Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Senator Cochran attempts to use flooding disaster to jump start rejected Yazoo Backwater Project

Cochran questions canceling of Yazoo Backwater Project

MISSISSIPPI DELTA — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he is confident that the State of Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies are doing all they can to prepare Mississippians for widespread flooding this week.

Cochran, who serves on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Army Corps of Engineers, indicated that he would pay close attention to the flood mitigation resources that may be required in the Mississippi Delta after the flooding ends.

At a hearing last month, Cochran questioned the Corps’ plan to meet ongoing flood protection needs in the lower Mississippi Delta if, for instance, federal funding for the Yazoo Backwater Project is eliminated. All unobligated funding balances for the project would be cancelled under the President’s FY2012 budget request to Congress.

“The flooding we will see in the Delta this week could very well accentuate the risks of simply canceling flood control undertakings like the Yazoo Backwater Project,” Cochran said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

U.S. House to vote on deregulation of Clean Water Act to exempt spraying of pesticides into rivers and streams.

Editor's Note: Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson is a co-sponsor of this bill. Congressmen Alan Nunnelee, Gregg Harper and Steve Palazzo are not. However, that does not mean they won't vote for it. This is one of those call your Congressmen moments. Bill is slated for action on March 30. Follow the links on their names for contact information.

Bad Bill Will Mean More Pesticides in Our Water
Mae Wu
BY: Mae Wue
When I was growing up, we had a creek (pronounced “crick” where I’m from) running through our backyard that my little sister and I would play in all spring and summer long. We would be soaked head to toe by the end of the day from running through the water, looking for tadpoles and chasing butterflies.
It’s a great memory, and I hope someday my son will have similarly fond memories of playing in the stream that runs through my parents’ neighborhood.  But if the chemical industry special interests have their way, we all need to be careful about letting our kids play in the local waterbodies, or about fishing in a nearby river, or swimming in a lake. 
Right now, a bill - HR 872 - is quickly making its way through the House of Representatives that puts all the rivers, streams, lakes and other water bodies in the U.S. at risk of pesticide contamination.  This bill seeks to exempt the spraying of pesticides into or near a waterbody from the Clean Water Act.  This is madness.
Supporters of this bill want to rely solely on the federal pesticide law -- called FIFRA for short (“fif-rah”) -- to protect our waters from these toxic chemicals.  Under FIFRA, the Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides that can be sold and used in the U.S. if the Agency finds that its use “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”  
But FIFRA does not protect our waters from pesticide contamination.
How do we know? There are over 1,000 waterbodies in the U.S. known to be impaired by pesticide contamination - and many more are likely polluted but are not tested. The US Geological Survey has found pesticides in every stream sampled in a nationwide survey. Pesticide contamination is rampant: from California to Kansas to Illinois to New Jersey - almost every state across the country has pesticide-contaminated waters. 
This is no theoretical concern. Examples of pesticides destroying more than the target pest abound. An irrigation district’s spraying of a pesticide into their irrigation canal ended up contaminating a nearby stream and killing 92,000 juvenile steelhead trout. These chemicals are designed specifically to kill things, and it should come as no surprise that once they enter the water, they wreak havoc on the health of aquatic plants and animals, and they work their way up our food chain and into our drinking water supplies.   
When Congress first passed the Clean Water Act almost 40 years ago, its aim was to restore the most polluted waters or protect pristine waters from contamination. One program - called NPDES (“nip-deez”) permits - allowed the Agency to set limits on the amount and type of pollution that can be dumped into a waterbody by taking into consideration things like how the waterbody is used (for fishing or swimming) and whether significant fish species rely on the waters.  None of these things is considered by FIFRA.  (For curious readers, check out our factsheet for a side-by-side comparison of the differences between FIFRA and the Clean Water Act). 
At its core, FIFRA is about getting pesticides to market.  The Clean Water Act is about minimizing pollution. We need the Clean Water Act to protect us from FIFRA-registered pesticides.
But those special interest groups have convinced many representatives on both sides of the aisle that it's not necessary, that FIFRA alone can protect us.  They have marched in farmers and ranchers bemoaning the burden that this permit would have on them, on agriculture, and on our economy.  But they forget to mention that this permit does not apply to the vast majority of ranchers and farmers. (The only farmers this would apply to would be those whose crops actually grow in a waterbody.) 
In a few days, on Wednesday, March 30, the House will be voting on this terrible bill. Before they do, your representative needs to hear that you want to be able to use your local lakes and rivers without worrying about being poisoned by pesticides.  If you fish, or swim, or paddle or just want clean water, join  to stop this disastrous bill.   

