'Bubblewrapping' Bayou Teche for kayaks and canoes
The first couple of years of Tour du Teche were full of hurdles and sticky turnstiles, especially the first one in 2010.
People in tiny, fragile kayaks and canoes were paddling round-the-clock 128 miles through alligator-infested waters past churning tugboats and around (if not over!) one dam and two floodgates. My God, across Wax Lake Outlet, which drains a third of a third of the Mississippi River!
Suffice it to say there were some naysayers.
Some if it came from the paddlers themselves, especially those with expensive boats made of lightweight exotic materials. They didn’t like the idea that there is riprap, big chunks of concrete, at some of the portages and checkpoints.
“What do they want us to do?” exclaimed one of our number in exasperation. “Bubblewrap the bayou?”
The complaints seem ludicrous to us because firstly we were patterning Tour du Teche on the Texas Water Safari, which is 260 miles of one hazard after another, from rapids to logjams to over a dozen perilous portages, and secondly, because Bayou Teche is such a mild-mannered, even genteel, watercourse, with first-class rest and repast around nearly every bend.
For several reasons, including the fact that the excellent hospitality of the Teche Country was going to waste on vistors paddling nonstop, we made the race a three-day, stop-and-start staged marathon in 2011. And we moved the finish line to Berwick’s Everett S. Berry Memorial Lighthouse Park on the Atchafalaya, extending it to 135 miles. This gave the communities of St. Martinville and Franklin as well as Port Barre and Berwick a chance to put on a welcoming celebration, draw a local crowd, and make a little money.
Of course the whole idea behind Tour du Teche was and is to establish our bayou as a great place for some laid-back, low-impact recreation, and for the racers to spread that word across the nation. Then local people with interests on the bayou would see that there is worth in having a picturesque ribbon of (relatively) clean water running through their community, and they would take better care of it and develop it.
That is definitely happening. Through a series of grants from the Office of State Parks, Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, some $300,000 is headed this way to make Breaux Bridge a first-class “kayak port,” to link the bayou to Lafayette via a multi-use recreational trail, and to station little kayak-friendly wharves all along Bayou Teche.
In St. Martinville, Mayor Thomas Nelson said the city is hoping to welcome Tour du Teche paddlers this year with a padded ramp at the festival grounds similar to the portage ramp designed by TDT director general Ray Pellerin and built by the St. Martin Sheriff’s Office and Parish Government at Keystone Locks.
And recently, Donald Segura, executive director, of the Teche Vermilion Fresh Water District, scoped out a possible improved portage at the Ruth Canal, the route to scenic Lake Martin, with Pellerin and Trey Snyder, who is on the board of both TDT and the TECHE Project.
The Teche Vermilion Fresh Water District has helped make Tour du Teche more exciting by closing the floodgate at Ruth Canal and increasing current down the Teche.
The TECHE Project – which spawned both TDT and Cajuns for Bayou Teche, the Mike Rowes of this confederation – has been a catalyst in bringing grant money to the bayou.
Other partners in this whirlwind of activity are ULL’s Center for Cultural & Eco-Tourism, T.R.A.I.L. (Transportation Recreational Alternatives In Louisiana), the Lafayette Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Lafayette Consolidated Government and the National Park Service.
Improvements that already have funding include a “trailhead” at Breaux Bridge’s Parc des Ponts de Pont Breaux where the federally recognized Bayou Teche Paddle Trail and the Atakapa-Ishak Multi-use Recreation Trail from Lafayette come together. There will be a floating wharf with a slip to let kayakers get out of the current, and public restrooms ashore.
With another grant, floating wharves will be stationed at public boat launches all along the bayou where now paddlers have to contend with unforgiving concrete ramps, nasty creosote bulkheads and that dreaded riprap.
In St. Martinville, where the active Main Street Committee is consolidating the popular Boucherie des Cajuns with Tour du Teche activities at the old J.B. Talley Company property, now the festival grounds on New Market Street, they are opting for a carpeted ramp and stairs to tame the fairly high bank.
So “bubblewrapping’ the bayou has turned out to be a pretty good idea after all.