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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Bayou Heron, Mississippi
August 14, 2004
by Bruce Zimmerman

Juli Day led this paddle trip to the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge near Pecan, Mississippi. To get there, take the Interstate 10 exit at Franklin Creek and turn south. Cross U.S. Highway 90 and follow the two lane paved road to the NWR. Turn left onto Bayou Heron Road and cross the railroad track, with caution. The Amtrak train barrels through there near noon. The intersection does not have any warning signals. Follow Bayou Heron Road to the end, which is the put in at the Bayou Heron Fishing Pier and Boat Ramp.

The parking lot of the boat ramp was quite a sight with our many vehicles carrying 19 colorful kayaks and canoes. Water access is two hard boat ramps. The water depth drops off quickly and the sides of the ramps are steep as well. A soft put in can be had at the shoreline, but it is narrow. The put-in has no sanitary facilities, so plan ahead.

Bayou Heron is a long body of water that zig zags through the marsh toward Middle Bay. On the topographic map (Grand Bay SW) the state line seems to separate Middle Bay from Grand Bay. We waited for all the boats to catch up at the east side of the entrance to Bayou Heron, next to a sign at eye level that reads "Bayou Heron." Each of the several bayous has its own identifying sign at the entrance.

From the entrance to Heron Bayou, Juli told us to head for the larger of two bumps on the horizon, the Rigolet (Channel) Islands. My compass showed a heading of 190 degrees magnetic. On the map, our track seemed to parallel the state line. Off we went, paddling for the island. To the left, we had an unobstructed view of the horizon across Grand Bay. The wind was blowing steadily on the port quarter, and as we got closer to the Rigolets, small seas were pushing us along.

We landed near a point of land on the east side of South Rigolet Island. The white sand beach above the waterline made us think this was just another beach landing. Not so. The bottom was mostly loose organic matter. In some places, the bottom only took us ankle deep, but several places we could sink to our knees. Bill, with his dog and motor boat, was there ahead of us. We ate and had a walk around the point of land; the ground above the high water mark was solid enough to have good footing. Inland, the island was a marsh with tall grasses hiding the ground.

Leaving the beach was even more exciting than landing. Those of us who got a push (thanks, Fritz) could get away from shore relatively cleanly. That last paddler (was it Tom Fink?) had to slog it out. We paddled around the eastern point of land and headed southwest paralleling the shoreline, which offered small coves and high sandy ground which could be good camp sites.
We reached the southwest end of the island and turned north into a channel which is not on the topographic map. Perhaps the waves and storms have eroded a small isthmus into this wide pass. We beached the boats on hard sand here and did some birdwatching. The white pelicans stood in a line on a sandbar; they were twice as tall as the other birds on the ground. Here is where we started noticing the biting flies. Bill stopped at a peninsula on L’Isle Chaud ("hot island") north of us to explore, but he backed away to freshen up his bug repellent.

We paddled into a deep channel, L’Isle Chaud Bay, and headed north in the lee of North Rigolet Island. Tom was tracking our progress through complicated channels with his GPS unit. At one point he called forward to a fast group of 8 boats to bear right. That put them into Middle Bay, as planned. Juli, who had stopped to check navigation, charged out of the channel into the Bay and saw the fast pack leaving. She was trying so hard to lead, and some people just won’t follow. She told the paddlers near her to head for two PVC pipes on the north shore about 30 degrees to the right of north. We paddled into the wind and arrived at the two pipes which marked the west side of the entrance to Bayou Heron (I checked the street sign to be sure). As we paddled up the bayou, a Cessna Skyhawk flew over the marsh at tree top level from east to west. The pilot passed over our long line of boats and waggled the plane’s wings in greeting before flying off to the east over Grand Bay at low altitude.

At the take out, the light over the marsh was getting rather pretty as we racked boats. A fisherman on the dock remarked about our long day, and one of us said, "It isn’t over yet. Where can we get some burgers and beer?"

Monday, August 16, 2004

Bay Minette Basin
August 13, 2004,
by Chuck Holtz

After listing a paddle at the last minute on Friday the 13th, I left work early to get my boat and set out from Buzbee's. Just how did we get such beautiful weather in August? Whatever, I knew that it would not last and that I might not ever see it again at this time of year down here. I began paddling around 5:15 p.m.