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wildlife foundation says initial spill-related projects produced substantial results

The Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife established by BP and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill enabled NFWF and its partners to put several conservation projects on the ground and realize substantial benefits for wildlife - all within six months, according to a new report by NFWF.

NFWF’s “Progress Report” discusses the benefits of wetlands projects designed to enhance the survival of thousands of migratory birds, and explains that the benefits were even greater than expected, as they offset significant drought conditions in the region in 2010. The report also estimates that the sea turtle projects implemented by NFWF will likely save 800-900 sea turtles annually, and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings by a minimum of 50,000 per year.

NFWF Executive Director Jeff Trandahl says that when NFWF launched its efforts, “we recognized that time was of the essence if we wanted to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species.” The Deepwater Horizon oil spill came at a critical time for wildlife: only weeks before the sea turtle nesting season, and just prior to the seasonal migrations of many species of birds.

“Our strategy targeted species most likely to be affected and stressed the need to direct resources to the Gulf as quickly as possible. Our goal was to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species and boost populations of those species outside of the direct spill area, promoting their long-term survival,” says Trandahl.

“There is still more that can be done but we are encouraged by results of the initial projects and the strong stewardship that NFWF has demonstrated in working with a variety of partners to implement projects to help protect and restore wildlife along the Gulf Coast,” says Dave Rainey, Vice President for Science, Technology, Environment and Regulatory Affairs for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

Within days of the Deepwater Horizon incident, NFWF immediately convened its own experts, federal and state agencies and regional conservation partners to assemble a portfolio of projects to protect imperiled wildlife. On June 22, 2010, BP announced that it would donate the net revenue it received from the sale of oil recovered from the spill to NFWF, and provided $10 million in initial funding to NFWF. As of February 17, 2011, BP has contributed $22 million to the fund.

Plans for future projects
In the fall, NFWF worked with a technical advisory committee to shape a competitive Request for Proposals to direct remaining funds to similarly important projects that will help bolster fish and wildlife populations impacted by the spill.

In addition to continuing investments to benefit the Gulf’s migratory birds and sea turtles, NFWF anticipates making investments to build new oyster reef habitat, conserve important commercial and recreational fish populations through innovative management strategies and gear improvements, and add capacity to treat injured marine mammals.

By the deadline for proposals, NFWF had received 120 applications requesting approximately $41 million. Final grant decisions are expected to be announced in early April following review by the technical advisory committee and approval by the NFWF Board of Directors.

Significance of Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife
Trandahl also noted that the wildlife fund established by BP’s contribution is significant in two areas.
First, the fund was created as a voluntary contribution by BP that could not be used to meet mitigation requirements. This meant that NFWF has complete discretion over the funds and how they could be used to bolster wildlife populations, Trandahl says. In addition, it means the funds and resulting projects will not be used to offset any liability that BP may have for natural resource damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Second, he notes that BP made the funds available to NFWF as quickly as possible. “Timing was of the essence and NFWF would only be able to achieve its results if we could act quickly to get our projects up and running,” says Trandahl. “Normally, it would be several months before proceeds from a sale would be available but BP made a commitment to advance $10 million to NFWF immediately in order to launch our first phase of projects.

This was critical to the success of the initial programs, since the sea turtle nesting season had just begun, and millions of migratory birds were about to descend on the Gulf region.

Trandahl notes that there is a link between the natural resources and the people who live throughout the Gulf. “While these are very diverse communities, there is still a strong link to natural resources in general and fish and wildlife in particular. BP understood the importance of that connection and the broader impact this incident would have on these communities.”

To read the NFWF report, click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ross Barnett Reservoir and surrounding waters ripe for the picking.

BY: B. Keith Plunkett

If there is ever an easy answer to the often posed question about where to have an worry-free paddle without the worry of shuttling in Central Mississippi, it has to be the Ross Barnett Reservoir. This week Lucy's Revenge, in conjunction with the newly formed Central Mississippi Paddling Mafia, took to the Ross Barnett with a vengeance in an attempt to see what she had to offer. The idea was to find a way to hit the water quickly and put in a few miles after work, or on a quick whim.

