Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hunting season tips for hikers

This sign, at the trailhead in Clear Springs Recreation Area, is good advice during hunting seasons which generally stretch from September though February.  White-tailed deer began in October and will end by January 31, 2014 in the Homochitto National Forest and February 15, 2014 in De Soto National Forest..

        Hikers here in the South look forward to the late fall and winter when the weather turns crisp and cool.  So do hunters, their seasons for taking, birds, small game and white-tailed deer coinciding with the days hikers and mountain bikers favor for their recreational pursuits on public lands.
       Is there a risk to those who want to bike and hike on a trail surrounded by hunters?  That is a tough call based on national statistics gleaned from the Internet recently, mostly from sites that do not support hunting.  It looks like each year there are about 1,000 hunting injuries and from that about 100 fatalities.  Most of those were hunters themselves and mostly younger.
        As tragic as these numbers are, it appears that hunting or being in an area with hunters, is statistically much safer than the drive to and from a hunt/hike/mountain bike ride.  In the U.S. more people die in one year in automobile crashes than the total number of deaths from yellow fever in the history of New Orleans.
        What level of risk these stats present to you as a hiker or bicyclist out and about in public lands during hunting season is for you to determine.  Those unfamiliar with hunting would do well to follow these suggestions found in the "Mississippi Outdoor Digest 2013-2014", a free publication from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.  Following these tips may lower your risk of becoming a hunting accident statistic when hiking or bicycling on public lands that permit hunting, such as national Forests, national wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas.  Taking these precautions also shows respect for the hunters sharing this precious outdoor resource with you.
        Trail users should know the local hunting seasons by the type of game hunted and the weapon used.  Birds and small game are usually hunted with shot guns or small bore rifles. These weapons are often used to shoot relatively short distances, their muzzles pointed up when hunting birds and arboreal mammals.  White-tail deer, on the other hand, are hunted with rifles shooting a much larger caliber bullet capable of traveling much farther before it hits something. Visit for specific hunting season information.
       Wear a hunter orange hat and vest.  And a hunter orange pack cover if backpacking.  There are hunter orange shirts, socks, hoodies, polypropylene skivvies and fleece jackets--all kinds of clothing in bright orange--if you want to augment the basic hat and vest.  Also, it may be obvious, but don't dress like a deer.  Avoid a brown hat topped with a white pompon or other white and brown clothing during deer season or red or blue during turkey seasons.
       Make sure you are heard before you are seen by whistling, singing, talking (to yourself if you have to) while on the trail.
       Avoid peak hunting times such as the opening day of a particular hunting season or early mornings/late afternoons or during holiday periods.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spotlight shines on long ignored Potkopinu Trail in southwest Mississippi

Hikers on the Potkopinu Trail near the Natchez Trace Parkway.  The south trailhead and parking area is south of Cole Creek picnic area at mile post 16.8.

