The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
241 – 239 LBD Thomas Point (Mallet Bend)
Warning: Hairpin Bend! Blind Corner! As you enter Mallet Bend around Thomas Point pay special attention to any signs of upstream traffic. Ride the inside of the curve LBD as tightly as possible so that you can run to the shore quickly if needed. You could also ride the far outside of the bend, but that would add another mile at least to your progress.
Upstream tows appear fast here — and they will be furious if they find a canoe or kayak blocking their passage, and probably run over a paddler caught in the wrong situation. Usually the tow pilots have little margin for error in tight places like this, so give them wide berth. Downstream tows also present paddlers an equally precarious predicament around Thomas Point, they have to make a complete turnabout within a 2 mile stretch of river. They will be equally enraged if you get in their way. The big tows, 42 barges or more, have to go into the flanking maneuver at Thomas Point. If you see a tow coming to a standstill, backing up, stopping, backing some more, and then sitting in the water for long minutes, even a half hour or more, that is a tow making a flanking maneuver. If you happen to get there simultaneous with them, you could easily pass them at the bend. However, if they are completing the maneuver, you had better watch out. Once they have swung the nose of the tow around and picked out the direction downstream, their big 3200 hp engines x 3 eight-foot brass propellers = 9600hp total propulsion will suddenly fire up and start edging downstream like a herd of buffalos. You can tell when this point is reached when a cloud storm of thick black diesel smoke suddenly billows out of its smokestacks.
Thomas Point is a hairpin curve that makes good instruction for the bends to come downstream which will be swarming in towboats and work boats, but also be populated with fast-moving freighters. For some geologic or hydrologic reason not understood, the bends of the SoLa river from here on downstream do not make smooth rounded curves like they do above here. The bends come to sharp points, blind corners. The river enters full throttle going one direction, say to the west, makes some chaotic swirly changes, and then exits in entirely the opposite direction, in this case going east-northeast.
239 – 235 Allendale Reach (Thomas Point to Wilkerson Point)
After zig-zagging through the hairpin corner Thomas Point the paddler comes around like a billiard ball into the final run downstream into the top end of the busiest port in North America (the port of greater Baton Rouge/New Orleans). The river flows in a straight channel due east between Devil’s Swamp on the left and Pot Allen on the right, in a scene that looks like something you’d expect in Manaus Brazil, or some other industrial stretch along the Amazon. There is nothing sophisticated about big industry here. Rusty barges are scattered about in various states of use and ruin, and noisy worksites litter the banks, laid out with no particular grace or elegance. Nothing but economy and access are in consideration here. Same as any trashy river industry anywhere. Fortunately the port activity begins calmly. In this four mile stretch you can easily stay right bank and avoid the fleeted barges left bank. Best line of travel: keep a healthy few hundred yards out from a couple of right bank construction sites and docking areas, the first being a barge repair facility at RBD 236.5 (TT Barge Services).
239 – 235 LBD Allendale Reach: Fleeted Barges
Stay with the faster water right bank, and avoid the fleeting petro and grain barges left bank descending 238 -235. In other words, three miles of fleeted barges, or places that tows might getting ready to pull over and detach or re-attach barges for transport elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if you see a tow/barge packet come to stop mid channel, float a long time, and then swing around end for end. They are turning themselves around to come in for landing, and the fleeting along this stretch of river.
235.8 LBD Devil’s Swamp Bayou
The main entrance to Devil’s Swamp is through a deep steep muddy canyon (at low water) cut into the left bank shore, below and behind all of the fleeted barges near mile 235.8 LBD. If you are interested in seeing Devil’s Swamp this access is easily accessible to any paddlers of any ability. With an ever-vigilant eye out for approaching tows, go middle river and then paddle over towards the left shoreline, and watch for the opening. It will be immediately recognizable when you spot a decrepit swamp-rat cabin that is falling into disrepair on the upstream side of the bayou. Dive in below the fleeted barges wherever you get a safe opportunity, and paddle back upstream (sometimes behind the fleeted barges) to reach Devil’s Swamp opening.
The mouth of Devil’s Swamp Bayou (Bayou Baton Rouge) is usually obscured by rafts of barges. A small hunting camp on the upriver side is a good landmark to look for when searching for the small bayou. Devil’s Swamp Bayou (Bayou Baton Rouge) leads into Devil’s swamp with multiple branches for the paddler to explore. Devil’s Swamp is a prime example of “the very bottom,” in that you see the vitality of life growing directly above and off the dregs of life.
A hazardous waste disposal facility called Rollin’s Environmental Services (now Clean Harbors) was located adjacent to Devil’s Swamp in 1971 near the North end of Baton Rouge Harbor (also called the Baton Rouge Barge Canal). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) were found to have moved off of the Rollin’s site and into Devil’s Swamp and Devil’s Swamp Lake, a small oxbow lake just North of the North end of Baton Rouge Harbor. EPA Region 6 has found concentrations of PCBs in the Rollins outfall ditch, Devil’s Swamp Lake, southern Devil’s Swamp, and southern Devil’s Swamp Bayou (Bayou Baton Rouge) ranging from 76 to 13,200 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg). The maximum allowable level in drinking water is 0. Other hazardous substances were also detected in the sediments and fish tissues. The most distant sediment sample was located 2.09 miles downstream of the Rollins outfall ditch, the downstream extent – beyond 2.09 miles – of PCB contamination attributable to Rollins has not been determined. Devil’s Swamp Lake is now a Superfund Site and possible cleanup measures are being examined by the EPA. Paddlers should not consume any fish caught in Devil’s Swamp Lake, Devil’s Swamp Bayou (Bayou Baton Rouge), Baton Rouge Harbor, or the Mississippi River in the area around where Bayou Baton Rouge and Baton Rouge Harbor enters the Mississippi River. (LMRK)
Despite its unpleasant past Devil’s swamp is still a beautiful area and can make for an interesting detour for paddlers. The eastern fork of the bayou flows through a nice bottomland hardwood forest and the western fork flows through a more open swamp with a number of large old gnarly cypress trees.
Devil’s Swamp is a prime example of life at “the very bottom,” in that you witness the vitality of life growing directly above and literally off the dregs of life. Devil’s Swamp was the dumping site for a Baton Rouge hazardous waste incinerator, and is at present being considered as a US Superfund site for the resulting radical mix of crazy carbon compounds, heavy metals, and everything else nasty and toxic to living creatures buried in its mud. Take appropriate precautions within this basin. Do you see two-headed frogs and pink cypress trees? No, but don’t drink or swim in the water, and don’t eat any of the many edibles found here. You do see all kinds of warty toads and frogs and fantastic foliage. Swamp irises grace some of the man-made mounds of land in springtime. Rare orchids have been found, and also bromeliads. Some beautiful old cypress trees in some of the upper reaches of the bayou and its tributaries. All old cypress trees look other-worldly regardless of where they are growing.