We had no problem.

On Tuesday afternoon Kelly McGinnis, Dawn Henderson, Sharon and I launched from Pelahatchie Shore Park for a sunset tour of Pelahatchie Bay. It was beautful enough that my video from the 4 mile trip inspired another paddling friend, David Ogletree to hit the water this past Sunday to see if he could spot a few of the many hundreds of white pelicans we surprised on the north side of the bay.

The full moon rises over the Pearl River on Friday, March 18.
 Friday night brought a full moon, and an opportune time for an 8 mile paddle from Ratliff Ferry to Tommy's Trading Post at Goshen Springs. Kelly, Sharon and I were joined by Michelle Blair and Daniel Stuart. We watched a beautiful sunset and moonrise and paddled past a few campsites as people readied for what turned out to be a sensational weekend of weather. We made it in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Saturday morning I awoke determined not to get caught at the house. So, I and my youngest son Rickey headed out for an overnight trip down the Pearl River from the spillway to Lefluer's Bluff; a 12 mile trip. With the help of my trusty shuttling assistant and oldest son Isaac, I dropped my equipment and Rickey at the spillway, drove my vehicle to Lefluer's Bluff and was driven back to start our adventure.

Rickey Plunkett on the Pearl River.
The launch at the spillway was crowded with fisherman, but just beyond the first river bend the noise of the spillway and the mass of humanity surrounding it was already a memory. The water was pushing at a brisk 4 miles per hour, and we easily floated a quick 4 miles before deciding on a sandbar to make camp.

Rickey spent hours that afternoon sitting in the sand next to the river, digging holes, reading, and just being a kid. There's not a video game in the world that can compete with that. There's nothing quite like seeing your kids lose themselves in the slow pace of the outdoors. That evening, we watched another awe inspiring moon rise over the trees, and after hours of rare uninterupted conversation by the campfire we were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of owls singing along to the background sounds of water churning past fallen limbs.

A beautiful sunrise the next morning and a couple of hot chocolates, and we were packed and back on the water. An almost 8 mile trip should have taken us a couple of hours, but the Pearl River was pushing us along fast, and we were landing at Lefluer's Bluff in just over an hour. I'm glad I got the opportunity to take Rickey with me on this trip, but I'm accustomed to putting in over 40 miles in a weekend. I still wasn't satisfied and I wanted more.

The paddling gods were smiling. By the time Rickey and I stopped off for a quick bite at my friend Roberto's restaurant, my phone was buzzing with another opportunity. Kelly was sending out a call to all members of "the family" to meet up at Pelahatchie Shore Park for an afternoon of exploration. My reply to his text was a simple, "I'm in."

Rickey stayed at home to shower and rest up in preparation for a new week at school. I headed south out of Flora towards Ross Barnett, yet again. Entering Pelahatchie Shore Park, I found a mass of people walking, fishing, disc golfing, and some just laying out on the grass looking up at the cottony clouds. There were no signs of my crew, so I found a parking place to wait. That's when David Ogletree drove up and got my attention and we began talking about where I had spotted the white pelicans a couple of days before. A few minutes later my crew began to arrive; first David Christopher then, Michelle and her husband Kelvin, finally Kelly and his daughter and a friend.

We stayed away from the boat launch. It was a site of constant action and turmoil from boaters loading an unloading their fishing rigs. Instead we launched from a small inlet with easy access. Paddling around the tip of the peninsula and avoiding the boats, we headed east. The water began to lose it's chop as we found ourselves among a couple of small islands and interior waterways. We crossed underneath Spillway Road and into a wooded area adjacent to Millcreek Subdivision, finally running into an impassable weir about two and a half miles into the trip. Were the water not being released at such a clip from the spillway due to heavy rains, we likely could have paddled another mile. Forced to turn back, we made our way through the wooded area again. The west side of the little tributary provided a little visual entertainment: 10-12 foot tall red blooming azalea's, old forgotten camellia's still showing some blooms from their winter show, and the show of light purple wisteria climbing over and through the woods as if in search of something.

We talked of future paddles; our newly formed band of boating brethren.

The summer days are thankfully long, and opportunities are everywhere on and around "The Rez".

