Monday, April 6, 2015

Joyce WMA Swamp Walk south of Pontchoula is 25.

Swamp Walk in Joyce WMA near Ponchatoula, LA.
          The marshes and swamps of  27,487 acre Joyce Wildlife Management Area, south of Ponchatoula, LA are accessible only boat.  A beautiful exception is the scenic boardwalk at the northwestern corner of the preserve off I-55.
       First installed 25 years ago, the boardwalk was recently refurbished with new planking and reopened.  It had been closed for two years due to damage from Hurricane Isaac.
       The boardwalk is a convenient haven for bird watching, nature photography and general nature study.  The boardwalk extends 1000 feet through a dense cypress/tupelo canopy and ends overlooking a mix of shrub marsh and wetland "prairie."
        Joyce WMA is home to a variety of birdlife (some duck species live there year around) and is popular with neotropical migrants plying the Mississippi flyway each spring and fall.  Joyce WMA is listed as an American Wetland Birding Trial.
       Eagles have been known to nest nearby, osprey too.
       A brochure produced when the boardwalk was first opened in June of 1990 claims some common animals likely to be found include nutria, grey squirrels, raccoon, muskrat, mink, otter and white-tailed deer.
      Turtles, skinks and lots of frog species make the swamp home and might be visible to the quiet and patient visitor.
       Near the boardwalk are animals to be wary of.  Wildlife officers say alligators may be seen from the deck at the end of the boardwalk hiding in the dense floating green vegetation.  Many snakes, some poisonous such as the western cottonmouth, may be seen slithering through the slime.
         It being a swamp expect stinging insects almost year around.  (Mosquitoes can be active any time of the year when temperatures are above 56 degrees.)  Biting deer flies are out in force in the late spring.  Wear long sleeves and long pants and use insect repellent to protect from these flying pests.  Poison ivy is abundant; some of it is within easy reach of the boardwalk.
       The trip to the boardwalk from the hard-packed dirt parking lot off US 51 is over an active railroad track.  WATCH FOR TRAINS!  THIS IS A BUSY RAILROAD!  SEE HOW SHINY THE TRACK SURFACE IS?  The walk also requires traversing about 15 feet of loose gravel ballast then stepping up about a foot onto a railroad tie, crossing the single track then stepping back down onto the ballast on the other side.
       The rules for dogs in WMAs are complicated but if you are not actively hunting something that is normally hunted with dogs you cannot bring a dog into a WMA.
        If the water in the swamp is up is may be explored by canoe or kayak but the trip may not be an easy float.  Two ditches extend in a straight line east from US 51 (look for some hard packed parking lots and gates).  The ditches may be blocked with branches and deadfalls.
        Paddlers could launch at the big boat launch at North Pass and head east.  The low railroad bridge prevents most motorboats from entering but you may see some motorboats entering from the Lake Pontchartrain end.  Enter Middle Bayou for a trip through a scrub marsh.  Do not do this trip without a map, a compass and maybe a GPS.  There is nowhere to get out of the boat.

Driving Directions

       Driving south on I-55 take Exit 23 (Frontage Rd.).  Frontage Rd. ends at a "T" intersection with US 51. Entrance to the parking lot is immediately to the east across US 51.  Driving north on I-55 take Exit 15 (Manchac), turn left on US 51 and drive north.  The parking lot is on the right just before US 51 becomes one-way north to merge with I-55.