       A hike on the Potkopinu Trail in southwest Mississippi is a walk in the footsteps of history.  The three-mile fragment of the original 450-mile Natchez Trace, the major transportation and communication corridor through the "howling wilderness" that was the Old Southwest, is in about the same condition it was in the early 1800's when thousands walked the historic dirt path from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN.
       That is to say it is beautiful and scenic but, in places, a rough walk.  Potkopinu is the longest stretch of "sunken" historic Trace remaining, say historians with the Natchez Trace Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service managing both the trail and the nearby 444-mile greenway with a two-lane highway in the middle.  "Sunken" in this case means the deep ravines worn into the soft loess soil by the labored plodding of thousands of travelers returning to the Ohio Valley by foot or horseback after trading expeditions to New Orleans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
        Some sunken sections are narrow with nearly vertical walls rising 20 feet above the heads of walkers picking their way along the rutted gully floor.  Others are wider, like miniature valleys, the floor strewn with clay boulders and shallow ledges that challenge even surefooted hikers.  Beards of dark green moss cover the walls in some places.  In others the tawny loess soil is exposed, the smooth surface rudely defaced by a gnarled tree root jutting from the wall or even a whole tree trunk angling skyward, punching its branches at the sun.
        The elevation change from sandy wash to ridge top is about 150 feet at maximum but most ups and downs are less than that and gradual.  That does not mean modern day Trace travelers will not be hearing the sound of their own heavy breathing a time or two.
        One sound hikers will not hear is the noise of traffic intruding from the near by Parkway.  None of it penetrates the dense woods surrounding the trail.
        Sometimes the trail climbs to forested ridgelines or drops through hardwood groves to cross broad, sandy, shallow streams, the clear trickling waters etching a braided path across the tan sands. To maintain historical correctness there are no bridges at stream crossings.  True enough, the water in the creek can rise high enough to require wadding across but only after heavy rains or periods of wet weather.
       The Natchez Trace began as a trail blazed by Indian tribes to facilitate trade among Indian nations living along it--the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw.  Later European explorers in the 17th century found the rugged path was easier to walk back north than fight going upstream against the strong currents of the Mississippi River in dugout canoes.
       The Trace experienced a boom of traffic after about 1790.  Raucous boatmen, aka, "Kaintucks," would float the great rivers to New Orleans in keel boats or flat boats loaded with lucrative cargo from the Ohio Valley, then, after arriving in the city, sell everything and walk home on the Trace.  The trip took weeks.  A teenaged Abraham Lincoln is said to have made the trip twice.
      The Trace was important during the War of 1812.   Andrew Jackson led his Tennessee Volunteers home on the Trace after beating the British in the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815, the most victorious of his several trips on the Trace.
        Postal service began on the Trace in 1800, post riders braving the elements and outlaws to make up to three deliveries a week until the service was discontinued in the 1830's.  The silhouette of a brave post rider on horseback adorns NPS signs along the parkway. 
       Traffic on the Trace quickly tapered to a trickle after steamboats began regular runs from New Orleans to as far north as Pittsburgh beginning in the early 1820's.  The one-way up river trip from New Orleans to Cincinnati took 16 days in the early days of steamboats compared to up to two months of walking or riding horseback on the Trace.  As steamboat technology improved travel times on the river quickened, attracting more and more passengers.  By 1840 the Trace was all but abandoned.
      You can be forgiven if you have never heard of such a beautiful and historically significant trail. Until recently there were no signs on the parkway or MS 553 pointing out the path's trail heads or parking lots and it was not drawn on the Parkway map distributed to visitors.
       If you knew about it at all, the information probably came from an entry in the book "Hiking Mississippi: a Guide to Trails and Natural Areas," by Helen McGinnis, published in 1994.  McGinnis considered the trail to be the wildest trail along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
       It was from McGinnis' book that Al Troy, a retired engineer and veteran hiker now living in St. Francisville, LA learned of Potkopinu, then known as the Old Trace Trail.
       At first, Troy found hiking Potkopinu a rough row to hoe.  There was little if any reason to maintain the Trace for 190 years and it showed.  Over the years, numerous trees had fallen across the trail making hiking through the sunken portions especially difficult.  Crossed by a tangle of ATV trails and walking paths used by locals, the trail was hard to follow when not tracking one of the sunken sections.  About 20 years ago, a Boy Scout troop blazed the trail by nailing tin can lids painted orange to trees but these did not last long.
Al Troy
       Troy became Potkopinu's unofficial champion in Louisiana.  For 20 years, he has worked to publicize the trail beginning with leading Sierra Club members from south Louisiana through the trail in 1993, drawing his own maps of the route.
      Troy was not alone in wanting to see Potkopinu rehabbed for visitors.  About 10 years ago, Greg Smith, scenic resources coordinator for the Natchez Trace Parkway, began pushing to make "the most pristine section of the historic Trace," ready for prime time.
        In 1983, five unconnected sections making a total of 60 walkable miles of the historic Trace, including Potkopinu, were designated as a National Scenic Trail by Congress.  A map of Potkopinu is available at the NPS Natchez Trace Parkway website--navigate through "Things to Do" then "Hiking."

