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Monday, August 25, 2003

Soldier Creek Paddle
August 23, 2003
by Bruce Zimmerman

We met at the giant strawberry east of Elberta, Alabama. I arrived early to check out the route. Roger Smith phoned me the night before to give me a
warning that the bridge was out on County Road 97. Paddler Susan from the West Florida Canoe Club was at the rendezvous with her kayak on the roof. I asked her to stay there to show the other paddlers that this was the rendezvous location. I drove around and found the detour clear to the put in, to my relief.

We had 13 boats and 15 paddlers show up for this trip. We went to the put-in in two waves of vehicles. David volunteered to lead the first bunch to the put in, and I waited for the rest to show up. Another seven vehicles showed up including one gentleman who drove all the way from Escatawpa, Mississippi.

We drove east on U.S. highway 98 to County Road 95 and turned right to drive south following the detour signs to turn left and drive east on Leitterman Road. This was a new and delightful drive for me on Leitterman Road. Several tidy rows of longleaf pines paralleled the fence line. Huge neatly mowed grassy fields lay on the other side of these pines. A break in the pines revealed sheds and one very large iron spider sculpture to the south of the road. I guess the sculpture was 20 to 25 feet in length.

Leitterman Road joined County Road 97 and we turned south and drove to Riggs Street and turned left. At the end of Riggs, we turned right on Tuscaloosa and drove south to State Street. This route kept us on pavement. We turned left onto the State Street water access which is marked by the small brown sign "Water Access" that Baldwin County uses many places in this area.

We took turns dropping off our boats at the water's edge and parking up the hill along the property line. We put in at 11:10. Cumulus clouds were popping all around us but over head we enjoyed a blue hole in the sky. A couple of ski boats churned the water until we reached the no wake zone after the first turn north of the put-in.

The creek makes many ess turns into the trees. Homes and boat docks are left behind as we paddle ahead into undeveloped forest. The water level this day is about a foot higher than normal. The lowland that would normally be exposed to air was underwater. White native azaleas were in bloom in the early part of the trip. Bird calls carried through the trees.

We stopped for lunch after noon and pulled boats up to the higher ground, which would have been more challenging with normal water. The higher water made this break somewhat more kayak friendly. During our break, we noticed a light spattering of rain on the water. We could hear distant thunder, but the sun kept shining through breaks in the trees. We were getting into deeper shade and cooler water.

We took a side trip around a small island. A spring in this area made the water clearer and cooler. We rounded the island and returned to the main flow and headed right. David was helpful at this point; he was more familiar than I am with the creek. The higher water covered creek bank and made the route more interesting.

We continued another 20 minutes ducking and dodging obstacles until we were stopped by a freshly fallen Florida Maple across the creek. We achieved our goal and turned downstream for a fun run to the takeout. At the takeout, some of us took turns trying out the Kevlar boats by QCC Kayaks. Others took a cooling swim. Carl Hlavenka practiced his rolls. We still had good weather. We headed out about 3 p.m. Some folks wanted to make a trip to Wolf Bay Lodge for lunch. I apologize to those folks for the miscommunication. I did not know that was where you were going, and furthermore I don't know how to get there from Soldier Creek! Heavy rain started about the time we returned to CR 95.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Pelican Island and Sand Island Lighthouse Big Boy Paddle
August 8-9,2003
by Larry McDuff

It was after dark before we all got together, but George, Tate, Juli, and I spent a near-perfect night on the west end of Pelican Island just across from the put-in at Isle Dauphine Country Club. We all slept under the stars (and moon) cooled by a light north wind. Once in the night I woke up to see a super-bright meteor streak directly toward Mars, which shone brightly at it's nearest point to earth in zillions of years, while the moon set in the western sky and porpoises swam in the channel.

We were off shortly after 7:00 the next morning, paddling along Pelican Island. After a break we took the cut between Pelican Island and what's left of Sand Island. We began to be bounced around by the swell from the mouth of the bay and numerous tidal currents. Reaching Sand Island, George and I tied our kayaks astern of the others and swam for the lighthouse in a strong current. Successfully scaling the rocks, we admired the brick lighthouse which seemed in really good condition. With a ladder and crowbar we felt we could have gained access to the interior for the climb to the top, but that will have to wait for a future Big Boy paddle.

We swam back to our waiting boats and began the long paddle back to Sand Island, now against the falling tide. Our landings in the surf were not particularly graceful, but we made it. The last few miles to the put-in was a breeze.

After early morning instruction by George, Juli Day thereby became only the second woman and the first woman resident of Alabama to achieve full Big Boy qualifications. For the record, she loved it and encourages others to join her.

The September Big Boy paddle is tenatatively scheduled for Horn Island.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

August 2, 2003 Perdido River

This was a reconnaissance paddle. Julie and I went looking for water we had not visited before.

Two summers ago, Frank Laraway showed me a pretty good county park near Seminole, Alabama. To get there from U.S. Highway 90 in Seminole, Alabama take County Road 91 south. C.R. 91 is also called Browns Landing Road. The road heads southeasterly. Turn right on Three Rivers Road heading south. Take the first left turn at Lost River Road and bear right as it heads south. Take a left turn on River Landing Road which dead ends at the Perdido River and the Seminole Boat Launch, a Baldwin County Park.

