|Five kayaks beach at the confluence of Catahoula Creek and Bayou Bacon to form the Jourdan River in Hancock Co., Mississippi.|
A paddle trip on the lugubrious but scenic blackwater river, designated a "blueway" by The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain (LTMCP), had been posted on the Mississippi Kayak Meet Up site for at least a couple of weeks. But I didn't make the decision to drive the hour or so from New Orleans to the park put-in until the morning of the trip. Hank Baltar, a Gulf Coast native and property manager, birder and fly fisherman had posted on the Internet the night before his intention to get an early start on the trip and "explore." I introduced Baltar to the stream's quiet beauty in April and on that day the Navy veteran and soon-to-be certified kayak instructor dubbed the stream his favorite.
Internet sites for both the South Coast Summer Fest (see below) and the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club, the long standing canoe and kayak club for South Louisiana, listed the event so it was no surprise that there were over two dozen canoes and kayaks launching at the park's east boat ramp that morning.
I missed the "early" start by about half an hour, so by the time I got underway, Baltar, and three other long boat paddlers; Barry Mends, Jim Rusch and Nancy Phillips, were long gone. I had my work cut out for me if I was going to join their group. Luckily it was a glorious morning for a workout; blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds and a gentle east wind rippling the water's surface.
The Jourdan can seem like two completely different streams depending on where you are on the river. The lower Jourdan is an estuary of St. Louis Bay to the south, so it is subject to a slight tidal flow but has no real current. From the park to where the river empties into the bay, the broad, lake-like Jourdan is a playground for speedboats, water skiers and personal watercraft.
But about three river miles upstream of McLoud, the Jourdan begins to narrow. Each paddle stroke requires more and more effort to maintain forward motion. In the water around stobs and stumps tell-tale "V's" pointing upstream confirm what a paddler's aching arms and shoulders suspect: there is now a current to fight. To stop paddling, even for an instant, meant a sudden stop, floating motionless for a moment or two then a drift backwards.
After paddling non-stop for nearly a hour and still no sign of the lead group, I resigned myself to the fact that I was living the old Chinese curse; that I had gotten what I had wished for. I began to paddle with greater intensity and resolve, leaving in sepia colored stream waters evenly spaced little whirlpools where my paddle blades had been.
With the increased effort came increased scenic beauty. The river had become creek-like with a series of 180 degree turns, each rounding a pristine white sand beach backed by an unbroken forest of pines and hardwoods. No noise from the surrounding highways and roads intruded on the scene and that while the land flanking the river is private, it lies within the NASA's Stennis facility protective zone set up decades ago so there are no man made structures to be seen, only trees, beaches and water.
The feeling of wilderness is enhanced by the absence of visitors. While the water in the Jourdan and its major contributor, Catahoula Creek are deemed navigable by the state and so are public, the land flanking the two streams is private. Floating downstream with the current to McLeod is not possible because there is no public access to either Catahoula Creek or the Jourdan River upstream of McLeod.
Paddling upstream from McLeod is no day at the beach and takes the power of two strong paddlers in a tandem canoe or a committed kayaker to make the five miles to Bayou Bacon. Even those in boats with motors generally avoid the waterway's upper reaches because the shallow water there is strewn with propeller-eating stumps and downed trees.
(One does not have to paddle far up the river to enjoy it. There are several sandbars just a mile or two upriver of McLeod that make great destinations for sunning, lounging and swimming in the river.)
Finally after several promises to myself that if I don't see them at the next bend I'm turning around, I see their yaks pulled up on a sandbar at the confluence of Bayou Bacon and Catahoula Creek, the official headwaters of the Jourdan R.
(This point is 0.0 for mileage markers placed downstream by the LTMCP.)
After a break, a little chit-chat and some fly fishing by Hank and Jim, the group of four, now five, pushed off to see how far up Catahoula Creek they could paddle.
(In the picture Hank is holding a fish he caught with a fly he tied himself. The fish would fit on a dollar bill with room to spare.)
Progress is slow into the gentle but persistent current of the shallow creek. Only about a foot deep, we could see through the nearly clear water to the stream bed where each paddle stroke raised a plume of tan sand from the bottom. After about a mile of determined stroking everyone agreed the creek had won so we decided it was time to head home. But not before taking a break to cool off lounging in the shallow tannin-tainted waters of Catahoula Creek on a warm early summer afternoon.
SINCE YOU ASKED...
2nd Annual South Coast Summer Fest, June 13-22, southcoastsummerfest.com. A 10-day celebration showcasing coastal Mississippi's waterway and local culture. Small festivals, tours of local rivers and bayous and promotion of kayaking as a sport with free kayak rides and classes make up most of the events. Some events have fees, some do not. The fest winds up in Ocean Springs, MS Saturday, June 22 beginning with a duathlon (2 mi. run, 2 mi. kayak, 2 mi. run), kayak rides and kayak classes, ending with a twilight paddle to Deer Island and an overnight camp out. A collection of award-winning film shorts now touring the country, featuring paddling adventures from around the world will be shown daily for the duration of the Fest at the Biloxi Visitor Center, 1050 Beach Blvd., Biloxi beginning at 11 am. Free. Visit the website for location.
McLeod Water Park, 8100 Texas Flat Road, Bay St. Louis, MS, phone: 228-467-1894, has about a half dozen tandem canoes for rent at a reasonable rate. There is a $2 entry fee into the park. No alcoholic beverages are allowed in the park, owned by the Pearl River Basin Development District and operated by the Hancock Board of Supervisors.
The closest kayak rentals are in Bay St. Louis at Bay Breeze, phone, 228-466-3333 or visit baybreezecoastal.com. According to their website, they also rent single speed, coaster brake cruising bicycles for $7.50 a day, an astoundingly low daily rate.
A map of the Jourdan River Blueway is posted at the website of The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, www.ltmcp.org. The water trail extends from Bayou Bacon downstream to Bayou Talla. Because the Jourdan River is a popular destination for power boaters and personal watercraft operators, paddlers should probably limit their exploration of the river to up stream of the park and to avoid paddling in the center of the river especially in warm weather when there is lots of boat traffic. The river through the park itself is a no wake zone