       Apparently the days of neglect are over for Potkopinu.   Last spring big brown signs went up on the parkway pointing the way to the south trail head and its small parking lot and on highway MS 553 denoting the north trailhead's parking area, Smith said.
       Recently youth with the Southwest Conservation Corps spent two weeks clearing Potkopinu of large mature trees that had fallen, blocking the sunken trail.  Crews with chain saws cut the logs, some more than two feet in diameter, into chunks and pushed them to the side clearing the path.   Numerous trail markers, flat brown slats about four feet high with arrows pointing out the way, now make it almost impossible to lose the trail.
        But that is about as far as improvements are going to go, Troy said he has been told by Parkway officials.  He said he frequently talks to Natchez Trace Parkway management about the trail and said the trail, except for maintenance and the trail markers, will be left as untouched as possible to preserve it as it looked and felt 200 years ago.
       Smith said the historic Trace between the Potkopinu and Mount Locust, a restored historic inn about a mile to the south, is in federal hands but there are no plans now to extend the trail to the inn.
       Midday one warm and partly cloudy Saturday in mid-November, Troy is standing in the parking lot at Cole's Creek picnic area of the Natchez Trace Parkway greeting stragglers from the Louisiana Hiking Club's annual trek to Potkopinu.  It is the first time he has seen the trail since the clearing work was done and the trail markers were installed.  He is clearly pleased his fellow club members have enjoyed the hike.
        "I love this trail.  It is a beautiful trail and I love showing it to people.  I don't know why the park service ignored it for so long," Troy said.

If You Go:

       Coles Creek Picnic Area on the Natchez Trace at mile post 17.5 is 181 miles northwest of New Orleans, LA      
       The headquarters for the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo, MS can be reached by calling 662-680-4027 or 1-800-305-7417.  For computer users, is the web site for the Natchez Trace Parkway and www.nps,gov/natt is the website for the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.
       The marauding bands of bad people robbing, stealing and sometimes murdering Trace travelers 200 years ago are gone but hiking Potkopinu still has its hazards.  The onus is on you to be careful.  Remember that the goal of the National Park Service is to keep the trail conditions as close to the conditions faced by travelers on the Trace two centuries ago.  So it is a rough trail in places.  The trail is rutted and uneven, especially in the "sunken" ravines.  You must step over debris on the trail there and be prepared to lean forward and "ape walk" up some of the steeper sections.  Sturdy footwear is recommended.  No bicycles or horses allowed on trail.
       There are no bridges over the streams.  These streams may swell after a day or more of rain requiring some wading but normally they can be walked across with little risk of wet feet.
      The trail is flanked by private property open for in-season hunting.  White-tailed deer season runs from October thru the end of January.  If hiking during hunting season wear copious amounts of bright hunter orange, don't hike the trail early mornings and late evenings.  Do sing lustily or make other loud human noises when on the trail so hunters hear you before they see you.  Or wait until hunting seasons are over in the spring.
     Hiking the trail in summer exposes you to a world of biting and stinging insects, the most common of which are chiggers, ticks and mosquitoes.  There is beaucoup poison ivy.  Poisonous snakes-rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths--rarely are found along the Trace but just the same watch where you put you hands. There is no water at either trailhead.  Get drinking water at Coles Creek picnic area where there is a restroom too.  The parking area at the south trailhead, off a gravel road leading north from Geoghegan Rd., is too small for an RV.  Park at Coles Creek and walk due east.  Turn right at the gravel road and walk south to the trail head.  Or begin your hike at the north trailhead 1.3 miles east of the parkway on MS 553.
       Fit hikers will want to make the trail a six-mile out and back trip, stopping for lunch along the way.  Figure taking less than three hours to hike it round-trip, more if you take breaks.  Stay in the area after the hike to explore exhibits sprinkled along the Parkway explaining the history and geology of the historic Trace.  Don't miss Mount Locust, a restored home used as a "stand" (crude 19th century inn) built in the 1780's.  Or with the rest of the day, mosey on in to the city of Natchez to check out the opulent plantation homes there.  Or visit the Natchez Historical Park Visitor Center.  There is a gift shop there.   
       Hungry and on a budget?  Stop by Pig Out Inn Barbeque, 116 Canal St. for some fine and sloppy barbecue.  Sandwich, two sides and a drink, $10 plus tax. Phone 601-442-8050.
       Camping?  The closest public camping is Natchez State Park.  This is another park that takes the "primitive" part of "primitive camping" seriously.  The site is shady and has a few sturdy picnic tables but there are no numbered sites, tent pads, fire rings or bathrooms.  Get potable water from the developed campsite bathrooms.  $13 per tent.  The park is "dry" (no alcohol) as all Mississippi State Parks are--at least on paper.  The park also offers modern cabins, some with fireplaces, (no TV) and developed camping.  The vibe in the park is low key, kind of quiet.  The large lake is for fishing; swimming is not allowed.  Also there is not much for young children to do in the park so you won't see, or hear, a lot of them in the campgrounds.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Richardson Creek Trail in Homochitto NF

Looking at a waterfall on Richardson Creek from the Richardson Creek Trail in the Homochitto National Forest.

