Work renews on Bayou Dorcheat paddling trails
Friends of Dorcheat and Webster Parish Convention and Visitor Commission are getting back to work on the paddling trails on Bayou Dorcheat, now that some of their hurdles have been overcome.
With the return of rain and therefore water to the bayou, Harvey Kennedy of the Bayou Chapter of the Ozark Society said that installation of the duck boxes being used along the route as mile markers can continue, albeit with some difficulty.
"It is an adventure getting to the locations," Kennedy said. "We have a little 14-foot jon boat with a little three-and-a-half horse power motor, which allows us to get to a lot of places that a bigger boat couldn't get."
The boxes are placed on cypress trees and must be installed from a ladder set in a boat. Kennedy and fellow Ozark Society representative Dick Maxwell have developed a method of tying the ladder and boat to the tree, securing both so that the box can be placed high enough up the tree.
There are 54 miles of bayou from the Arkansas state line to where Dorcheat meets Lake Bistineau, and more than half of the boxes were installed before the drought lowered water levels this past summer.
One of the boxes that was already placed has been stolen. Lynn Dorsey, executive director of WPCVB, said the boxes are so nice she expects more to go over time, but that 87 boxes were purchased so the extras will last for a while.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Scenic Rivers Coordinator Keith Cascio had come up with the idea of using the boxes as a means for emergency personnel to locate anyone who may call for help while on the bayou.
Another hurdle that had been overcome, according to Dorsey, was securing John Madden's permission to use his property to reach some portions of the bayou that do not have public access.
"He is glad to give access all along his property, which is evidently three locations along Dorcheat where we don't have public access," she said. "There's evidently a lengthy area between Dixie Inn and Cotton Valley without public access. So this will be really nice."
Portions of the bayou's banks are private property and inaccessible. However according to Dorsey, the water itself is state property and available for unimpeded public use.
Another challenge is dealing with encroachments. Encroachments are illegal structures placed over the water, mostly bridges.
All of the major encroachments had been dealt with except Buddy Brown Bridge, which sits just north of Dixie Inn. The bridge's owner had passed away and the property passed to multiple children, complicating its removal.
Dorsey said she hopes to have found a solution for the bridge that originally began as a joke.
"I had joked about the only way it was ever going away was to find a movie that would blow up the bridge," Dorsey said.
According to Dorsey, Minden resident Jackie Lewis recently won a short screenplay competition held by Fairfield Studios in Shreveport that is due to begin filming on Dorcheat soon.
Lewis's script is about the Dorcheat restoration and paddling trail project, with the addition of it being used as a nature retreat to help returning veterans re-assimilate into life back home.
"I had a conference call week before last with the young lady that wrote the screen play and the producer with Fairfield Studios," Dorsey said. "I said 'Listen, do you think there is a possibility that you could write into the script about blowing up one of the bridges that has fallen into Dorcheat?'
"She said that would be no problem. The producer went wild. He said it was the greatest thing he'd ever heard, 'We want to blow this bridge up,'" she continued.
Dorsey is now working through the legal hurdles to bring her "joke" to fruition and eliminate the long-standing encroachment.
Once one encroachment is dealt with, though, others have a tendency to pop up.
"A new bridge has been built across Dorcheat since we removed all these encroachments," Dorsey said. "Why would somebody else go build one? It was not permitted."
The new wooden bridge has been built across the bayou about 2 miles north of state Hwy. 2. The bridge's owners have been notified that it must come down.
A special barge was recently acquired to help with natural impediment to navigation such as logs and debris. Dorsey said that Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton has committed eight inmates to help on the barge and with other debris clearing projects.
The ultimate goal is to make the waterway navigable for small craft from the Arkansas state line to Lake Bistineau State Park. According to park manager Chris Caswell, Dorcheat enters the lake around 5 miles north of the park.
There are two main challenges in reaching the state park. The park has no boat launches that are on a channel in the lake, so when the water is down they are unreachable. Caswell said building a new dock on one of the channels is possible, but current plans do not exist.
Also, the main channel in the lake, which boats must follow to the park, is not well identified.
Caswell said he welcomes the five additional mile markers needed to take the paddling trail from Dorcheat to the park. He said he hopes that will improve safety on the north part of the lake.
Caswell said the park is working to restore their pay-to-play paddling trails. Which had to be abandoned with the Great Salvinia infestation.
They are looking to provide guided trips on the lake, including camping and sunset trips on the water.