The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Paddling through the Narrows below St. Francisville
After St. Francisville you will now need to negotiate the tight stretch of river as it flows past the Big Cajun Power Plants and through the narrows under the New Roads Bridge. The river is about one mile wide at the Ferry Landing, and there is a hidden shallows in the middle of the channel, which rises from the bottom like an island, and is often marked by buoys. If the reds and greens look misplaced, or washed out, they’re not, it’s this shallow underwater island that would cause problems from an errant tow. In low and medium waters navigation channels are found on either side, against left bank descending, and right bank descending. Best visualized looking at the Army Corps 2007 maps, it is the blue shading you see around 265 like a classic “seal-shaped” island. At high water the buoys are removed because towboats can safely steam anywhere over this area without fear of becoming grounded.
Downstream paddlers leaving St. Francisville can simply stay left bank descending and maintain that position down around Bayou Sara Bend and on under the bridge. It might start out slow at first, but the current will pick up and by the time you get opposite the Big Cajun II you will be in the fast water. If you are coming in from above St. Francisville and not making a stop stay mid-channel if there are no tows. In the presence of any traffic your best route would be to stay in the current right bank descending and curl into the bend above Big Cajun II, if you go with the flow it will eventually push you into center current for final approach under the bridge. If there are upstream tows under the bridge, oh boy! You are in for a ride! The waves get big in this turbulent stretch of water. It may not be too bad in low or medium water, but in high water (above 22BG) the waters roll like a screamer roller-coaster. Stay as far right as you safely can, watching for fleeted coal barges along the Big Cajun Wharf Islands and the activity of small tows servicing them. Small service tows like these sometimes make the biggest waves, because they are high frequency, short and choppy, often crashing. If you hit them wrong they will easily capsize a 2-man canoe.
After you have gotten under the bridge and are riding the broad tongue of current on downstream towards Fancy Point you can breathe in a deep sigh of relief and high five the other paddlers in your group. The danger is over… for now.
264.7 LBD Small Bayou
The mouth of a small bayou is found a couple hundred yards below the St. Fancisville Boat Launch that would make a good picnic spot, but not recommended for camping.
263 – 261 LBD Sandy Dunes Dugan Landing
There are a few sandy dunes in the vicinity of the bridge, the best being Dugan Landing. You could pull of here for a picnic, or to take a break, but camping would be awful due to the fact that the Big Cajun Power Plant is roaring all night and all day across the river.
263 RBD Big Cajun Power Plant I and II
Big Cajun II is a coal-fired operation, and is noted by the three smoke stacks you have been seeing since St. Maurice Island. Big Cajun I is a natural gas plant that you don’t see over the riverbank because it’s shorter and has no visible emissions.
261.8 John James Audubon (New Roads) Bridge
The beautiful fixed-span John James Audubon Bridge was completed and put into service in 2011, displacing the old St. Francisville Ferry. It is popularly known as the New Roads Bridge, and was the newest bridge on the Middle/Lower Mississippi River until the 2013 opening of the Stan Musial Bridge in St. Louis. The bridge has the second longest cable-stayed span in the Western Hemisphere, after Mexico’s Baluarte bridge, (although its total length is four times that of the Mexican bridge).
260.1 LBD Crown Vantage Outflow
The wastewater discharge of a paper mill, now called Tembec, hidden by the levee and trees. Only a small structure near the bank marks it’s presence. It seems to have a much cleaner discharge then the Georgia Pacific paper mill just a few miles downstream.
259.9 LBD Transmontaigne Docking
Watch for tow sporadic tow activity and docked barges around the Transmontaigne Docks, especially in high water when the force of water could easily cause collisions for any paddlers who come in too close. This dock connects to a petroleum terminal on HWY 61 a few miles to the East.
259 RBD Big Cajun I Power Plant
Just visible through the trees is a small natural gas fired power plant called Big Cajun I which is why the coal fired power plant upriver is Big Cajun II.
259 – 256 LBD Fancy Point Towhead
Fancy Point Towhead is found left bank descending about seven miles below St. Francisville (or about three miles below the Audubon Bridge). If the water is above 12 BG the back channel will be open and flowing, but below 8BG it might be impassable, and below 5 it will start drying out except for some inlets on the edges and back channel pools. A small sandbar is found top end at 12BG, but by 15 is gone. If the water is high (above 30 BG) you can camp pull your canoe or kayak up to the bank in the fast currents top end, and find shelter in the sandy bottomed scrubby woods at the head of the towhead, which is full of scrubby sycamores. Or you can continue around the outside edge and find sandy bottoms in the woods further down. Or you can go back channel for broad sandbar camps found on the RBD of the back channel, (and a little further down on either side of Thompson Creek).