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Project Clearwater — “Expedition Zero”

2014-11-11

Project Clearwater — “Expedition Zero”

A big, fat zero!

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.  For the first time in a year, you missed nothing.

When we kicked off Project Clearwater, there was really no telling what we were in for.  We knew there were two dozen log jams and blockages.  We knew some of them were huge, and the largest could certainly make a claim on “epic”.  We had no idea how much time and effort it was going to take to break through everything and restore Bayou Fountain to a paddle-worthy state.  What might it take to maintain that?  We could not possibly say.

Unused saw and float lines.Soon after we started working on the bayou, the vast scope of the work became readily apparent.  Progress was slow and hard-earned, but it was constant… for a while.  When we reached the half mile or so with the three huge blockages, things slowed down a bit.  The 65-yard monster would likely have been the end of any reasonable attempt, but if there’s one thing you learn about yourself over weeks and weeks of hard labor, waist-deep in muck, it’s that reasonableness is not actually a requirement.  The sudden spike in visibility right at that point also helped bring a welcome second wind.

Unusued line, straps, and loppers.

It took all the way to spring to break through from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac.  I can’t decide whether knowing that going in would have made things seem harder or easier.  When at last we found ourselves on the Ascension side of Bayou Manchac without having exited the canoes even once, it was a moment to celebrate.  Paddles were high-fived… er, high-oned?  Bottles were opened (of sparkling, non-alcoholic beverages).  Congratulations were shared.  And, of course, the way forward was also considered.  It was a moment of transition (the bayou could now be paddled!) and a moment of revelation (the real job was only beginning).

Rake, unused.

If phase one of the project was making it possible to get from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac without having to portage, phase two was dealing with the inevitable and expected “settling out” of all the formerly locked-up wood.  Almost (but not quite) every week, we’ve been out on the bayou to clear the new catches as they occur.  At first, there were considerable new jams nearly every week, but over time, the number and significance has steadily decreased (outside of the occasional downed tree or major high water effects).  We even called in the reserves for the major cleanup, a day for which we are still smiling.  Most of the time it’s been one or two of us just keeping everything in order, but that’s been perfectly fine as the days have gradually become more recreational and less occupational.

Dry hands!

Recently, we’ve been ever so close to something that we’ve been looking forward to for a year.  This time out, it finally happened:  I went from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac and back, and I did nothing!  Not once did I have to pull out the saw to cut up a long log.  Not once did I grab a float line to tow something out of the way.  Not once did I grab the loppers to trim problem branches.  No rope or line or straps left their storage buckets.  I didn’t even reach for the rake to clear a single problem area.  I paddled all the way down the bayou and back, and when I arrived back at Drainpipe Launch, my gloves were still dry!

And so, the moment I have been waiting for (and working toward) for an entire year has come at last.  By official proclamation and with all appropriate pomp and circumstance, I hereby declare, “Mission accomplished!”

Bridge minus seven.

So, we finally had an “expedition zero” (named after the number of problems, of course).  And with that, we now retire the numbering scheme for Project Clearwater.  Sure, it’s more a clerical mark than anything, as we’re still going to be out there practically all the time, but it feels like we’ve actually reached the goal we originally conceived.  Bayou Fountain is clear, and any problems from this point forward are merely maintenance of our fully operational paddle trail.  We can certainly improve some things (proper paddle launches, for example, or more work on the Shallows), but we don’t need to look forward to having a paddle trail.  We have it now, and it is good… even when all you find is a bunch of nothing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria permalink
    2014-12-09 8:43am

    I first read this blog when getting ready to follow my husband’s job out to Baton Rough in June 2014. I got here Thanksgiving and am happy to hear of this great success. i brought my paddle but had to leave the kayak. Also feeling depressed about all I left behind in Oregon and looking at a mountain of boxes to unpack. But hope to enjoy the fruits of your hard work someday soon. Congratulations!!

    • 2014-12-09 11:14am

      Unpacking a mountain of boxes strikes me as perhaps even more work than clearing a little bayou. I still haven’t quite found everything from when I moved a few years ago — eventually, I stopped looking, and now I just have occasional surprises. (“Oh, wow, I’ve always wanted one of these!”)

      We’ve seen the water temperature in the bayous around here get rather frigid at points during the winter, but then again, the highs hit the 70s (or the occasional 80°F) even in January, so we keep the bayous ready year-round. (*Wearing*, not just having, a PFD is *highly* recommended when the water’s chilly in winter, of course.) We’ve got a side project or two, as well, that we’re hoping to start making preliminary progress on this winter. Probably won’t be anything notable for some time, but once things start happening, it’ll be very cool.

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