Cross posted at Lucy's Revenge: The Alzheimer's Paddling Project

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marsh Restoration proposed on lower Escatawpa and Deer Island

Marsh restoration planned in 2 Mississippi Department of Marine Resources projects

Proposed marsh restoration projects on the lower Escatawpa River and the northeast corner of Deer Island are the restart of a 2002 plan to use dredged material to nurture the coast's ecosystem, said a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources official.

The eastern end of Deer Island is seen from Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
"This is all about trying to capture as much dredged material from as many projects as possible," said George Ramseur of the department's Office of Coastal Ecology.

The program intends to have sites in all 3 coast counties where dredge material can be used to rebuild marsh instead of it being hauled away, he said.

In some cases, dredged material has been dumped offshore or into landfills, he said.

"If we dig that material out and completely remove it from the system, then we have automatically lost right up front," Ramseur said. "What we are doing will at least provide some interim recovery and it will help us."

Ramseur cited Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality studies that found that the state lost about 8,500 acres of marsh between 1950 and 1990.

"The lower Escatawpa River is an area that has seen particularly high rates of this marsh loss. This project is designed to re-establish some of this lost marsh, which is so critical for both recreational and commercial fisheries' productivity."

Another advantage is that using dredge material for such projects can be less expensive "than it is to basically throw it away," he said.

About 10 acres of marsh on the Escatawpa River just west of the Mississippi 613 bridge in Moss Point could be restored using material from a nearby commercial site, according to the permit application.

The request is to place 24,000 cubic yards of bucket-dredged material into water bottoms typically less than 1.5 feet deep, the permit application states.

Ramseur said a number of things cause marsh loss, but the Escatawpa River has been dredged for navigation and that changes the way the river carries and distributes sediment.

"What we do know is that any material removed by dredging or other means needs to go back into the system, preferably as close to the source as possible," he said. "Marsh is one of the most valuable coastal habitats, so that is our first choice for which to use the material."

The Deer Island project plans to create about 50 acres of tidal marsh and dredge-filled habitat on the northeast shore, which is currently water bottoms and pine-grass uplands.

Depending on the need for wave protection, the 3,200-foot-long and 12-foot-wide dike will end in open water or curve about 600 feet southwest to rejoin Deer Island, stated a DMR news release. The dike may be left open if turbidity is not high, the news release stated.

The area within the dike is intended to hold about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material over a 10-year period or until all available capacity has been filled, it stated.

The Escatawpa River and Deer Island sites will be allowed to naturally re-vegetate, but plantings may be made, the permit applications state. "The Escatawpa project is really the first standalone new permit for the program and this 50-acre Deer Island permit is the second," Ramseur said.

"We are kind of working our way through the process with the other agencies," he said.

Both applications state that a variance to a Mississippi Coastal Program guideline discouraging permanent filling of coastal wetlands is required. The permit applications go before the state Commission on Marine Resources. There's no timetable as to when the commission would review the applications.

(Video) Kayak race a big hit in Jackson County

JACKSON COUNTY, MS  (WLOX) - Saturday's "Battle on the Bayou" kayak and canoe race in Jackson County was a big hit. In just it's second year, the number of participants was nearly double last year's turnout.

And they came to the coast from as far away as California and Wisconsin. A total of 190 boats left the starting point at Gulf Hills Resort, with participants paddling nearly 10 miles along Fort Bayou to the finish line at "The Shed." 

Colorful kayaks covered the waters of Fort Bayou behind Gulf Hills Resort. Racers warmed up and jockeyed for position before the cannon sounded to start the second "Battle on the Bayou."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oil cleanup crews leaving Mississippi's barrier islands

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS--Visitors to Mississippi's barrier islands this spring and summer will notice something different: Very few oil cleanup workers.

Dan Brown, superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, told The Mississippi Press that cleanup will stop on March 1, so as to not disturb the nesting areas for shorebirds and turtles. The work will resume on Aug. 15th.

Brown said workers have already removed a lot of oil from the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn, West Ship, East Ship and Cat. But he admits there is still more there.

Last week, the Coast Guard released a report saying the Gulf beach cleanup has reached a point where crews, heavy equipment and thorough scrubbing can cause more damage to the ecosystem than good. The report said recent oil samples show weathered oil found along beaches has lost the majority of the toxic compounds in it and the oil left on shores meets federal safety thresholds for people.

