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Monday, January 13, 2003

Dedication of Bartram Canoe Trail
Friday, January 10, 2003

by Aven

The Bartram Trail Dedication was Friday, January 10 at 10:30 at French's Lake Public Use Landing. Why would any one drive north of Stockton, Alabama, down dirt roads into the middle of the woods for a dedication? Because we are nutty canoe/outdoor people. Here are the details.

It was a cool, sunny day. Bob Andrews and Aven Warner headed north because in Canoe Club Tradition we would paddle and fit a meal in after the dedication. Thank goodness we had directions because it is in the middle of the woods. The Clearwater tract of the Forever Wild Property as Riley Boykin Smith would explain in his speech, "If you are standing on dry land it is the Clearwater Tract." There were 35-40 people there. Now Bob and I were arguing about that later but he must have been correct because I counted 26 of the very same people at the Stage Coach immediately following the dedication. These people know where the good home cooking is in the area. Let me digress and say that our 26 people got swallowed at the Stage Coach. That place was full and they must seat 200 people. Let me further digress and say that the food was great but that they have three desserts and ice cream for lunch. My theory is that supper dessert is usually leftover from lunch because they never have three desserts out at supper to choose from. It is a good thing that Bob does not like dessert or we might be rescheduling paddles around lunch.

Back to the dedication. There was a platform overlooking French's Lake. It was covered and had a educational kiosk on Hardwoods Bottomland. There were two boat platforms which were underwater. They will build another which will be higher in elevation. Greg Lien, Alabama State Lands Division Assistant Director, was there. Jim Griggs, Alabama State Division Director, was there. Riley Boykin Smith, Commissioner of Conservation was there. Gulf Coast Outdoors Magazine was the only press
present. I heard that Bill Finch could not be there and that he had the information to do an article at a later date. They had all the Canoe Trail maps which are also on the Internet at http://www.dcnr.state.al.us/bartram.htm.

Larry and Ann McDuff had spent the night on one of the platforms so they were getting out of the water as we pulled up, Gary (club member) also present. Sierra Club local members present were Diane McGee, Kevin Merek and Lou DeConstanza. Lee Yokel from NEP also present. Greg Lien gave the Sierra Club and the Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club a thank you during his speech. We had been working with him on the platforms for the past 1.5 year. We helped with our local support to get the state guys a $50,000 grant to build the platforms. Also Bob says they never even thought about putting roofs on the camping platforms until we mentioned it. Pat yourself on the back guys.

Stage Coach followed and I got to grill Kevin Merek on his four months in Hawaii thanks to the Corps of Engineers. Also observe non experienced Stage Coach buffet stackers i.e., Kevin, Lou and Diane.

Bob decided that we would go to Douglas Lake to paddle because there were two side trails he was not familiar with that were on the Bartram Trail Map. We never found them. The water was still about two feet above normal. We poked into every likely spot. We did find another old logging road which is even more narrow then the first we found last year. Bob says they go to the same spot-a huge clear cut tract. It was a nice day to be out poking around looking for mystery trails. Maybe we will find them when the azaleas and mountain laurels bloom on the cliff north of the landing.

These are the directions to French's Lake Public-Use Kiosk: From I-65 travel north on Highway 59 approximately 12 miles north of Stockton, following the signs to Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area. An Upper Delta Management Area sign will direct you to turn left of Highway 59 and on to St. Luke Church Road. Remain on St. Luke Church Road until directed to turn left onto a gravel road by the French's Lake Kiosk sign. Remain on this main gravel road, passing through the main silver gate of the Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area, taking the second gravel road on the right delineated by the French's Lake Kiosk sign. Follow this gravel road to the end and you will be at the French's Lake Coastal Access Kiosk.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Palmetto Creek Paddle
Saturday, January 11, 2003

by Bruce


The day was mostly overcast and the temperature was only 50 degrees, give or take. The north wind blew at 5 to 10 mph with an occasional gust. We were all late to the meeting place. I got there right at 1 p.m. as advertised and I worried that I might have missed someone by not getting there before the advertised time of 1 p.m. Karen drove over from Mobile and George drove over from Grand Bay.

The put-in at Orange Avenue in the community of Perdido Beach, Alabama is a county access lane with a white sand beach at the shoreline. The water front is about 30 feet long on Palmetto Creek. George was about 5 minutes later arriving and he missed us so he put in at the Palmetto Creek boat ramp which is a cement ramp and rocky. Eventually we met up on the water heading north on Palmetto Creek about 2 o'clock.

Yes, Palmetto Creek is developed, but it still has enough forest to host birds. Brown pelicans were feeding in the creek. Osprey and Great Blue Herons launched from treetops. Red Throated Loons in their winter plumage floated on the water and dove under when we came too close.

The creek narrowed as we made our way upstream. When the creek became too narrow for one more boathouse, the development stopped and we were in a wilderness setting surrounded by pines, titi, cedar and oak. On one of the few fallen trees in the creek, pelicans sat in a line on the exposed tree trunk. The creek has some short waterways on either side to explore. We came around a bend and heard some commotion on the left side in the trees. We could not see what it was, but Karen indicated two pelicans up ahead on the water. We coasted ahead, and off to the left, we spotted a brown pelican clumsily hiking through the forest, angling toward the water. The trees were too close together for it to fly so it waddled and galumphed along until it could get in the clear near the creek bank to fly.

