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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Paddling the Vermilion River

When we were in Abbeville, Louisiana two years ago, we paddled the ponds and bayous of Palmetto Island State Park.  We were eager to get back and do it again this year, but when we arrived, we found that the ponds were overgrown with weeds and the bayou channels were shallow and full of vegetation.  Yuck.

We had given up on the idea of paddling, but when we stopped at the boat ramp for the Vermilion River, which flows along one side of the park, it looked like we could at least get access to the river and the section of the bayou emptying into the river.  We decided it was worth an attempt.  So we unpacked our kayaks, paddles and other things and launched down the boat ramp into the bayou:

First we headed up the bayou, away from the river.  Our route led us under a quaint wooden bridge which we recognized from a prior visit.  We were alert for alligators under the bridge and in the bayou waters, but we found none.

Despite the sunny day, the bayou still seemed dark and mysterious as we explored its corners before heading out into the Vermilion River:

But it was not long before we ventured into the river, gingerly testing the current to be sure we would have no trouble returning upstream once we paddled down toward the Gulf.   The Vermilion River (or the Bayou Vermilion) is a 70-mile-long bayou stretching from Lafayette, Louisians, through a series of bayous through Lafayette, St. Landry and Vermilion Parishes, past the city of Abbeville where we are camped, and empties into Vermilion Bay at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  It was once known as the most polluted river in the United States, but, with improved sewage treatment, low flow stream augmentation, and regular in-stream trash collection, it is now a celebrated recreational resource. A Bayou Vermilion Paddle Trail map has been developed to facilitate and enhance the public’s enjoyment of Bayou Vermilion.

We spotted lots of turtles as we paddled:

We continued downstream as far as a boatyard that boasted two twin workboats, used we are sure for some water-related construction projects, but beyond that we are clueless:

We turned back up the river at the boatyard, and as we started paddling upstream, we spotted a wedge of birds (not geese, but we couldn't identify them) that were simply floating together on the thermals.  They were flying anywhere, as far as we could tell.  They simply floated in place in the breeze.  As we continued paddling, we left them still riding the thermal in the same spot over the river.

The riverbank boasts a few old cabins.  This property boasts a ladder allowing occupants to climb the old tree and swing down into the river on a rope.  It looked as if the house had not seen those occupants for some years:

This is the land of cypress trees.  Here, a mother cypress gathers her little knees around her --

-- while these young knees simply hang out with their friends among the palmettos along the river:

As we neared the top of our paddle upstream, we spotted this side bayou with a bushy island and a wading shorebird busy hunting for food.  We would have loved to paddle in and explore it further (perhaps getting a closer view of the bird), but we had a schedule to keep and needed to work our way across and down the river.

The live oaks lent their silhouettes to the river banks as well as the cypress did.  They reminded us that we were in the middle of a Southern swamp:

As we turned our little boats back into the bayou, we were greeted again by another turtle who was sunning himself on a fallen tree trunk.  He eyed us warily but never spooked or jumped into the water.  It was as if the warm sun was too precious to waste on simple fear:

We put our kayaks back in at the Palmetto Island State Park boat ramp and put away our gear, happy that we at least had a short trip on the waters down here.  We're hoping that, the next time we visit this area, we can paddle the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, which has some fascinating flat water about an hour west of Abbeville.  If we do, we'll let you know and provide photos.

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