The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
210 RBD – Dow Chemical Company Louisiana Operations
With the purchase of four plantations in Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes, Dow established its Louisiana Operations in 1956. Today, the 1,500-acre integrated manufacturing facility near Plaquemine and brine operations in Grand Bayou comprise one of Louisiana’s largest petrochemical facilities. With more than 3,000 employees and contract employees, Louisiana Operations is the largest employer in Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes. Louisiana Operations has 23 production units manufacturing more than 50 different intermediate and specialty chemical products, such as chlorine and polyethylene, that are used to produce cosmetics, detergents, solvents, pharmaceuticals, adhesives, plastics for a variety of packaging, automotive parts, electronics components, and more. In 2013 Dow Chemical’s air toxic releases were 1,863,204 pounds, and its water toxic releases were 522,233 pounds. (Paul Orr)
210 RBD Dow Chemical Wastewater Outfall
As you paddle below the bottom end of Plaquemine Island in low water you will see what looks like a Rocky Mountain river bursting into the Mississippi full of whitewater froth. This torrent of water is the Dow Chemical Outfall. It rivals many paddling streams in sheer volume. Keep your distance and avoid contact.
208.5 RBD Dow Chemical Plaquemine Point Shipyard, Cleaning Wharf
Maintain a 100 yard buffer zone when paddling past this docking facility. Monitor VHF Channel 67 and watch for workboats, tugboats, freighters and other traffic.
209 RBD Myrtle Grove Trailer Park
The extensive vinyl chloride contamination under the Dow facility that spurred the Morrisonville buyout also traveled through the groundwater more than a mile south of the facility. In 1997 the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals found vinyl chloride in the drinking water well that supplied water to the Myrtle Grove trailer park. Due to “human error” neither the residents nor any other agencies were notified. After suffering from miscarriages and other health problems the residents finally were notified of the contamination in 2001. The trailer park operator gave each household $2000 for moving expenses and shut down the park. Dow has fought any responsibility for the contamination. The site has since been developed into a nice middle-class subdivision connected to the city of Plaquemine’s water system. (Paul Orr)
208.7 RBD Plaquemine Beach
A perennial beach (that is only present in low or med water conditions) can be found along the riverbank directly below the old Plaquemine Lock & Dam facility. There’s not a lot of sand here, and most of it is angled. But above Plaquemine Beach paddlers could find flat ground to set up a tent in the grassy areas below the levee. Beware: the backside of the levee here has vehicle access and is easily approachable from downtown Plaquemine. Don’t be surprised if you have company. On the other hand, it will most likely be friendly (or at least curious) company. Plaqumeine would be a good place to meet a connection, resupply, or spend a leisurely evening near one of the nicest towns on the river in Louisiana.
City of Plaquemine
Plaquemine is a friendly town with all the amenities paddlers might need including water, food, hardware, post office, library and WIFI. Easy walking to nearby historic and cultural sites, as well as portage over to Bayou Plaquemine.
Plaquemine sits at the crown of the second giant bend below Baton Rouge (Plaquemine Bend), and is one of the best situated and most paddler-friendly river towns on the Lower Mississippi River. Plaquemine has it all: easy access via grassy and sandy landings, good camping on a nearby island, grocery stores for resupply (and other essential services), small town casualness, and interesting cultural sites. The easiest route to town for paddlers is to go West bank below Plaquemine Island and make landing at 209 RBD on Plaquemine Beach (low water) or the grassy levee incline above (med or high water). Secure your vessel and take a walk over the levee, your first stop is the intriguing Lock House of the Bayou Plaquemine Lock & Dam. The Lock House features a “staircase” shaped roofline profile that is visible far over the river, reminiscent of Dutch architecture. Although non-functional the Lock House is run as a State Historic Site and is well-worth the visit. Maps and local information can be found in gift shop. Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site, 57730 Main St, Plaquemine, LA 70764, (225) 687-7158.