There was about a 15-knot wind coming from the north, and the tide was on its way out. That made for a working paddle to get through the reeds and grasses and up to the north end of the Bay Minette Basin, but it was so worth it.

It was around 6 when I got to that point, and I hardly paddled again until I was in Bay Minette. The wind and the tide, together with just a little guidance from my paddle, allowed me to just sit and watch and listen as I floated down the west side of the basin. I did not see another person out there for an hour and a half. The mullet were especially enjoying the weather because they seemed to be flying twice as far on their jumps. I noticed about 3 gators. Other than the symphony of fish splashing, birds calling, and grasses "shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"-ing, there was not another sound.

It is amazing to have such a scene to share with nobody but God and His creatures, with a beautiful sky and perfect temperature ("creature comforts"?) to boot. I could not let go, even to the point of paddling slowly backwards most of the way from the bay to the landing to watch the colors changing in the sky, as I slid into the bank at the end of dusk. I'm sorry my notice was so late that no one else came, but then again, I'm selfishly glad it worked out that way. Silence and solitude are not always bad things.
Rice Creek to the Indian Mounds
August 14, 2004
by Rich Gajek & Carol Alexander

In case you have or plan to use Paddling Alabama (A Falcon guide), be careful of the maps. We took a paddle on Saturday from Rice Creek landing to the Indian mounds (or at least that was the plan). The map is not drawn to scale, so you think you've reached a wide section of Bayou after the end of Fisher Island, but if you miss the very small feeders on the north side of the creek you actually are in a very narrow creek (Jessamine Bayou) and are spending a bunch of time scooging over sunken logs and under fallen trees. So when you hit the wide body of water, it's Bottle Creek. We ending up paddling way down Bottle Creek looking for the bend before the mounds.

The map on the Internet is far better. We also would have done better if our compass hadn't been broken. Next time, we bring a GPS and topo map. The entrances at the intersections are marked with yellow diamonds, but they are not easy to see unless you get close, and sometimes they are placed on trees farther back with vines growing over them. We didn't see the mounds that day, but it was glorious weather for August and no bugs!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Juniper Creek
August 7, 2004
by Gary Worob

I camped at the put-in the night before. This spot is particularly beautiful because it has quite a few cypress trees and white beaches and view of the water from the camp sites. There is no charge to camp there as are quite a few primitve sites along the Juniper Creek.

On Saturday, people showed up and dropped their boats off to prepare for a 20-mile round trip shuttle. Phyllis and I provided our vans and drivers took their vehicles to the take out point on Indian Ford Road for the long trip (10-12 miles) and Red Rock Road for the shorter trip (5 miles). We had quite a few boats and people and their were several waves of boats that went out intermittently.

The river level was fairly low and the Blackwater Forest area had not received the rains that we have had in the Fairhope area, so the river was more "challenging" and paddling skills were needed more than just a float. We had many novice paddlers and many different kinds of boats and some of the more experienced paddlers aided the novice people.

We stopped several times to swim in the water and had perfect weather and a perfect day. We managed to all stop together for a long lunch and swim and float. I did a quick count of 32 but some said they counted up to 40 including those that joined us from the Adventure Club in Florida.

After lunch some of the paddlers went on ahead and then some of the crew got out at Red Rock Road for the short paddle. This worked very well for some people and the rest of us spent more time paddling and swimming at many of the beautiful sandy beaches.

Those of us who took the more leisuraly paddle finished about 5:00 and went to dinner at the Texas Road House in Milton, which has barrels of peanuts for free and you throw the shells on the floor. It is always crowded there and the food is excellent.

I had feedback from several people who loved the trip and enjoyed that they could take their time and swim and would like to do more leisurely paddles. Since I am new to Alabama I do not know the rivers yet, but I am told the Upper Perdido is a great leisurly paddle with possibility of camping.

I think it is important for novice paddlers to experience places where they are challenged as well as open waters to learn the more technical maneuvers and confidence in paddling. It is also important for experienced paddlers to occasionally take them aside and give instructions when possible. This is the makings of paddling clubs that continue to grow rather than fall apart into splinter groups of favorites and then fall apart. Lots of those don't exist anymore.