Terry Morris, a retired National Park Service ranger and oil spill coordinator, said maintenance and monitoring teams will continue to check the island beaches from March through August. He said areas with oil and without birds will be cleaned.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

River guide to discuss opportunities for paddling businesses in Louisiana

A river guide and canoe builder will speak about identifying criteria for canoeing and kayaking trails from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at the LSU AgCenter’s Scott Research and Extension Center in Winnsboro.

John Ruskey of Clarksdale, Miss., designs and builds canoes. He started Quapaw Canoe Company in 1998.

He provides guided expeditions by kayak, canoe and stand-up paddle boards on the Lower Mississippi River and some of its tributaries, including the Big Sunflower, Yazoo, Coldwater, Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers, the lower reaches of the White and Arkansas rivers and the Atchafalaya River.

Ruskey will discuss opportunities for paddling businesses in Louisiana, how he formed his company, his business plan and lessons he’s learned, said LSU AgCenter agritourism coordinator Dora Ann Hatch.
The presentation is supported by a $115,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to the LSU AgCenter to help make the northeast Louisiana Mississippi River parishes a nature tourism destination.

For more details, contact: Dora Ann Hatch at (318) 927-9654 Ext. 229 or e-mail her at dhatch@agcenter.lsu.edu


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Discussion: Time for some Central Mississippi Blue Trails?

Blue Trails and events to promote rivers for paddlesports
brings tourist dollars.
 BY: B. Keith Plunkett

The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain is one of 113 Land Trusts accredited through the Land Trust Alliance, and the only one in Mississippi. Other Land Trusts in the state include the Mississippi Land Trust based out of Stoneville, the North Mississippi Land Trust in Hernando, the East Mississippi Foothills Land Trust in Meridian, and the Caplan Wildlife Sanctuary in Tylertown. Of these five, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, the North Mississippi Land Trust, and the East Mississippi Foothills Land Trust have dealt directly with watershed issues. The LTMCP and NMLT are the only two that have implemented development of Blueways, or Water Trails.

In general, land trusts are organizations that help to permanently protect land for the benefit of the public. There are more than 1,600 land trusts in the United States. These community-based institutions have protected more than 37 million acres of land.

Land trusts may protect land through donation and purchase, by working with landowners who wish to donate or sell conservation easements (permanent deed restrictions that prevent harmful land uses), or by acquiring land outright to maintain working farms, forests, wilderness, or for other conservation reasons.

By comparison, a blue trail is a dedicated stretch of river that enjoys special clean water safeguards and is a destination for fishing, boating, and other recreation. Blue trails, like hiking trails, help people discover rivers and provide a connection between urban and rural communities and the great outdoors. Blue trails provide a fun and exciting way to get youth outdoors and are economic drivers benefiting local businesses and quality of life.

Land Trusts and Blue Trails work together for the benefit of both.

In addition to Land Trusts, groups like the Pascagoula River Basin Alliance bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to help in protection efforts. The Pascagoula River Basin Alliance mission is to promote the ecological, economic and cultural health and viability of the Pascagoula, Leaf, Chickasawhay, and Escatawpa Rivers and their watersheds by fostering research, communication, and action. Many other waterways are semi protected by State Wildlife Management Areas that adjoin them.

American Rivers is forging partnerships with land trusts and other local groups to create blue trails as an innovative way to protect clean water and critical riverside lands, while promoting river recreation, sustainable economic development, and community pride. But here in Mississippi, the idea of Blue Trails is one that hasn't taken off as quickly as in other states.

While Mississippi's Gulf Coast, East Mississippi, North Mississippi, and to a lesser degree the Delta and Southwest have ongoing efforts that lend themselves to potential Blue Trail development, what I can't seem to find is any reference to a similar movement in Central Mississippi.

At the Reservoir, the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District oversees recreational opportunities that include managing 48 parks and recreational facilities for an estimated 2.5 million annual visitors. Ther are five campgrounds, 16 parks, 22 boat launches, three handicapped-accessible trails, two multi-purpose trails and a mountain bike trail. Each campground has a live-in, on-site Reservoir Patrol manager. Many proponents continue to fight for a similar proposal to create lakes south of downtown Jackson on the Pearl River. The Army Corps of Engineers continues to shoot down that project. Isn't the possibility of a Blue Trail something that would benefit the area without building more dams?

A healthy river can increase property values, boost recreational opportunities and local business, reduce water pollution, and protect people and property from flooding. But dams, levees and other man-made structures disrupt the natural functions of rivers, leaving many of them lifeless or cut off from their communities.

