Monday, September 28, 2015

Covington, LA rivers may become "blueways."

A pontoon boat cruises past the shore of the Bogue Falaya Wayside Park in Covington, LA.  The park is one access to a proposed "blueway" (paddle trail) that would include portions of the Bogue Falaya, Abita and Tchefuncte rivers.
        The area where the Tchefuncte, Bogue Falaya and Abita Rivers converge in Covington, LA., is closer to becoming St. Tammany Parish's first blueway or water trail*.
         The latest draft of the Three Rivers Paddling Trail map was shown to about 30 St. Tammany residents and others, September 17, 2015, at the Christwood Retirement Center.  The meeting was the latest in a series of public meetings to gather feedback on the proposed blueway.
          The proposed map runs the trail down river on the Bogue Falaya River to its confluence with the Tchefuncte River and then up to First Avenue Park. The latest draft extends the trail on the Bogue Falaya upriver from Bogue Falaya Park.  On the Tchefuncte the trail is extended past First Avenue Park.  There is no access to the river at First Avenue Park but blueway supporters hope a kayak ramp can be built there.  The Abita River, which flows into the Bogue Falaya is also included as a blueway.
          Supporters say a map of a signed water trail will encourage canoe, kayak and paddle board enthusiasts to visit the streams for recreation.  Also they hope the map will be a tool for environmental conservation and spur development of  more public access to the three rivers.
       Opinions given by participants of previous meetings and the observations of experienced paddlers who have recently traveled the rivers are helping map the route.  The project is under the direction of the St. Tammany Parish's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and is receiving assistance from The National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA).
       The project will serve as a model for developing similar trails in the rest St. Tammany Parish, Wensel Conroy, St. Tammany Parish's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism director told the gathering of paddlers and others from as faraway as New Orleans an Houma.
       The group also heard from Rick Wilke, a Land Trust for Louisiana board member who said the private conservation organization came up with the idea of a blueway in the Covington area several years ago.
          The Abita River and the Tchefuncte Rivers are included in Louisiana's Natural and Scenic Streams System.  The Bogue Falaya River is under the protection of the scenic streams legislation, first passed in 1970, from the highway 437 bridge north of Covington upriver to its headwaters in Washington Parish.

Paddling the Bogue Falaya River (LA); Two miles of it anyway

by Jack Curry Jr.          
        No need to wait for a "blueway" map to launch a canoe, kayak or paddle board into the three waterways under consideration for inclusion into the Three Rivers Paddling Trail.  They can be paddled now.  The Bogue Falaya, Tchefuncte and Abita rivers are attractive and easy to explore.  
          The lack of a current at normal water levels on the stretches of the three rivers under consideration for the blueway make out and back trips easy.  No shuttle needed.
        The scenery is typical south Louisiana: bottomland hardwood forest wetlands fringed with tall pine trees on the high ground.  And urban too.   Large developed waterfront lots, many with boat docks and boat houses are spaced by a jungle-like shoreline of tall pines and dense undergrowth; a scenic and peaceful place to fish, watch birds or just goof off.  
         When the weather is warm, all manner of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and even inflatable rafts can be seen drifting on the broad section of the Bogue Falaya River between the Bogue Falaya Park and the Menetre boat launch at the end of Fourth St, two river-miles downriver.
           The waterways under blueway consideration are also popular with motorboat owners.  Between the park and the Menetre launch the river runs through several "no wake" zones calming the speeds of the variety of speedboats that like to travel the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers.  But elsewhere on the Bogue Falaya River, except for upstream from the park where the river is normally too shallow to run an outboard motor, there are no speed limits.  A plethora of speed boats, ski boats and personal watercraft can be heard hitting the gas as soon as they clear the last "no wake" zone and head down river from the Menetre launch, many on their way to Madisonville or Lake Pontchartrain ten miles away.
          The exception to this waterborne Indy 500 is the Abita River where few motorboats venture far upstream because trees have fallen into the river blocking part of the channel.  There are also a few hard to see black stumps in the channel.
            Paddlers looking to spend as much time in the water as in their boats may be disappointed that while the dense vegetation growing to the water's edge might be pretty, it makes access to the banks very difficult and stepping out of a boat unwise. Downriver from the Boston St. bridge in Covington there is only one sandbar: the "beach" at Bogue Falaya Park.  No swimming is permitted along the park's long shoreline and because the park closes at night there is no camping. 
          On the Abita River there are no sandbars where most paddlers are likely to go and none on the Tchefuncte River on the stretch favored by blueway planners.