At the top end of our tour, we circled a small island. The creek continued, much narrower, to the left of the island. A tree fall from the island to the other bank gave us a challenge. George went under the tree, but he had to take off his very nice felt hat which he sat on top of the tree before he ducked under the tree. On the other side of the tree, he recovered his hat, dry and safe.

The water is calm and clear in Palmetto Creek. The current is slow enough that almost all the silt settles out. We did have to paddle going down stream since the current was so slow it did not propel us any noticeable amount. We arrived back in sight of the take out at 3:55.

We saved exploring Spring Branch for another day. That trip is nearly as long as this one.

After the other two paddlers drove away, I took a look at the water accesses that were the subject of a newspaper article this month. County Road 97 goes south and ends at Bay Avenue. Straight ahead across Bay Avenue is a water access called Escambia Ave. This is a good, usable access onto a soft sand beach on Perdido Bay. Heading east on Bay Avenue, the next water access is Mobile Avenue. It too is a good, usable access onto the beach and Perdido Bay. Next to the east is Pensacola Ave. It is not useable. The lane is passable if you go slowly through the holes as big as bomb craters. At the end is a wooden bulkhead that would be difficult to climb over. The rocky shore on the other side of the bulkhead would eat a kayak. The next lane is Montgomery Avenue. The lane is full of stumps and broken glass. At the end of the lane is a bulkhead made of cement slabs propped up on end to connect two privately built bulkheads on either side. Bay Avenue has no other marked water accesses to the east. The west end of Bay has water access for swimmers; a high bulkhead is made nice enough that a person could climb over the edge without necessarily getting hurt, but launching a boat there would not work well.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

CHASSAHOWITZKA RIVER, FLORIDA
Monday, December 30, 2002

By Bruce Zimmerman

Today was the first day in the Homossassa, FL area with any clouds in the sky. High thin cirrus clouds moved in overnight. The wind was out of the southeast at 5 to 10 mph. The temperature rose from the low 30s to the mid 70s.

The other club members left this morning so we planned our own paddle on the Chassahowitzka River, which we called not Chas but Chuck, for brevity. The Chuck is inside a Wildlife Refuge and the local map showed no roads or houses so we were expecting a nice wilderness trip.

The put in is a little more than 6 miles south of Old Homossassa off U.S. Highway 19. County Road 480 winds westerly through the trees and ends at a park facility with a boat ramp and a paved parking lot. The fee is $1.50 to park at this boat ramp. The ramp has a soft beach next to the hard ramp. The river was steaming in the cool morning air. Vultures roosted in the trees; more circled over the river and one landed in the parking lot. Are paddlers their staple diet?

Our boats at the put in floated on water clear as green glass. The green color is reflected from the rich aquatic vegetation growing from the bottom. We saw common waterweed, water hyacinth, and a long thin algae. The aquatic vegetation covers the bottom quite thickly especially in comparison with the river bottom at Homossassa. The trees were mostly palmetto, but as we went upstream we saw an orange tree growing on the bank near a spring.

The river narrowed quickly as we paddled upstream following the current to a sidestream with a spring flowing up out of a hole in the limerock bottom. Back in the river, going upstream, we encountered a variety of homes on the bank. This was interesting because almost all the houses had small boats. We saw several kinds of kayaks and canoes on the bank. Some were hanging in boat houses and others were laying on the grass. One kayak had a sailing rig. Two others looked homebuilt and sporty recreational kayaks. We paddled into canal and under a bridge. Here the water was getting cloudy so we turned around. A few motor vessels passed us. One very beamy motor boat, called PollyWog, headed downstream towing a device to keep the waterway free of weeds. The boat operator stopped to pick up trash from the waterway.

We were back in the wildlife refuge and going downstream. The current was running our way so we made good speed. The current combed the long aquatic plants growing from the river bottom. We wound our way through some islands; the current on the backside of the islands was fast.

Traffic was picking up; small fishing boats and pontoon boats paraded past us as we took a break on the right bank. Downstream we saw a few shacks and piers so we sought out a sidestream called Potters Creek that flows north to south into the Chuck River.

Potters Creek was a terrific find. No development. Clear water and a shallow bottom. No traffic. The fish life was small but numerous. We looked down in the water like it was an aquarium and saw fingerling sized fish darting under logs and into holes. We paddled up the creek seeing a little blue heron and a wood stork (or a rear ended evader). At the top of the creek, we came upon a swimming hole with a spring. A fast flow of water came out of the woods into the swimming hole. The swimming hole also had flow upwards, enough to suspend particles in the water column but not wash them out. A school of mullet arrived in the hole as we left the area.

We paddled back the way we came. The wind was picking up speed so we crossed the Chuck as quickly as we could to get in the lee of the trees on the opposite bank. That was thrilling because the boat traffic had changed to faster boats running the river. We worked our way up the river to the take out. The rising tide may have reduced the current but not by much. When we arrived at the takeout, a few vultures were still in the area, and more paddlers were going out on the river.