Monday, May 26, 2014

Paddling conditions for Black Creek on May 24-25, 2014

A small shady sandbar between Moody's Landing and Janice Landing on Black Creek in the De Soto National Forest, in southeast Mississippi.  Decaying vegetation in the stream bed tint the stream with tannin, giving the water the color of  dark, Mississippi sweet tea.    

          For 42 miles on its run from its source in the piney uplands south of Hattiesburg, MS to its confluence with the wetlands surrounding the Pascagoula River near the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Black Creek winds through the De Soto National Forest.  This stretch of the mostly shallow slow-flowing, winding "blackwater" stream flanked by numerous sandbars and a deep forest mostly devoid of signs of permanent human intrusion is considered by many to be the best canoe/camping trip in the Magnolia State.
       Between Moody's Landing and Fairley Bridge Landing, about 21 miles, has been designated a Wild and Scenic Stream by the U.S. Congress.  About six miles of that stretch flows through the 5051-acre Black Creek Wilderness Area.  Wilderness Areas, a federal designation, are road-less preserves where use of motorized devices of any sort and wheeled vehicles (including bicycles) are prohibited. 
         Getting on the creek is easy for both paddlecraft owners and non-paddlecraft owners.  The largest of two canoe liveries servicing the creek is about 110-miles northeast of New Orleans, in Brooklyn, MS. A second, much smaller livery with a small campground, RV park and cabins-- Red Wolf Adventures--on MS 29 north of Wiggins, MS, is about a mile south of Janice Landing.  Both will run a shuttle for you if you have your own canoe or kayak.
       The best craft for floating the creek, either for the day or weekend, is a canoe or short, sit-on-top kayak.  The necessity of having to steer through stump gardens in the stream channel and the probability of having to get out of the boat to drag it over the shallows several times makes using a long, narrow "sea" kayak more trouble than it is worth.  Consider too: Where would you put an ice chest on a sea kayak?  Floating the creek with your butt wedged in a truck tire inner tube is permitted but is rarely seen.  Neither of the two liveries rent tubes to float the creek. 
        The forest service maintains concrete boat ramps along the creek at five primitive Recreation Areas (campgrounds): Big Creek, Moody's Landing, Janice Landing, Cypress Creek Landing, and Fairley Bridge Landing. Not on national forest property is the most popular put-in, a gravel bar in Brooklyn, MS, near the canoe livery there.     
       In the summer and particularly on warm weather holidays, the two canoe liveries are kept busy running shuttles and renting, canoes and kayaks.  If you are a hermit all of this activity can make the creek appear noisy and crowded, having all the charm of the Tunnel of Love at Coney Island.
       But crowds are spread out along the creek so even on busy weekends you can probably find a sandbar to call your own, away from the noises of others, if you begin looking early enough.  No permits, reservations or permissions needed to camp along the stream.  Note that there are a few small parcels of land along the creek that are privately held.  These in holdings are often posted and paddlers should respect the rights of private landowners along the creek.
        Excluding stopping time, experienced and sober paddlers can plan on a pace of about three miles an hour.  That's constant paddling.  Daydreamers, and inexperienced or inebriated paddlers, will need more time. (Alcohol is permitted while on the creek but is not permitted in the FS recreation areas (campgrounds.)
       Be sure to bring a garbage bag to corral cans and trash. No glass containers are permitted on the creek and Styrofoam coolers are strongly discouraged.   Styrofoam coolers break up easily when dumped into the creek during a capsize, littering the creek with its contents.  And Styrofoam cooler pieces never sink littering the creek for years.
      There must be a life vest for each person in the boat but adults do not have to wear them.  Kids do.
       Distances marked on maps and provided by outfitters are approximate and useful in plotting your progress on the creek.  However the distance from the Brooklyn put-in to Moody's Landing, said to be five miles, is closer to seven miles.  Try to bring a compass and have a map showing major side creeks to help answer the inevitable question: "How much farther till we can stop?"
      No map?   One trick to determine your location is to follow the bends in the creek while you paddle.  While the creek flows mostly east and south and sometimes north, there are a few sections, miles apart, that flow west or southwest.  If you find yourself heading south or southwest you can usually find that stretch on a map and from that determine your approximate location.