Public Access 

          Access the Bogue Falaya River at Bogue Falaya Park near downtown Covington or at the boat launch two river-miles down stream at the end of Fourth St, (Menetre boat launch).  This launch also provides public access to the Abita River and to the Tchefuncte River.  At First St. Park  there is a covered deck overlooking the Tchefuncte R. but no access to the water there.
      At Bogue Falaya Park, paddlers can carry from the parking lot about 50 yards to the water and launch from the sandy bank there. 
         From the park paddlers can go upstream or downstream.  Upstream is the wilder stretch with thick woods growing to the water's edge.  There is little evidence of human habitation.  With each paddle stroke upstream the current strengthens as the water becomes shallow and assumes the tint of Southern sweet tea.  Depending on your stamina sooner are later you will have to turn around and float back to the park.  There is no public access to the Bogue Falaya upstream of Bogue Falaya Park.
          Leaving the park and heading downstream paddlers will likely have to share the broad river with motorboat traffic.  Paddlers may see a nicely restored classic wooden runabout or a family packed onto a pontoon boat for a weekend excursion but not much really fast marine traffic.  There are several "no wake zones" in this stretch to slow hotshots down.  The trip to the Menetre launch from the park is two miles, one-way.
         At the Menetre launch there are several concrete boat launches, a smallish parking lot and a covered bench.  No water or restrooms but the launch is free.  Canoes and kayaks with tender hulls can be launched from the grassy shore.
         To avoid high speed motorboat traffic after leaving the Menetre launch go upstream (turn left).  Or veer right (downstream), cross the Bogue Falaya as quickly as possible to get out of the way of motorboat traffic there and on the east bank of the river look for the mouth of the Abita River, a bend or two from the launch.     
        This junction can be fun to explore.  Drift among the marsh grass islands and peer at the shoreline hard enough and you might see a relic from the time steamboats brought freight and passengers up the Bogue Falaya R. from New Orleans to Covington.
         The Abita River flows through a flood plain devoid of human intrusion, a surprisingly wild trip considering it is in the middle of one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana.  Definitely a destination for nature lovers, bird watchers and solitude seekers.  It may be the only one of the three rivers under consideration for blueway status that actually deserves it.  (see Paddling the Abita River Nov. 4, 2015 in this blog.)
          Canoes were rented when the Bogue Falaya Park was a state park years ago.  Today kayaks can be rented from Brooks Bike Shop in downtown Covington, 985-237-3658.  They also offer tours. They will deliver and pick-up from the Columbia Street Landing or you can take the boat where you want.  They also have one paddle board for rent and are considering getting canoes. Kayak rental is also available in Lacombe, LA at Bayou Adventure.  Massey's Performance Outfitters rents canoes and kayaks but only at their Mid-City New Orleans location. There are no public liveries on any of the three rivers in the Covington area.
          Most canoeing guide books published in the last twenty have ignored the waterways in the proposed blueway.  Neither the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers are even mentioned in the seminal "Canoe Trails of the Deep South," Estes, Carter and Almquist, published almost 25 years ago and long out of print.  "Trail Guide to the Delta Country," Sevenair, last published by the New Orleans Group of the Sierra Club in 1997 and also out of print, does not mention the Bogue Falaya but includes a section of the Tchefuncte above US Hwy 190 (which is accessible only occasionally) as a "grim warning" of the high bacterial levels that can exist in a stream draining dairy farming country.
       However, in the excellent "Canoeing Louisiana," Herndon, 2003 and still in print, Summit, MS author Ernest Herndon takes the opposite tack.  Herndon gushes that the five miles of Bogue Falaya between LA 21 (E. Boston St.) and its confluence downstream with the Tchefunte is "glorious," citing the mix of hardwood forests along the banks and "grassy lawns reaching back to beautiful houses," as the attractions.
         All of the Abita and Tchefuncte Rivers are included in the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1970.  Only a portion of the Bogue Falaya is included: from the highway LA 437 bridge upstream to the river's headwaters in Washington Parish.
        The river has its moods.  The day I paddled the Bogue Falaya between Bogue Falaya Park and the Menetre launch, a USGS gauge at the E. Boston St. bridge was reading 1.76 feet.  At this level the water lapped a short steep sand bank at the park and exposed a narrow sandbar.  In the picture above, a pontoon boat is motoring upstream toward the Boston St. bridge.
         But the river can get much higher.  In May of 2015, a gauge reading of 6.52 feet, just above flood stage, brought flooding into the park.  September, thirteen years ago, saw water levels rise to a disastrous 14 feet.  Gauge readings can also go into minus numbers during very dry periods.
Parking for vehicles without trailers at the Menetre Park boat launch on the Bogue Falaya River at the end of Fourth St., Covington, LA.

 *Blueways aka water trails, are what canoe trails, float trails and paddle trails used to be called; smaller rivers, creeks and streams with features that appeal to paddling boaters such as; pretty scenery, lack of motorboat traffic, good fishing, public land for overnight camping, or just a place for goofing off away from common urban distractions. Establishing a "blueway" on any public body of water does not confer any legal status or special protections or exceptions.  Anyone can call any stretch of water anywhere a "blueway".


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice writeup about the plan.