River Landing Road is a residential area. The Seminole Boat Launch at the end of the road has ample parking for trucks with boat trailers. The residences on this road are rather nice; it is not an area where we should be concerned about our vehicles while we are out paddling. The put in is a cement boat ramp surrounded by bulkheaded shoreline. The ramp does have some sand washed onto the cement ramp at the edges and that helps somewhat to keep the kayak from grinding on the cement. The park does not have a comfort station; I recommend making a stop in Seminole at the Citgo service station near U.S. Highway 90 and C.R.91 before you drive down to the put in.

A topographic map that covers this area is the U.S.G.S. Seminole 7.5 minute Quadrangle map. I am refering to the 1978 edition photorevised 1987. The waterways around this boat launch are complex. I strongly recommend taking a map of this area if you want to go somewhere specific. If you just want to explore and find your own way that can take some time because this area includes the confluence of the Styx River, Perdido River and three or four dead end channels plus a couple of small bays. The shoreline is mostly tree lined to the water. Very few buildings are on the shore so this is a relatively wild area.

We headed upstream staying to the right hand side of the channel. A few river houses are visible for the first half mile of river. We made a hard right turn into the Perdido River and entered wilderness. The first thing we saw was a patch of swamp lilies blooming under the trees at the water's edge. Many more such patches brightened the bank on this trip. The Perdido makes several sharp turns and in some places it is nearly an oxbow. We can hear river traffic through the trees without seeing a break in the bank. At the second turn, we found a pavilion. The topo map shows a dirt track coming down to the river at this location. Keep that pavilion in mind if you find yourself on the river during a storm. The bank there is shallow enough for a takeout and there is not much other opportunity to get to shelter on the river. Two more bends later, we came to a clutter of driftwood on either bank. The map indicates an old railroad grade here. I was looking into the trees for some feature of a railroad. All we could find were the pilings in the river at the narrowest point. On these pilings the driftwood had hung up and caused the current to speed up through the remaining opening in the channel. Above this point we found an island on the right hand side (east side) of the channel. We bypassed that to make sure we had time enough to get upriver. After a short paddle upstream from the island, we crossed under U.S. Highway 90 at the Florida - Alabama state line. Now we were back in civilization for we found an expensive looking dwelling with a glassed in upstairs gallery and a horse paddock in the back yard. Two more houses up river and we were at Ruby's Boat Ramp. This is a business accessed from U.S. Highway 90. Ruby has a bar if you feel the need for refreshments.

From Ruby's we turned around and headed back downstream. We did take a lap around the island that we had bypassed. The water around the island is deep and wide all the way around, but other than that it is just a forested island. We got back to the take out hearing thunder in the distance, which is pretty much how the trip started. We did the round trip in about 2 hours and dodged the storms.

If the weather has been a little too warm for paddling, here is a suggestion: Freeze a couple of bottles of water and stash them in the cockpit. I jam them between the sides of the seat and the hull. Wear your spray skirt and you can have a cool cockpit. I have been wearing a very wide brimmed hat for some time now. It effectively shades my head, shoulders and much of my torso. So between the cool cockpit and the shade from my hat, I've been pretty comfortable paddling in the afternoon this summer. Just trying to be helpful. Bruce.
Chickasabogue Park July 15, 2003

Matt led this paddle. It was his birthday. Six paddlers, four boats, and a dog showed up for this trip.

Chickasabogue Park is up north of Mobile next to Interstate 65. Signs through town point the way to the park. At the entrance to the park, we stopped at the office to pay our $1.00 entrance fee. Rental canoes, paddles and PFD's are available by the hour or half day. I did not write down the rates. I apologize for that oversight. We drove to the put in, which is a hard ramp with a small dock extending out perpendicular to the shoreline. The water level was high such that the boat dock was even with the water level. This condition made the put in very "canoe and kayak friendly" as Matt said.

We paddled upstream winding through forest land. The water seems clean, but tea-colored. At several of the bends in the river, picnic sites were visible through the trees. The sites are simple enough with a trash barrel, a charcoal grill in a clearing. We saw some old pilings, bird houses, and one structure with a roof. Other than that the surroundings are forest and swamp. I was pleasantly surprised by the wilderness in the vicinity of a city.

We paddled up a couple miles enjoying a very mild day. The biting insects were leaving us alone. Distant thunder rolled from time to time but we did not have any rain. Then we had the adventure of the dog that jumped out of a kayak. After some teamwork and effort, the dog was settled into the canoe with Matt's mother to keep the dog calm.

We stopped for lunch on the right bank where we saw a wooden bench and an opening in the trees. About ninety feet upstream I found a low wood bridge and a hiking path that follows the riverbank. I took out there because the other location seemed full with three boats. I got out of the boat fine, but the wet clay on the trail made me slip and get muddy. We commented on the huge banana spider webs in the area. We saw several webs high over the river. Someone asked "Do the spiders catch birds?" The webs were really huge. The trail had several webs under which we did the limbo rather than tearing them down.

We had our lunch including birthday cupcakes and stories, really good stories of local lore.

I paddled upstream while the others took a swim and talked. The river stays wild for another mile or so, and it narrows some. The current gets faster too. Eventually the river flows under U.S. Highway 45. That is as far upstream as I went. I turned around and headed downstream. I met the others coming up and told them what was ahead of them. We all proceeded downstream.

When I reached the takeout, I noticed the dock was submerged. A small girl was walking on the dock in ankle deep water splashing it as she went. Matt had mentioned a hidden lake was downstream of the I-65 bridge. I did not find it; a ski boat was operating in that area and I did not hang around long.

Chickasabogue Park is fine recreational area. The river seems clean and cool. A swimming area is available. The bike trails are extensive through the woods. Open fields are available AND the park has a frisbee golf course. All this, nearby, for a buck.