 The Clear Springs Trail Complex      

       Rangers in the Homochitto National Forest, in southwest Mississippi, report that most of the visitors to the Clear Springs Recreation Area and its small campground are from Louisiana.
       Not a surprise, really.  Hikers and mountain bikers from the flat lands of south Louisiana are drawn to the 25 miles of rugged paths through the wilderness there.   Elevation changes of 120 feet or more take hikers up and down steep root-strewn trails carved into the sides of heavily wooded ravines; a challenging terrain often compared to the foothills of the Smoky mountains in Eastern Tennessee or the Ozark mountains in Arkansas.
       Fall is a favorite time for the cult of the self propelled to visit Clear Springs.  Just a forecast of brisk weather is promise enough for hikers and bikers in the New Orleans area--dreaming of a chilly evening around a glowing campfire sipping a steaming mug of hot chocolate--to pack their boots or bikes for the 150-mile drive to the campgrounds (both primitive and developed) at the recreation area.
       The 10.8 mile Talley's Creek Trail, the first trail in what is now known as the Clear Springs Trail Complex, was completed in the late 1980's.  But it was little used by the hikers it was built for.  As luck would have it, the sport of mountain biking was just becoming popular across the U.S. and Talley's became ground-zero for off-road bicyclists from south Louisiana.  The only really hilly trail within a reasonable drive of New Orleans, riders quickly became buddy-buddy with Homochitto management, helping with trail maintenance, (which benefited both hikers and bikers) and organizing races.  Now more than 20 years later the trail is still one of the top rated mountain bike trails in the Southeastern U.S.
       Two newer loop trails-- the 5.6-mile long Mill Branch Trail and the 7.4 mile long Richardson Creek Trail--share a trail head, parking lot and bike wash with Talley's.  A one-mile long easy trail loops around the 12 acre lake, the centerpiece of the recreation area developed as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project in the 1930's. 
        (Everything you do in Homochitto costs something so be sure to visit the honor box before hiking, biking or camping there.  Day use is $5 per day.  Camping is $7 for primitive and $20 for a developed site with water and electricity by the 12 acre lake.  Parking areas are monitored by park staff so be sure to have that pink tag hanging from your rear view mirror before you leave your vehicle to hike or bike.)
     The trails can be combined to make loop trails of various lengths and all are open to mountain bicyclists and hikers.  Horses and motorized vehicles are prohibited.   All-weather forest service roads crisscross the trails providing a bailout option if necessary.  Opinions differ on each trail's level of difficulty.  All three are physically challenging and distinctions among them would be hard for hikers to discern.  For most trail users, the trail's length determines its difficulty.
       Homochitto is also popular with hunters who enjoy hunting seasons for one animal or another from October through May.  Trail users should take full precautions when on the trails during any hunting season.  Wearing lots of hunter orange is a must.  In the 2013-2014 hunting season, white-tailed deer are hunted in the Homochitto N F between October 1 and January 31, 2014.  For more information about hunting seasons in Mississippi and non-resident license and permit requirements, track down a copy of the "Mississippi Outdoor Digest" a glossy, full color free publication by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.    
       In most cases hikers can expect a challenging and dry hike.  Bridges span named creeks and intermittent creeks.  Stepping stones dot low, damp sections so wet feet are only a problem after periods of heavy rain.  Each trail tracks through a variety of environments from piney ridge tops to hardwood forests flanking sandy creek bottoms.  Frequently trails descend into shady "coves" with ferns clinging to vertical clay banks sheltering little creeks splashing over logs and ledges.
       The elevation change can be 140-150 feet in the extreme.  While the ups and downs are usually more moderate than that, they are constant. There is very little level ground on any of the trails so even the very fit will be challenged hiking here.  Figure a pace of about two miles an hour without stops for an average person in good physical condition on a day hike for exercise.
        From the trails hikers can view deep into the forest as undergrowth is sparse; the Forest Service maintains a periodic proscribed burning schedule in Homochitto.  Look for the charred pine tree trunks as evidence.   Short sections of high grass and bushes apparently not touched by the protective fires appear occasionally.
       The scenery is fall-like but not spectacular.  Hikers expecting the intense color of an autumnal tableaux in New England will be very disappointed.   The leaves of most of the deciduous trees in Homochitto just turn brown, usually by the end of November.  However windy days in Clear Springs can bring the sound of rustling dried leaves in the tree crowns.  A constant but sparse fluttering of leaves from the high branches carpet the trails with yellow and brown and, every now and then, a splotch of crimson.  That, with the crisp kiss of frosty air on bare cheeks, makes a hike in this southern forest a pretty good time.
       All good times need good food.  When hanging out at Clear Springs, the closest, dependable sources of good food are a busy grocery store and small country restaurant at the "T" intersection between Meadville and Bude on highway US 98.  Both were open the Sunday I was there.  This intersection is about five miles from the turn off from US 98/84 to Clear Springs Rd.  A service station/small truck stop on  Meadville's west side on highway US 84/98, a divided highway is a source for snacks and fried chicken.  There is a "meat and three" restaurant serving dinner (the mid-day meal) only, near the courthouse in Meadville, the county seat of Franklin County.  There may be other feeding options the day you visit so ask around.  But the food service biz is probably tough in a town of less than 600 people, so it may be best to leave New Orleans with everything you intend to eat on the trip. 
        There are soft drink machines in front of the bathrooms in Clear Springs.  