Why hasn't this been tried as a way to promote the ecology of the Pearl River and paddlesports as a legitimate tourist attraction?

Does this just make too much sense to be tried? Or has it been tried, and found to be unworkable? If it works, the possibilities to jump start similar efforts in Central Mississippi would be much improved.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Second Annual Battle on the Bayou to be March 12

The second running of the Battle on the Bayou will be held on Saturday March 12 on Old Fort Bayou in Ocean Springs, MS. The race will benefit the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, a group that is working toward conserving several important coastal habitats, and has established several recreational Blueway water trails for paddlers. One is Old Fort Bayou itself.

Old Fort Bayou begins in the Latimer area of Jackson County and meanders southwest growing wider and deeper till it empties into the Back Bay of Biloxi.  The race course runs roughly 9.5 miles over black-water bayou through estuarine marsh and maritime forest.  It will start at the Gulf Hills Resort grounds and conclude at The Shed and Camp Journey's End.    

Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing MississippiPaddling the Pascagoula and Canoeing Louisiana will be in attendance at the pre-race event held on Friday evening at Gulf Hills to sign books.     
A cardboard boat race will take place in the Gulf Hills Hotel swimming pool.  Eight teams will be given 2 hours to construct a pool worthy vessel.  The teams will be given cardboard, pvc pipe, duct tape and a utility knife.  Once the time is up, the boats hit the water for a hilarious race to see who wins or makes it to the other side of the pool.  

Friday evening festivities will also include a "Taste of the Town" Reception that feature Ocean Springs area restaurants, children's activities, and more.

For more information on the weekend festivities, and the race go to http://www.battleonthebayou.com/

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

John Ruskey and Quapaw Canoe Company of Clarksdale to be featured in Canoe and Kayak March issue

November morning on Buck Island; Ruskey soaking in the sun.
 P: Rob Zaleski 
Canoe & Kayak managing editor Dave Shively and art director Robert Zaleski paddled over 100 miles down the Mississippi River’s wildest lower-river reaches with Quapaw Canoe Company owner-guide John Ruskey in his handcrafted 30-foot voyager-style canoe. In the March 2011 issue of C&K, on newsstands now, the pair goes deep into Ruskey’s big-water world of desolate bends and uninhabited mid-river islands, illustrating the on-river experience and detailing the conservation battle to preserve the crucial public-use pockets along this apparent, yet overlooked expedition destination.

In late October, the American Land Conservancy and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service penned an agreement to permanently conserve the 880 timbered acres on Buck Island, solidifying the long-awaited, crucial first step in its permanent protection. Buck Island lies a short paddle north of Helena, Arkansas, and provides the crucial launching point into the fledgling Lower Mississippi River Water Trail—the route highlighted and paddled in the story, which runs to Choctaw Island, an 8,000-acre island near Arkansas City, Ark.

Check out interviews below with Kevin Smith and Tim Richardson, two keys conservation players speaking about the Lower Mississippi River restoration stakes from the water, as well as a few more, unseen shots from Zaleski of sunrise on the big river, capturing the same scene Mark Twain described over a century ago in Life on the Mississippi: “… when the sun gets well up, and distributes a pink flush here and a powder of gold yonder and a purple haze where it will yield the best effect, you grant that you have seen something that is worth remembering.”

And below you'll find more video from Canoe and Kayak on Mississippi's John Ruskey.

Be sure and pick up a copy of the March issue of Canoe and Kayak for the entire story and go to the website to view more pictures HERE.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yalobusha River: A quick look

Yalobusha from Grenada Lake to Greenwood will be one of our Delta Region trips. Plans are for sometime in February. We're shooting for President's Day Weekend. The Yalobusha joins the Tallahatchie at Greenwood to form the Yazoo. The trip will be 52 miles.

Click the map to enlarge.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trip Log: Lost and Found on Pelahatchie Creek

BY B. Keith Plunkett

A friend and coworker has spent the last year and a half listening to me tell tales of paddling all over Mississippi. He finally had enough of it and purchased himself and his wife a couple of Wilderness Pamlico 120’s in December. We scheduled a rendezvous at Pelahatchie Creek. The creek enters Pelahatchie Bay from Rankin County to the East, which in turn feeds into the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

It was a close central meeting point for us, he coming from Brandon, and I from Flora. I had yet to paddle Pelahatchie and had been hearing good things about it being a great afternoon in and out spot. He was anxious to get his new boats wet.

