Thursday, January 21, 2016

Paddling Bayou Bienvenue-right in our backyard

Bayou Bienvenue and its adjacent waterways sit right above the 9th Ward of New Orleans and Chalmette, and the actual bayou winds from the Industrial Canal (almost) over to Lake Borgne. It's an amazing getaway for something so close to downtown. 

Right off the bat, I'll mention that the biggest problem with paddling Bayou Bienvenue has to do with its launch options. There is a free spot on Florida Ave at Caffin Ave with a small parking area, but you have to carry your boat up and then down stairs that take you over the levee. And the two times I've looked at this spot, the blanket of water hyacinths seemed too thick to overcome. Instead, I've headed over to Paris Road, and used two private launches that charge $7 (as of Jan 2016) per car. The link below is the option closer to the city and right on the bayou itself. I've also included a link to the Florida Ave spot. And by the way, my friends with Kayak-iti-yak only use the Florida Ave spot, and have told me that the hyacinths aren't usually the problem that they were in December 2015 and January 2016.

Here's a link to my preferred Paris Road launch, behind the Paradise Casino:

Between Paris Road and the city you can enjoy two very different experiences on this trip. Bayou Bienvenue used to snake through a cypress forest/swamp. That forest is gone now, and only the "outline" of Bayou Bienvenue remains.  Right across from the launch behind the Paradise Casino, you pass under Paris Road and follow the bayou for a bit. Soon, you'll have an option to go south/left into the open area that feels like a small lake or coastal marsh, or keep more to your right and follow the bayou. On the trip I'll show a map of below, I go left here. If it's windy, you'll feel it. You'll see downtown New Orleans on your left, and probably hear the steady and familiar (to us natives) sound of a freight train horn. It's an interesting mix to feel like you're "away from it all", but hear and see civilization right there. Pelicans, hawks, eagles(?), trains and skyscrapers. As with most marshes, you can explore the various routes through the marsh, but here you won't have to worry about getting lost (even for me) because the overall area is not that large, and the city to your south  and west helps you keep your bearing. 

But when you're on the bayou itself (if you continue straight, or on the return trip in my route shown below), you really feel away from it all. An unbelievable amount of birds--every splash of the paddle seems to stir another flock of birds--and trees on both sides, blocking your view of the city for much of the route. You can really forget that the city is so close.

By the way, pelicans are very willing models, so that's most of what you'll see in my photos. But you will see a very large variety of birds, depending upon the season.

I've done a little exploring in this area, with some trips going east, through the flood gates and out to  Battery Bienvenue and Lake Borgne: Bayou Bienvenue to Fort McComb
But my standard loop of Bayou Bienvenue is this 10 mile loop:

By the way, looking at the route above, the start/finish is in the center of the right edge. Much of that large loop is pretty exposed to any wind. But in the top center of the image above, you enter into what actually feels like a bayou, with a little more protection from the wind. Also note that a potential hazard zone exists on this loop in the south western part of the loop. Just south of the intersection where this route extends into the main outfall canal are the remnants of the old cypress forest, and you do need to look for semi-submerged tree stumps. Again, that's just about the left/center of the image above.

That's about it for this trip. Just remember that even though this is a relatively enclosed area, this terrain can get a little confusing from our low perspective, so you could end up exploring or backtracking more than you intended. Bring a map and/or a GPS device, and study it first. And, most important about this trip: respect the wind. This is an exposed area, and if the wind is blowing, you will feel it out here.

And, here's a posting of a trip going east from this launch spot, out into Lake Borgne and over to Fort McComb:


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