Richardson Creek Trail

Finding your way

        A fine map of the Clear Springs Trail Complex is sometimes available at the trail head just ahead of the honor fee box at the entrance to Clear Springs Campground.  The map is also available on line.  I met a guy on the trail who was following the Richardson Creek Trail on his smart phone.
       On the map, each of the four trails is marked a different color: Talley's Trail, yellow; Mill Branch Trail, navy blue; Richardson Creek Trail, red and Clear Springs Lake Trail, purple. 
       The trails are not blazed the traditional way with strips painted on trees.  Here, triangular signs at trail intersections match the colors on the map.  Each triangle also has a different letter of the alphabet.  Match the color and letter on the trail sign with the color and letter on the map and you know where you are.
       Between junctions there is little to guide you but the trail itself.   Occasionally a red, blue, yellow or purple diamond-shaped blaze, will be nailed to a tree but these are few and are not that helpful as they do not mark direction changes.  But most of the trail is worn into the forest floor from hiking boot and lugged mountain bike tire traffic so it is not that difficult to find your way if you pay attention.

Measuring the distance

        The Richardson Creek Trail, by itself is 7.2 miles long.  But a portion of two trails, the Talley's Creek Trail and the Mill Branch Trail, must be used to complete the loop with the trail head.  The total distance is ten miles.  Same way with Mill Branch.  The Mill Branch loop is 3.8 miles but to connect it to the trail head requires an additional 1.8 mile out and back walk making the total hike 5.6 miles.
       Sometimes diamond shaped blazes nailed to the trees along the trail identify these connecting trails by just their name, sometimes by just the root trail name--in this case, Richardson Creek and sometimes with both names.  The signage is most confusing when following the Richardson Creek Trail on its Mills Branch section.  When hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, at the Richardson Creek Trail/ Mills Branch Trail junction, turn LEFT.  After you walk for a while you will see a confirming red Richardson Creek blaze nailed to a tree.
       Also look to the left to rejoin the Mills Branch Trail when crossing FS 187 and look to the LEFT again when crossing FS 187 a second time, when traveling the loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

Map Error

    Talley's Creek Trail is shown on the Clear Springs Trail Complex Trail Identification and Distance Map as passing north of FS 104E where the primitive campground is.  Talley's Creek Trail actually passes just south of the primitive campground on its way west to Richardson Creek.  It is much easier to start the Richardson Creek Trail from the trail head than try to find it from the primitive campground.