Weather forecasts had been warning for almost a week of an impending ice and snow storm that would shut down everything. Anxious to get in some time on the water prior to the doom of the Snowpocalypse, Sharon and I bundled up and prepared for a cold January paddle. His wife joined us, too.

Launching from Pelahatchie Trading Post we paddled 3.5 miles before the setting sun forced us to turn back.

We launched from the boat ramp behind the Pelahatchie Trading Post at around 2:00 that afternoon. The GPS showed the trip to be one longer than we could complete in the short daylight hours we had left. So, we decided to make it a leisurely trip, get as far as we would, and then turnaround and come back.

Paddling East under Highway 471 we passed by a few fisherman hunkering down in the well protected areas at the mouth of the Creek. The wind in open areas wasn’t terrible, especially with the sunshine, but the fishermen we spotted appeared less concerned with a catch than with just being there. For the first three or four bends we rounded in the creek we spotted fishermen, all said they had caught nothing.

Golfers were out playing the adjacent course of Bay Pointe that abuts the creek for about a half mile. Mississippi’s winter 2010-2011 has been tougher than in most years. This day was hardly good for golfing, but folks accustomed to being outside can only take so long before cabin fever begins to set in. There was no look of seriousness to any of the play, but you could tell people were happy to have a day of sunshine.

It is easy to see this is a favorite paddle spot for day-trippers. Downed trees that could have likely caused problems were eaten away in spots from some previous visitor’s chainsaws. The creek is loaded with logjams, but they are obviously cleared with great regularity. And, it’s a good thing. There are no sandbars, at least in the short 3 and a half mile run upstream we did. So had we run into an impassable jam, the choice in most places was to turn around and call it a day.

At around the 3-quarter mile mark the open golf course to our right disappeared and we were swallowed up by the surrounding trees. As we meandered upstream, I prepared for a quick couple of shots with the camera. I allowed the others in my party to paddle ahead, as I still have a hard time talking to a camera with others around me. A few shots here and a few there and I began paddling to catch up with my crew.

The only opening I would see again in the heavily forested creek would be immediately surrounding Highway 25. But as quickly as I descended from the woods, once crossing underneath the bridge there and I was just as quickly back into the thick of it.

At this point, I should have caught up with the other three paddlers. But, I had not. I thought to myself that maybe during my few months of not paddling as frequently I was not in as good shape, but surely I hadn’t lost that much. Even though I’ve been in a couple of kayak races, I’m a touring kayaker, not a true racer. Still I could easily sustain speeds in excess of 5 miles per hour and, unless my GPS was really bad off, I had hit 6 miles per hour on a few bursts. How could they have gotten that far away so quickly?

I rounded bend after bend, nobody. Just me, the woods, the water and an increasing number of deer and squirrels.

As I was trying to decide whether they had turned off the main route, or whether I was just crazy. I began to see wildlife, lots of it. How could I be spotting deer and squirrel that undisturbed had my cohorts already been through here? How could they have turned off so easily? The creek is fairly easy to track.

At that moment, a big splash jolted me out of my deep thought. River Otters! I had seen them before on the Chickasawhay, but these guys were close, two of them. They were much more playful and curious too. I scrambled for my camera once again forgetting about my paddling companions.

After playing with the Otters, my thoughts began to focus again on finding my wife and friends. It seemed obvious that they must have made a wrong turn. I had noticed several cuts that crisscrossed the creek. But they weren’t big enough to mistake for the main creek. Were they?

I sat silent.

I paddled ahead a short distance.

I paddled back a short distance.

I began to worry.

My wife is going to being ticked off!

And then, there they were. The signs had all been there. The animal’s I was seeing was an indication they hadn’t been this way, and they hadn’t. They had made a wrong turn. Sure, it was easy for me to keep on the creek, I had the GPS. And they, well they didn’t. I took my wife’s not so subtle irritation like a man.

Yes dear.

I do get lost in my thoughts out here. But, that’s part of the allure.

We paddled a little farther upstream, before turning back. We loaded the kayaks just as the sun and the temps were dropping fast. We’ll be back to do the whole thing, and next time I’ll try to keep up with my crew.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be ur travel bag." Alexander Solzhenitsyn