The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Natchez to St. Francisville

358 - 355 LBD Carthage Point Towhead

Carthage Point Towhead hugs the left bank opposite the Natchez Islands and would make for ideal picnicking and camping except that it’s an active hunting camp, and should be avoided during the fall hunting season.  That said, giant sandbars emerge around its outer edge below 25NG, and if the weather is calm you could stop anywhere along the shore and remain a safe distance away from the higher woods and fields popular for hunting.  As with all islands, your best bet is to stay on the sand and avoid the woods whenever possible.

 

Carthage back channel opens up for passage around 30NG.  A hunting lodge is found one mile down the back channel LBD, but otherwise you can enjoy a peaceful float through a broad channel lined by trees and no towboats.  (No towboats, that is, until flood stage.  Paddlers be aware!  At flood stage a tow might make its run up any open channel.)

 

356.5 - 360 RBD Morville/Jeffries Landing

The mile-wide Mississippi River below the Natchez Bridge gets squeezed into a channel half that width as it rounds Carthage and as result dives deep and flows fast and furious, even at low water.  Watch carefully and plan your route in the presence of any tow traffic.  Big eddies clutch the current right bank while sluggish water hugs the left bank, in between which a vigorous tongue of water several hundred yards wide charges into and creates mini-maelstroms on either edge, where rounded waves become big crashing waves, and smooth boils become explosive boils with whirlpools on the edges.  Take note: Downstream tows want to be exactly where you are paddling!  Upstream tows meanwhile will hug the inside of the bend, unless they are waiting for a downstreamer to come through and then they might approach either bank.  You could just as well find an upstream tow in wait along the left bank as well as the right bank.    Meanwhile you are caught in between as helpless as a willow leaf being spun in the swirls.  If you see a 2 or 3-screw tow plowing upstream be ready for waves!  Monitor VHF channel 13 if you have a radio.  Pull to the bank and wait if things look too weird.

 

352.5 LBD St. Catherine National Wildlife Refuge

A beautiful narrow bayou enters the river left bank descending at 352.5, at the base of a stand of tall cottonwoods.  This bayou marks the upstream boundary of St. Catherine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which follows the river through this stretch in a ragged mosaic of protected bottomlands from the Natchez Bluffs down to the northern tributaries of the Homochitto River.  The 24,589 acre refuge is an important migration waystop for the wood stork, the only stork that breeds in North America.

Ninety percent of St. Catherine Creek NWR is located within the annual floodplain of the Mississippi River and is considered bottomland hardwood forest habitat.  Historically, the entire refuge was forested, however, nearly two-thirds of the refuge was cleared in the 1960's for row-crop agriculture.  Since the establishment of a refuge, much of the lands have been planted back to bottomland hardwood tree species.  Today, few areas within the Lower Mississippi River Valley exist without levees, thus flood naturally.”  St. Catherine Creek NWR is greatly influenced by the annual inundation of floodwaters from the Mississippi and Homochitto Rivers, creating important backwater habitat with landscape features such as ridges and swales, sloughs and drains, and oxbow lakes. Some of the oxbow lakes are dominated by the bald cypress-water tupelo forest community.   

 

Wood Storks

Wood storks are a common visitor of St. Catherine Creek NWR during August and September when much of the water is drying up and food resources are being concentrated in small pools.  Because the refuge is within the floodplain of the Mississippi River and not protected by large levees, it is common for the river to recede from the refuge during late July through early September.  This event can draw over 4,000 wood storks from their breeding habitats in Mexico and Central America to the refuge to utilize evaporating pools to catch fish and invertebrates. 

 

The wood stork is a subtropical and tropical species, which breeds in much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean. It is the only stork that presently breeds in North America. In the United States there is a small and endangered breeding population in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, along with a recently discovered rookery in southeastern North Carolina.  The wood stork is a broad-winged soaring bird that flies with its neck outstretched and legs extended. It typically forages where lowering water levels concentrate fish in open wetlands; it also frequents paddy fields. Walking slowly and steadily in shallow water up to its belly, it seeks prey, which, like that of most of its relatives, consists of fish, frogs and large insects. It catches fish by holding its bill open in the water until a fish is detected.  In the United States, the wood stork favors cypress trees in swamps, ditches, and shallowly flooded emergent marshes.

 

Wintering Waterfowl

St. Catherine Creek NWR was established to provide a habitat and protection for wintering waterfowl, particularly for mallards, Northern pintails, blue-winged teal, and wood ducks.  The refuge provides a diversity of habitats for waterfowl that include shallowly flooded moist-soil impoundments, scrub-shrub wetlands, and cypress-tupelo swamps.  Wintering waterfowl utilize each of these habitats during the winter to find a variety of foods, cover, and to begin pair bonding for the spring.  Waterfowl abundance will vary by year, but could range from 20,000-50,000 waterfowl during peak times of the year, which usually occur in early to mid-January.  Common winter visitors include the mallard, Northern pintail, gadwall, Northern shoveler, green-winged/blue-winged teal, wood duck, and American wigeon.