you have to paddle upstream for five miles.
     It's not that bad, really.  At McLeod the Jourdan is an estuary connecting to St. Louis Bay, off Mississippi Sound  Here tidal flows are measured in inches so there is little if any current.  And the current stays noticeably slack for about the first three miles toward Bayou Bacon; like a lake with dark, dark water.  Keep to the right after leaving the boat ramp then turn left as you enter the river.
     The scenery here is coastal flood plain.  Often there are marshes with cordgrass and wild rice, food for the many feeding, resting and migrating birds that visit the river.  The banks are low, with dense vegetation.  The rare sandbar is only a few inches above the river's surface.  But at at about the four mile mark, a slight current can be detected by looking at the upstream "V" formed by the flow around snags.  There are more sandbars here.
     The final push to Bayou Bacon begins about a half mile downstream from the confluence.  If your heart rate has not risen yet, it will now.  Paddling becomes labored and care must be taken that you don't loose your heading and are swept sideways to capsize on a snag.  But at this point the river really does look like a creek and it is beautiful.
     There are no signs of habitation the entire trip as this section of the river lies within the 212 square mile NASA  noise buffer zone, set up when the Stennis Space Center, a booster rocket testing facility was built in the early 1960's.  Landowners could keep their land but building on it was severely restricted.  Please respect the property rights of these landowners as you paddle the Jourdan.
     At the confluence there is a shady sandbar to stop, relax and have lunch before the trip back to McLeod.   Look for eagles.  How are your animal tracking skills?  Try to identify the many tracks in the wet sand at the sandbar. 
     The entrance to the park's boat ramp is easy to miss.  There are no signs.  If you pass a big sign warning of an underground pipline you have passed the entrance to the boat ramp.
     The water level in the river is fairly constant but can rise after rain on the watershed as the muddy leaves on the picture with this article attest.  A higher river means a faster current making a trip upriver that much harder or even impossible.  The only gage is near the river's mouth and that measures tidal fluctuations too.

Jourdan River Blueway

     About eight and a half miles of the Jourdan River has recently been named by the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain ( as a blueway.  The confluence of Bayou Bacon and Catahoula Creek--the headwaters of the Jourdan River--is mile zero.  There are mile posts along the river and occasionally every half mile.  They are set back a bit from the river's edge so look for them.  According to my GPS reading, up to mile post three the distances were spot on.  But milepost four appeared to be about a quarter of a mile short of the actual distance and this error was consistant until the entrance of McLeod.  A brochure about the blueway, with a map, is available at the land trust web site.  The map accurately posts the distance from the confluence to the park at five miles, actually about 5.1 miles.
     A word about motorboats and personal watercraft on the Jourdan.  WARNING!!!  The river below McLeod is a popular area for high-speed water sports.  The section of the river flowing past McLeod is posted a no wake zone.  But upstream there are no speed limits.  There are few snags here and it is not uncommon to encounter a speeding boat or more likely personal water craft--some PWC's are nearly as big as a subcompact car--roaring around a tight bend in the river.  Their wakes, if they do not slow down and some don't, can swamp a canoe or narrow kayak.  Stay out of the center of the river, don't wear ear buds, and if you have enough warning of their approach, turn your craft perpendicular to the wake waves.  Cool weather takes some of the PWC's off the river but I have been surprised by them in February.
     The blueway extends about three miles down river from McLeod but for the above reasons there is little to recommend this stretch to paddlers.
     Admission to McLeod is $2.  The single boat ramp (there is a double boat ramp too) is flanked by a grassy bank for those who need to launch composite boats.  The park offers full service camping and primitive camping.  In this case primitive really means primitive--each site has nothing, no table, grill or even a gravel road to it.  The bathrooms are a half mile away.  But at several sites you can be next to the river.   The telephone number of the park is (601) 467-1894.
     Hey kids!!!! Want to go to a big Halloween Party!!!  Talk your folks into taking you to McLeod Water Park for their WEEKEND LONG  Halloween party, this year set for October 20-21.  Sarcasm aside, the park's annual Halloween party is one of the few--but not the only--times the park is crowded in the fall and winter.  Most of the time in the months it is too cold to swim the park is pretty empty.  But if that is what you are looking for call to make sure.

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