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Project Clearwater — Expedition Seventeen

2014-03-30

Project Clearwater — Expedition Seventeen

Winch hook

After many Saturdays of hard work on Bayou Fountain, our schedule had us back out on the bayou on a Sunday.  In another first-in-a-while happening, we made it back to Highland Road Park with hours of sunlight to spare.  Perhaps the bayou’s getting better after all.

There was a good reason we weren’t out there working on Saturday, as usual.  You see, there was this little matter of an award being presented to one of our own.  Nathaniel Klumb was named Volunteer Conservationist of the Year for 2013 in the 50th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Recognition Program conducted by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.  Trading in the waders and boots for a suit jacket was a bit of a divergence from the usual styling, but apparently even muddy paddlers can clean up decently well — although he was dearly missing his customary hat.

So, after a nice evening meeting a bunch of interesting people and all the honorees from the other categories, it was time to get back on the bayou.  We arrived at the park early on Sunday morning with the air just a bit chilly compared to recent weeks.  On the other hand, the clouds of ravenous mosquitoes were also considerably reduced — they’d been crazy of late.  With the water at a not unpleasant 61°F and the chain gauge showing 4-1/2 feet of bridge clearance, it looked like it was going to be a nice day for working the bayou.

The water level was up a foot and a half or so from last weekend, which made for an easy paddle.  We know of one marked downed tree trunk that we still have left to get, but with the water at 5 feet or better, it’s completely submerged and not at all a problem.  That seems to be the case for the rest of the bayou, too.  With the water way down to 6 feet below the bridge, there are some shallows and logs, especially in the lower two miles.  With the water at 4-1/2 feet below the bridge, it’s an easy ride.

Winch block

Heading out this time, we knew of a couple problem spots.  There was one downed tree that still had a large limb sticking up from somewhere inaccessibly deep.  Even better, there was one spot with no fewer than three large trunk-like logs that were regularly catching things on the way down.  With the water higher than last week, there were no shallows to deal with, and most of the flotsam has been cleared already.

At the first scheduled stop, we set up to winch the large limb.  You never quite know what’s attached to what under the surface.  Sometimes, you start to pull on one small limb only to discover you’re moving an entire downed tree.  Other times you strap in to a huge log only to find that it was caught on a few twiggy branches and comes free so easily it feels like you wasted time setting up.  This one was right down the middle.  As we started pulling, more and more came up to the surface, raising questions as to just what we were on.  Then with a sharp crack, the line went slack and up floated the limb, cleanly snapped off right at mud level and just below a Y, leaving the path clear.  Ah, the little things that make your day.

Pulling logs

The other spot was a bit more work.  We’d known for a while there were long logs pretzeled together there, and we’d already floated a few elsewhere.  The last ones, however, were stuck fast far beyond pure muscle power alone, so once again we deployed the winch.  It’s rather fascinating just how much one person can pull around with a bit of mechanical advantage in their corner.  It took two hours to pull everything free and send it to a better place, but one of the last multiple downed tree pretzel sculptures is no more.  (When freeing such accumulations of logs, one of the later steps has become “cut any Y”, as it seems straight logs flow and logs with a Y catch.  That being the case, we’d like to nominate the letter “Y” for “Most inconvenient letter”, if Sesame or someone else happens to have awards ceremonies.)

With the various scheduled and unscheduled stops, it ended up taking us six hours to get from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac.  On the other hand, even with a couple brief stops to address a stray floating branch or the like, it only took two hours to return from Bayou Manchac to the park.  That’s a lot closer to the actual time it takes to paddle that length of Bayou Fountain.  With no large accumulations remaining and ever fewer and smaller problems showing up, it should only get better for any given water level.

Springtime on the bayou

At 4-1/2 feet below bridge level (the T piece on the chain gauge), Bayou Fountain is open.  It’s not *perfect*, as it’s a living bayou that could have a log float down here or there, but those small cases are no problem to get through in a canoe or kayak.  It will, of course, continue to get better, but it’s a perfectly cromulent paddle already.  At 6 feet below bridge level, on the other hand, you will hit a few shallows and likely slide across a few submerged embedded logs.  It is still completely passable, but there will be a few bumps here and there until we’ve had water that low often enough to hit all the trouble spots (or mild inconvenience areas, really).

In a couple weeks we’re going to have a big (we’re hoping) litter run.  We’d like to get all the paddlers we can out for a trip down the bayou, collecting all the floating litter along the way.  We’re still working out the details, but it looks like we’re going to go with Saturday, April 19th.  With a decent group, we should be able to knock out most or all of the litter in one nice day, and it’s as good a time as any to have a go at the newly paddle-worthy Bayou Fountain.  Mark it on your calendars, and stay tuned for details.

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