I will be setting up a weekend trip to Hurricane Lake in the fall. This is above Munson where we were and has great camping. The Pensacola Club does their annual camping trip in the fall so I won't schedule the same weekend. We will have roasted turkey (already promised) and no shuttles. The camp sites and view are beautiful and the lake is 382 acres with lots to explore.

(same paddle)
by Frank Laraway

A large group of paddle boaters met at the upper Juniper Creek put-in, just below Florida's Highway 121 bridge Saturday morning. This location is north east of Pensacola across Escambia Bay well north of I-10, and accessed by taking the west Highway 87 exit (there are two), then north through Milton to Highway121.

The paddle was organized by Gary, so it included people from his Navarre area paddle group as well as those paddlers from the Mobile Bay Canoe & Paddle Club. The large group came sporting a variety of kayaks, canoes and inflatable boats. The put-in below the bridge is somewhat tight so it necessitated disembarking boats, then moving cars up toward the highway to permit others to unload. Then, almost everyone followed Gary in our cars (having left our boats at waters edge) to the take outs some five and ten miles down river. We all then returned in several vans and trucks to the launch.

The weather was perfect but with a very intense sun. Fortunately, for most of the trip, the creek was shaded but as the day wore on the sun came up, the creek widened considerably. This sunny condition was ameliorated by regular stops for sitting and swimming in the creek and to stop for water and food.

The character of the river below the put-in is similar to the upper Fish or Styx Rivers with white sandy bottoms, lots of snags and logs but with small quartz gravel at the shallows and inside turns. Except for eddy holes, it is generally quite shallow. Most log impediments had been cut out for easy passage. On down the river as it widens, all the insides of sharp turns have larger and larger white sanded beaches, excellent for camping, swimming and wasting a day away. The river then looks very much like the upper Perdido River, especially the white sanded beaches at the oxbows. On these, families of campers were seen taking advantage of the amenities of over nights on the river.

The trees which really give the river its character, are the white cedar, the red maple, black gum, ty-ty and pine, very similar to that we see along our creeks here in Baldwin County. We saw or heard very few birds for some reason. No fish of any size could be seen in the river but there were lots of turtles, perhaps indicative of some ecological condition, not readily apparent. The water seemed very clean and was crystal clear.

Although the woods had been heavily timbered back from the river, there was no private development along the edges. Access roads sometimes came close to the river, providing access for local people to camp, picnic and swim. There was hardly even a piece of trash in the creek as we came down, probably due to the cleanup efforts of west Florida boating groups. There were numerous canoe liveries in this area along the road, to serve both this creek and the nearby Blackwater.

Our crowd of people seemed to be mostly new people with limited water skills, many with new and handsome kayaks. Some of the people had recently moved here from places north. At our stops, we got to know each other better. Two little ladies came from Lillian to paddle in their new inflatable kayaks. These small but wide, inexpensive boats had ample room for cargo and would seem to be quite comfortable. However, they were not very suitable for this type of river because of the possibility of the current forcing them into sharp stobs and into log jambs at the turns. Notwithstanding this possibility, they made it down the river the five miles to the first take-out without mishap or puncture.

At the down river take-out where most of us had left our cars, we took our boats out and up the well constructed rock-paved boating ramp. Above the ramp, there was a small gravel-paved public park for parking vehicles only. After we had loaded our boats on our cars, some of the group drove back on Highway 121 to meet for supper at a restaurant. Gary and several others first had to make the ten mile trip back to the put-in to retrieve their cars and vans.

As we made our way about the woods in our cars in this Blackwater Creek Reserve area, one is struck by the large number of paved biking trails through the woods, the excellent warning signs and lights at trail crossings and the general public development for bikers. Many groups of bikers, all perfectly garbed in their bikers apparel, were encountered on the roads and seen passing down the biking paths. Out on the highways, there are numerous well developed, well designed parks and rest stops. Florida has made some large investments toward the public good in this area for the tourist trade and outing groups.

It was a good paddle, the water temperature was right, the weather was perfect and it was a new river that most of us from the Mobile Bay area had not seen or done before. Gary put in a lot of organizational effort to get people there, coordinate the off-loading, the shuttling and to lead the paddle as we passed down river. We need to make more paddles into West Florida so we can get to know more new waterways there.