Battling logjams to clear Bayou Fountain

Jammed printer, clogged bayou — no matter — Paddle Baton Rouge can fix it.

Nathaniel Klumb and Mike Tilley, founders of the grassroots group looking to improve canoeing and kayaking in Baton Rouge, spend most weekdays tinkering with technology at their day jobs with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. On weekends, instead of tackling computer malfunctions, the men apply their fix-it skills to waterways made impassable to paddlers by logs and litter.

A few months ago, Klumb and Tilley set out to clear a roughly four-mile stretch of Bayou Fountain, beginning on the banks of the bayou near the Highland Road Community Park and ending where it merges with Bayou Manchac.

Since then, the men, both in their late 30s, have spent nearly 100 hours clearing a series of logjams on the channel in an attempt to turn Bayou Fountain into a pristine paddling waterway.

“It’s really pretty out there,” Tilley said. “It’s well-shaded. It has a good canopy. It’s a beautiful bayou.”

Numerous logjams, numbering about two dozen when the duo began “Project Clearwater,” deter paddlers.

Anyone who wants to float down the waterway, narrow enough for trees on either bank to touch overhead, must de-boat and carry their boats around the logjams.

On Saturday, the two outdoorsmen cleared what remained of a 65-yard beast of a logjam on the bayou just southwest of the Country Club of Louisiana’s golf course.

Just reaching the logjam from the entry point at the Highland Road park took more than an hour on the “canoemaran” — the name Klumb dubbed two canoes bolted together that serve mostly as a trash bag barge.

Once there, the men, sometimes with the help of additional volunteers, push fallen trees toward the bayou banks. For logs too large to leave in the water, Klumb and Tilley employ a winch to hoist the floating items onto dry land.

The men have plenty of experience cleaning up waterways.

Along with previous litter pickups in Ward Creek in 2011, Klumb and Tilley spent seven weekends removing debris from Bayou Fountain. Once cleaned up, though, the clearings were not wide enough and some of them have since re-clogged, Klumb said.

The adventures often turn up an array of unusual finds. Last weekend, the paddlers discovered a telephone pole. In others, they’ve found a hot tub, flasks, a volleyball, liquid nitrogen and even a portable toilet.

“The proper way to dispose of a port-a-potty is to chop it up with a hatchet,” Klumb said. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had cleaning something up.”

The cleanup process, which Klumb chronicles on a blog, is more than halfway complete. Once all of the jams have been cleared, Klumb wants to post mile markers along the bayou’s banks to guide would-be paddlers. He plans on asking permission from landowners to post the signs, he said.

The costs, so far, have been out-of-pocket. Klumb said he’s in the process of turning Paddle Baton Rouge into a nonprofit so businesses can donate to the group’s efforts.

Klumb and Tilley also hope BREC will invest in a canoe launch at the Highland Road park. The launch would provide paddlers a safe place to ease into the bayou, Klumb said.

Paddlers now must park near the archery range at the Highland Road park, carry a canoe or kayak across the baseball field and traverse a relatively steep embankment into the bayou. It’s the best, and possibly the only, public access point to the paddle-able portion of the bayou, Klumb said.

BREC’s assistant superintendent, Ted Jack, said their request is one of many around the parish for canoe launches, which can cost as little as $20,000 to construct. But if restrooms, parking lots and vehicle access also must be built, a project could cost upwards of several hundred thousand dollars, Jack said.

A Bayou Fountain launch, for now, sits relatively low in priority of potential projects because with limited funding, Jack said, launches might be better utilized in more popular areas such as Bayou Manchac at the Airline Highway Park.

With enough funding, BREC might build only a launch site at the Highland Road park location, or others, then return later to complete the project, Jack said.

Klumb said he and Tilley are requesting a launch site similar to ones recently built at BREC’s Frenchtown Road and Blackwater conservation areas near the Comite and Amite rivers. At those sites, paddlers must carry, drag or wheel their vessels several hundred yards to reach the launch.

But the distance doesn’t discourage dedicated paddlers, Klumb said, adding the launch makes water entry much easier.

Regardless whether BREC funds a launch at the Highland Road park for entry into Bayou Fountain, Klumb and Tilley plan to keep up the project, if only to clear a path wide enough for the canoemaran.