Access to the boardwalk

       This is a good time to talk about access to the state wildlife management areas in Louisiana.  You must have a LWF license to step on to a Louisiana Wildlife Management Area.  Kids younger than 16 years old and seniors 60 years of age and older are exempted.  Most people call all WMA licenses "hunting licenses."  True enough, most of the dozen or more LWF licenses permit some short of consumptive behavior, i.e. hunting, fishing, trapping and the like.  And there are commercial licenses to regulate the harvesting of seafood.
        But there is also a LWF license for those who want to visit these scenic preserves to watch birds, photograph wildlife or just enjoy some hiking.  The Wild Louisiana Stamp gives these "non-consumptive" users access to WMAs across the state.  Called the "birdwatcher stamp" by some, Wild Louisiana Stamps valid for one day are $2.00.  An annual license is $9.50 and and expires June 30.  A Wild Louisiana Stamp is valid for everyone, Louisiana residents or not, and the fee is the same for everyone.  (Non-Louisiana residents pay much higher fees for other WLF licenses.)
        Revenues from the sale of Wild Louisiana Stamps, introduced in 1993, generate revenues to support the functions of the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program.  The "stamp" is no longer a stamp. It is now a slip of paper that looks like a cash register receipt.
        So if you are at the boardwalk entrance at Joyce WMA reading the rules and wondering how you can meet the license requirement easily, just whip out your smartphone and credit card.  Call 1-888-765-2602.  After you pay the license fee and the added service charge you will get a license number you can use immediately.  Or if you plan ahead you can get licenses at the sporting goods department of any big box merchant.
        You need one other thing, in most cases, to be legal: A self-clearing permit.  They can be found at kiosks at the parking areas of most WMAs.  They are free.  They can also be downloaded and printed from, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.  Print a few self-clearing permits in advance to keep in your glove compartment or tackle box so you will always have one if you park where there is no kiosk.  One part of the form is filled out with name and contact info and slipped into the box on the kiosk before you enter the WMA to alert the WMA staff that you are in the WMA.  The other part you keep on your person while in the WMA.  As you leave, fill it out and put it in the box at the kiosk.  It is basically a survey of how people spend their time while in a WMA.  If you engaged in an activity that is not listed, kayaking, canoeing or something else--WRITE IT IN!  This is a way of letting WLF officials know that WMAs are visited for reasons other than hunting and fishing.
     Most all of the above information is contained in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' website,  It is a very big site, most of it dealing with hunting and fishing issues.  Find Wild Louisiana Stamp information by clicking Licenses then Hunting.  General WMA rules are found under Hunting Regulations.  Self-clearing permits info is on page 55, dogs in WMAs on page 66.

NOTE:  If you do not hunt or fish, scanning the regulations governing these activities can be a window into a fascinating world.  Sportsmen and sportswomen spend plenty of time preparing for each hunting and fishing season, and learning the rules must be a large part of it.  Non-consumptive visitors to Louisiana WMAs owe a debt to hunters and fishers who, through fees and taxes on their gear, have contributed mightily to the acquisition and management of state lands we all enjoy.  The Swamp Walk, described above, was primarily funded by the Pittman-Robertson Fund established by Congress in 1937.  This federal revenue is generated by a tax paid by sportsmen purchasing rifles, shotguns ammunition and archery equipment. and is matched with state money, one dollar state money to three dollars of federal money.   Labor and lumber for the project was also donated by the Triangle T Sportsman's League.


Unknown said...

Do you have any information regarding kayaking in Joyce WMA? Are there public boat launches and if so, how are they accessed?


Jane Patterson
Baton Rouge, LA

jcurryjr said...

Thank you for your question about boat launches in the Joyce WMA. There are a few narrow, three to four feet wide, canals that reach into the WMA from parking lots off of old U.S. 51. These may show up on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries map of the WMA at their web site. There is no launch; you just carry your kayak over the train tracks and launch. Discuss your plans with a wildlife officer who has been in Joyce recently before setting out. There is an office in Hammond. These canals are not commonly paddled by anyone I know because they may be clogged with downed trees and plants. Once away from the highway this area is not easily accessible making prompt rescue a problem.
There are other options nearby. A large busy boat launch at North Pass gives access to the waters around Manchac. Not a wilderness; lots of bass boats and waterfront housing, but it is something different.
How are your social skills? Two of the guides with Louisiana Lost Lands Environmental Tours, Clyde Carlson and John Hazlett, spend their spare time exploring Manchac WMA. You might be able to talk you way into one of these informal trips if you can convince them you know what you are doing on the water.
My personal opinion is that other than Shell Bank Bayou, paddling in the Manchac WMA or on the few canals in Joyce WMA, is risky for anyone without intermediate paddling skills and the gear to go with them. Bombproof GPS skills are essential, along with a compass and paper USGS map. And paddling in the swamp alone is just not smart.

jcurryjr said...

There is more paddling in Joyce WMA than I thought. I recently talked with one of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents about paddling there and he said there is some very attractive scenery on Middle Bayou about three miles east of the North Pass boat launch. Put-in at the boat launch, paddle east on North Pass under the railroad bridge. This may be a tight fit if the water is up but the lack of clearance keeps most of the motorboat traffic out of North Pass. Middle Bayou forks off to the left (north). About a mile past the Middle Bayou mouth a long straight canal juts off to the right. Stay on Middle Bayou. Always paddle with a map and compass and maybe a GPS if you know how to use one but this one should not be too difficult to navigate. Insect repellent is a must year around.