Bayou Plaquemine Park surrounds the Lock & Dam, and is a peaceful place to stretch your legs and picnic off the river. To the south of the Lock & Dam rises the tall square bell tower of St John the Evangelist Church, which looks like it might have been relocated from Florence. The Plaquemine Post Office and the Plaquemine Depot Market are nearby, as well as a drug store, hardware store, and soul food restaurant. Butcher Boy Grocery features a good selection of fruits, veggies, meats, deli, and local cajun delectables, and is about a mile from the river at Plaquemine Beach, at 58045 Belleview Drive, or LeBlanc Foods a little further up at the Bellview Shopping Center, 58440 Belleview Dr.
The word “Plaquemine” is said to have come from an Indian word that meant “persimmon.” The persimmon tree of the South is ordinarily a small to medium sized tree that grows in moist bottomlands, in old fields, and along roadsides. It bears a small orange-colored fruit that is edible when fully ripe. Indians in the Mississippi Valley were very fond of the persimmon fruit, and often served it to visiting missionaries and explorers. The trees were said to be very abundant in the Plaquemine area, along the small bayou that was one of the Mississippi’s distributaries. Early settlers in Louisiana removed the timber and debris that obstructed the Bayou Plaquemine, so that the waterway could serve as a path to the interior, but they found that they had created some serious problems for themselves. With the head of the bayou open, it began to enlarge rapidly. By 1865, local residents found it necessary to close the head of the bayou again. A small settlement sprang up at the head of the bayou around 1800 and adopted the name of the troublesome waterway. It was incorporated in 1838. Most of the citizens of Plaquemine were of French descent. In 1900 the Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to construct a navigation lock in the Bayou Plaquemine. Work was delayed by extreme heat and an outbreak of yellow fever in 1905, but in 1909 the new lock was finally opened for navigation. It had been designed by Colonel George W. Goethals of the Corps, who would later be the chief engineer on the Panama Canal project and who would serve as the Panama Canal Zone’s first governor. The old navigation lock, now obsolete, is no longer in use. The interesting little town has preserved many of its early buildings and its French flavor. It is the trade center of a rural area where some of the large sugar plantations of Louisiana are located. One of these is St. Louis plantation, just below Plaquemine. The house at St. Louis was built in 1857, and is still occupied by descendants of the original owner. (Bragg’s: Historic Names & Places)
Bayou Plaquemine: Alternate Route to Gulf via Atchafalaya Basin
A paddler seeking an alternate exit to the Gulf of Mexico via the Atchafalaya Basin could portage over the levee and into Bayou Plaquemine. Less than ten miles would bring you to the Port Allen Gulf Intracostal Waterway. Ten miles more of flatwater paddling would bring you to Bayou Sorrel, where you could lock over and into the flowing waters of the greater Atchafalaya River (although the routes are very limited in low water). There are no sandbars and very limited camping opportunities within the Bayou Plaquemine, but unlimited choices once over the levee into the Atchafalaya drainage. 45-65 miles of paddling further to Morgan City (depending on route chosen) and from there another 20-30 miles to GUlf waters (again depending on route). Total distance from Mississippi to Gulf of Mexico via Bayou Plaquemine would be 85-100 miles depending on route, and could be more of course if you made more explorations of the Atchafalaya along the way. In high waters you could potentially paddle up Bayou Sorrel and drop down into the labyrinth of possible bayous and lakes including the spectacular cypress lined wetlands around Lower Grand Lake, Duck Lake, American Pass and Flat Lake. Imagine stately cypress standing tall and making long reflections across the muddy waters, spanish moss swaying in the breeze, nutria-thick water hyacinth, crawfish and gators. These are some of the most beautiful bayous anywhere in Louisiana, and you could find these if you choose this route down Bayou Plaquemine. Go to the Rivergator section on the Atchafalaya River for more description of possible routes and more details.