 "And up from the ground come a' bubblin' crude"    
           The primitive camping at Clear Springs ($7 per night), is nice but...primitive.  Sites are strung out along FS 104E nestled in a grove of big pine trees.  Each site is numbered and each has a large fire pit/grill.  Again..primitive is taken seriously here.  The closest toilets are in the developed campground about a half mile away.  The showers have hot water and the bathrooms are heated.  And while you are there be sure to replenish your drinking water supply.  There is no drinking water at the primitive campground.  The one picnic table that was there in March is now gone.
        On the plus side, there is access to Talley's Creek Trail, from the campground's western most camping sites and if you have a good sense of direction you can connect with Richardson Creek and see the little waterfall on the creek.  This is a short, family hike but you pretty much have to find your own way.
        The worst thing about the primitive camping has nothing to do with the campground or even the national forest.  It is the noise from the pumpjack (nodding donkey) about a mile southwest of the campground.  Much of the national forest sits on an active oil field and there are many other pumpjacks in these woods.  I didn't notice the low rumbling noise of the pump jack  when I set up camp that afternoon but all that night and the next night I could hear it.  It sounds like someone in a vehicle stuck in the mud or deep gravel spinning their wheels trying to rock themselves out of the hole.  Every two seconds.  But they never make it.  Ever.
       There are about two dozen developed camping sites with water and electricity near the lake that are $20 per night.  This is a very beautiful, small campground and usually fills up on holidays and weekend, when the weather is nice and weekends during hunting season.  There are no reservations: first come, first serve.  No alcohol is permitted in the campgrounds (sometimes law enforcement will drive through checking for scofflaws) and pets must be leashed. 
       In the summer the 12-acre lake opens to swimmers.  But it's fall now, bringing cool temperatures, crackling campfires for warmth and a chance for a fine hike without dissolving into a sweaty puddle.  Enjoy it while you can.
Richardson Creek Trail is shown in red.  To complete a loop hikers must also walk a portion of the Mills Branch Trail and the Talley's Creek Trail which become de facto extensions of the Richardson Creek Trail.

 How to get to Clear Springs from New Orleans

     From New Orleans, take I-10 west to I-55.  Drive to Summit, MS (just north of McComb) and turn west on US 98, a two-lane.  As you near Meadville, turn left (the sign says Meadville) at the "T" intersection on US 98, then left again right after crossing the overpass over US 98/84, a divided highway to head west on US 98/84.  Drive west about four and a half miles and turn south on Clear Springs Rd.  Look sharp for this intersection and its left turn lane!  There is a sign but it is not big.
     Clear Springs Rd. dead ends at Clear Springs Recreation Area after about four miles.
     For more information telephone the Homochitto National Forest at (601) 384-5876.  On the internet visit:  If visiting the national forest on a weekday during business hours stop in at the headquarters at 1200 Hwy 184 East in Meadville, MS 39653 to get the latest information on the trails in Clear Springs.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ramsey Springs access to Red Creek (MS) now open