       A water level of four feet on the USGS Brooklyn gage means a tandem canoe loaded with a weekend's worth of gear will clear broad tan gravel and sand shallows by a mere inch or two.   When water levels drop in summer and late fall, as they often do, expect to run aground at least once or twice. 
       Hint: Flip-flops will not keep gravel from wedging uncomfortably between your foot and the sole.  To protect your feet when out of the canoe, wear a pair of old sneakers you are willing to sacrifice.
       Obstacles in the creek, such as blow downs and stumps will require some steering to avoid, but the current is benign at lower water levels so there is plenty of time to develop a strategy to avoid smacking into something.
       Know the weather forecast before launching.  If the weather becomes threatening--you hear thunder or see lightening--get off the creek and get a weather forecast update.  Cell phone service is spotty with some carriers especially near Janice Landing so pack a weather radio just in case.  Heavy rain on the creek's watershed, miles away from where you are, can raise water levels in the creek eight to 10 inches an hour. Always drag your boat well up from the water when spending the night on a sandbar, even when no rain is forecast.  This is a good habit to acquire.  It can be quite a shock in the morning to realize your canoe floated away during the night.  What would you do? 
       Click on the "Water Level" link in the Black Creek Canoe Rental website for real-time water levels and for water level readings for the past six months.
       There are a number of sandbars, of varying suitability for camping, between Brooklyn and Janice Landing but they get a little sparse as you approach Janice Landing.  In the six miles between Janice Landing and Cypress Creek Landing there are only a few sand and gravel bars and they are low to the water so should be considered only as a last resort.  There is one exception:  about an hour downstream from Janice Landing there is a sandbar steeply rising Gibraltar-like from a deep pool, river right.  The top is flat but it is small-- room for two tents at most. Off-loading gear and dragging boats six to ten feet up the steep bank to the top is a chore but the reward is a remote, private and secure home for the night.
       The large bar that was at the confluence of Black Creek and Beaverdam Creek is gone.
       Getting off the creek can be tedious and time consuming because of the crush of paddlers at the takeouts at Janice and Cypress Creek.  The concrete boat ramp is narrow and there are no beaches to park and unload.  So canoes have to be unloaded one or two at a time at the bottom of the ramp and a weekend's worth of gear marched up the ramp and deposited at the top of the ramp before the next canoe can offload.  Pack light.
         Moody's Landing and Janice Landing are primitive campgrounds (recreation areas) with drinking water, picnic tables, and at Janice, a flush toilet.  No fees are charged.   The only FS recreation area/campground charging a fee is Cypress Creek Landing. The fee is the same for day use or overnight camping: $7 per day.  It offers only primitive camping basics: water, picnic tables and a flush toilet (no RV hookups).  But it has a tepid to cold water shower stall.  The fee is collected at an honor box at the campground entrance.  Have correct change.  The hard to find campground can be busy on holiday weekends and generators are permitted.  There is no campground host.  The boat launch is outside the fee area so you can park there for free as long as you do not pass the gate into the fee area.  Parking can get crowded; park where you will not be blocked in by those parking after you.

Search "Black Creek" in this blog for more posts about paddling Black Creek.
Big groups need  big sandbars.  A group from 13 paddlers from the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (BHPC) and the Lafayette Paddling Club relax around a campfire after pitching their tents on a sandy bar along Black Creek about two miles downstream from Moody's Landing in the De Soto National Forest, MS.  The BHPC makes a three-day, two-night paddling trip on the creek every year for Memorial Day.   


Mike V. w/ LPC & BHPC said...

Hi Jack,

Nice write-up about paddling Black Creek. I enjoyed the relaxing downstream paddle trip that we did this past Memorial Day holiday weekend. It was nice to take breaks and be able to swim or wade around in the creek to cool off. Fortunately the temperature dropped enough both nights to make it comfortable for sleepingin our tents on the sand/gravel bars.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the beta. Hoping the water levels stay up as the temps go down.