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Bayou Fountain — March 21, 2015

2015-03-21

Bayou Fountain — March 21, 2015

So begins a long, hard day.

With the high water gone and everything clear last week were expecting a super-easy trip down Bayou Fountain.  What we found, instead, was one of the most grueling days we’ve had in months.

Everything started normally.  Even better than normal, actually.  As far as Bayou Fountain went, the high water was gone, and there was very little current.  With the work of the last couple weeks, there was still a chance a log or two may have settled inconveniently, but with plenty of water to work with, even a couple trunks wouldn’t be a big deal.  It was a recipe for a great day, and it looked even better when we met another paddler at the launch.  We’d have an easy trip and interesting company.  What more could you want?

New deck.

Everything was fine until just a bit downstream of mile marker 2-1/2.  We’d just passed a new deck someone had built (the pilings were newly driven and unadorned last week), when we started to come across what looked like some minor jams (such as the one at the top of this entry).  A few stray branches catching things isn’t exactly unusual, and so, we went to work.

As we pulled the first few, I started to be a bit puzzled.  The pieces we were pulling out weren’t fallen branches that had washed down.  They were cut, which isn’t in itself unusual.  On rare occasions where trees fall, we do a lot of cutting, and occasionally there’s pruning here and there when branches overgrow and start blocking the bayou.  What was unusual was the size of the pieces.

No more branches... here.

As we slowly made our way down the bayou, we were finding many more large branches under the water than we’d ever seen.  It didn’t take long before I realized that it could not possibly be just latent leftovers from our previous efforts.  Then, as we were working yet another, I heard a sound that I really don’t like to hear:  the sound of gear going “Kerplunk!”

Mike had dropped his loppers overboard.  Quickly, he plumbed the depths with a kayak paddle only to find it was quite deep for Bayou Fountain.  Too deep, really, for me to send him in after them — it’d be up to his face for sure.  There was only one thing to do, then.  I doffed my waders, PFD, glasses, and hat and went in myself.  It was indeed deep, and even I sank in to neck level once or twice.  I was just steeling myself to go diving for gear when my foot hit something, and *Eureka!*

Bobbing for gear.

So, now that we have the loppers back, let me explain a bit about maintaining Bayou Fountain as a navigable paddle trail.  The first thing you need to know is that parts of it (especially from about mile 3/4 to mile 2-1/4) gets quite shallow when the water’s low.  This isn’t enough to make paddling a hardship, but it means that anything branchy *will* catch on the bottom, and when it catches on the bottom, it *will* cause a jam.  The second thing to know is that the bayou, especially in that same area, gets narrow.  It doesn’t get narrow compared to a canoe or kayak, but with the trees and plants lining the banks, anything with a “Y” or any log longer than three or four feet is highly likely to catch and become (or help create) an obstruction.

When we’re out on a work day maintaining the paddle trail, we do a lot of sawing of logs to cut the ends off “Y” pieces and to leave only cut logs short enough to flow down the bayou.  We also do a lot of sawing and lopping to turn branchy bits into collections of sticks, twigs, and other assorted small pieces.  Working with only a couple people (one to three, most trips) and using only hand tools, this has proven quite effective at keeping everything clear, and it really is the only option.  Why? Because the third thing to know about Bayou Fountain is that that same “problem” area has low banks.  It *never* has currents strong enough to force things out of the way — when heavy rains come through, instead of the current increasing, the bayou simply overtops the low banks.  The current when the bayou’s flooding is actually much less than when it’s within the banks.

Not the right way.

The work we were encountering this time was almost unbelievable, and the cause very soon was readily apparent.  Someone had been down the bayou heading toward Bayou Manchac, and everywhere there was an overhanging branch in the way, they just cut it off and left it in the bayou.  Over and over, we’d come across what looked like just a little branch and start pulling it up only to discover that it was an entire section of tree.  Many of them were so large that even cutting them up as we pulled them out, the pieces were enough to completely cover the deck of a canoe.  (Mike started calling them “treebergs”, even, as you’d see just a tiny problem only to discover its titanic proportions.)

I felt bad for the guy who was just tagging along for a nice trip down the bayou.  We’d have much preferred to just paddle the length of Bayou Fountain and enjoy the day, but as noted above, if we *didn’t* do anything about the dropped branches, the bayou would shortly be impassable.  Finally, after sticking with us for quite a while, he had to turn around and head back toward the park.  (If you’re reading this, do come back when we’re not suffering an insanely difficult day.)

Blurry? It looks just like it did to me live.

Now, before anyone gets a wrong idea or ends up offended, we’re not angry with anyone over this.  We’re not counting perceived wrongs and hoping for any righting thereof.  Frankly, some of the things that were cut were on our list of things that we’ve been needing to address (like the downed tree completely covered with broomstick-thick poison ivy vines — Mike’s certainly ecstatic we don’t have to work on that again).  We would ask, should we ever get the unlikely opportunity, that next time such a task is undertaken by someone on the bayou, could you please take a bit of extra time with your power saw and follow our well-tested best practices?

  • Trim from twigs toward trunk, a bit at a time.
  • Trim so that there are not long, forking branches.
  • Trim thicker pieces so they are straight(-ish) pieces, sans “Y”s.
  • Cut logs down to a few feet long (3-4 is ideal).

We’re also available to help.  It’s immensely more difficult work to go behind, pulling huge branches out of the water, than it is to do the work topside.  (Gravity works with you topside, and you never have to lean over the side and work any inverted-lefthanded-underwater sawing to cut off a fork just to get a limb up onto the canoe.)  One way or another, we end up doing the work to keep Bayou Fountain flowing and open for paddling, but it’s so much more pleasant when we aren’t hit with unexpected and utterly grueling days.

That's what it's all about.

On a day like what we’d expected to find Saturday, it would usually take us about an hour and a half to get from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac.  If we hit a few logs or stopped for lots of photos, perhaps it would stretch to two hours.  With what we encountered, we didn’t make it there that fast.  It didn’t take two hours.  It didn’t take four hours.  We’d left Highland Road Park at 8am, and we didn’t make it to Bayou Manchac until 3:30, seven and a half hours later!

Right around the time we were getting near Bayou Manchac, we ran across a friend paddling up from Bayou Manchac on a little jaunt with three young passengers.  He wasn’t heading all the way to Highland Road Park or anything, but seeing people out paddling is a big part of what makes us tick at PaddleBR.  Sure, we were exhausted, and we had miles to go to get back to the launch before we could call it a day, but the day *was* good.

Victory!

We’ve done enough hard labor on cleanups and paddleway maintenance that one little *utterly grueling* day isn’t particularly significant, really.  The only thing that bothers me about it is that the saw-and-drop work stopped just shy of the one mile marker.  That leaves somewhere in the vicinity of 1/3-1/2 mile that fits the profile of the area of the saw-and-drop that has not yet been touched.  If the same thing is done there (as opposed to following our best practices), we’re likely going to have another equally long, equally grueling day to take care of that, too.  We’ll take care of whatever we find, of course, but be aware that if you paddle it, you may find more catches than normal.  (You should be able to slide over anything without significant problems until we get to it, but if you find anything, please let us know to expect it.)

 

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