Red Creek (MS) between City Bridge and Ramsey Springs

Paddlers again have access to Red Creek at Ramsey Springs.  A concrete ramp to the shallow but broad Mississippi stream tinted the color of caramel and redolent with large white sandbars, has been built upstream, river-right off MS 15 about 25 miles north of Biloxi.  Red Creek was tagged "one of the premiere canoe camping streams in the Southeast," by the authors of  the book "Canoe Trails of the Deep South" published over 20 years ago.
       The creek is considered floatable beginning at the MS 26 highway bridge west of Wiggins, MS.  From there the access points and distances are: MS 26 to U.S 49, 9.5 miles; U.S. 49 to City Bridge, 6 miles; City Bridge to Ramsey Springs (MS 15), 15 miles; Ramsey Springs to Vestry, 15 miles; Vestry to MS 57, 5 miles.  From MS 57 to the Pascagoula River, the creek joins with Black Creek to flow through the Pascagoula swamp, a delightful stretch when flowing out of its banks "provided you have a compass and machete," claims Ernest Herndon in "Canoeing Mississippi,"  a guide book to paddling the creeks, bayous, rivers and swamps of the Magnolia State.
       The creek has a surprising wilderness feel considering it is flanked by private property most of its canoeable length.  The creek passes through about three miles of the De Soto National Forest on either side of the MS 15 bridge at Ramsey Springs but other than that, step out of a canoe or kayak on solid ground and you are, in most cases, stepping on private property.
       A portion of the creek also passes through the 90,000 acre Red Creek Wildlife Management Area. The state legislature designated Red Creek as one of Mississippi's Scenic Streams.  
       With the help of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain (LTMCP), a 56-acre parcel of land on river-right upstream of the MS 15 highway bridge is now owned by the state and managed by the Stone County Board of Supervisors and the LTMCP.  The ramp and access to the creek from the property on the south side of the river was closed to the public about 15 years ago when erosion of the creek bank under a concrete boat ramp rendered the ramp un-useable.  The property, then privately owned, was closed to the public. 
       "I grew up fishing Red Creek with my grandfather and we would launch at the old ramp," said Jon Bond, the engineer for Stone County, said in a telephone interview recently.  "I have been working on getting access to Red Creek at Ramsey Springs since 2001."
       A new ramp, this time with stone armoring flanking the ramp, has been built exactly where the old one was, Bond said.
       While the ramp to the creek is now the only improvement to the property, before the end of the year, the dirt road to the ramp will get an all-weather surface and a parking area will be surfaced.  Picnic tables and signage directing highway users to the small park will be installed too, Bond said.  A fence will be erected separating the small park from adjacent private property.
      "We already have the materials," Bond said.
      To market the scenic stream to paddlers, a 30 mile stretch between MS 26 and Ramsey Springs has been named by the LTMCP as the Red Creek Blueway.  A small brochure about the blueway, and other streams named by the LTMCP as blueways, is available at  The organization has erected about a half a dozen mileage markers along Red Creek's banks in this section.  The miles are measured from headwaters of Red Creek in Lamar Co.
        One part-time operation, South Mississippi Canoe Rental,,, will supply up to eight tandem canoes (the minimum rental is three) for day or overnight trips on Red Creek.  Reservations must be made in advance.  No private boat shuttle is offered.
       Those with their own boats must do their own shuttle or try to bargain a local into running a vehicle shuttle.


       Despite flowing through a remote and scenic stretch of Stone Co., paddlers have been scarce on the 15-mile stretch of Red Creek between City Bridge and Ramsey Springs since the access at Ramsey Springs was closed.  Paddlers could get to the creek from national forest property on the north side of the creek at Ramsey Springs but the carry to the creek was long and part of it up (or down) a steep incline.
       With the new ramp providing easy access to the creek again, it was time to revisit the City Bridge to Ramsey Springs section of Red Creek.  Four of us, from New Orleans, Covington and Slidell, made the 115-mile drive in late October to the creek.
       Spirits were high that chilly fall morning as we pushed off in two solo canoes and two kayaks from the concrete boat ramp at City Bridge into the shallow creek under a clear and bright blue sky.  Right away we were introduced to the pattern of a shallow and sandy creek bottom alternating with an even more shallow and sandy creek bottom.  The USGS gage at Vestry measured 4.5 feet that day, a common level for the creek when it has not rained recently.
        Floating inches above broad, flat sandy shoals the size of a tennis court was like "flying" a canoe at low altitude, the water was so clear.  Despite having to use paddles more as poles we only had to get out and drag the boats to the deeper water a couple of times.   In the deeper water fish and turtles could be easily seen.
       There are slightly swifter sections with blow downs and some "stump gardens" to navigate though most of these are closer to Ramsey Springs.  At higher water levels these could require some skill to make it through without capsizing.  One large blow down spans the creek requiring paddlers to shrink down in their boats to pass under it.  At a higher water level it would need to be portaged around.
        Sandbars are most numerous two to three miles upstream of Ramsey Springs.  Here the stream flows through about three miles of the De Soto National Forest and should be your destination if camping.  Sandbars are also frequent close to City Bridge but are least frequent in the middle third of this stretch when the creek flows slowly through a low flood plain with little elevation change.
       The stream is never narrow but there are some stretches where the deeply forested banks shade the stream.
       There is an emergency take-out at Cable Bridge Rd.  Pilings from the long, gone bridge will alert paddlers to the access on the river's right bank but the take-out is rough because the road stops well short of the creek and paddlers will have to scramble up to muddy bank to access the road.
       It took us about five and a half hours to complete the trip.  The shuttle, which uses Wire Rd. and City Bridge Rd. is fairly direct.  There is a paved parking area at City Bridge.  Isolated incidents of vandalism have been reported at City Bridge.