Archive for June, 2009

Local legend has it that there have been sightings of cougars in these hills. However, according to Lowrey Moak, LDWF Wildlife Biologist for Region 4, there are no scientifically documented cases of cougars in the Sicily Island Hills.

Lowrey states that there are occasional Louisiana Black Bear sightings in the Sicily Island Hills.  In the October 14, 2000 Natchez Democrat there is an article concerning a black bear that was struck by a vehicle near the village of Sicily Island.

That bears would frequent these hills is no surprise given the remoteness and diverse habitat. In addition, areas north and south of the Sicily Island Hills have been deeply involved in Louisiana Black Bear re-introduction and habitat restoration.

I will continue to research cougars and bears at Sicily Island Hills and will post my findings as soon as feasible.

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This post has less to do with the Sicily Island Hills and more to do with my personal history with the nearby village of Sicily Island. When I was a senior in high school in Monroe,our football team ended the season 7-0-2 and did not make the playoffs. It kind of stung, no losses and no playoffs.  One of the district ties was with Buckeye and the other was with you guessed it, Sicily Island. Two of the things I remember best about Sicily Island High School football was that they were always ready to play hard and they ran a most unusual offense. Sicily Island High was in fact famous for many years for very successfully running the Notre Dame Box offense, an offense little used in modern times as its origins were back to the 1910’s.

Back in the old days when you  travelled south to Baton Rouge on a two lane road through Sicily Island and had to stop before proceeding east on LA 15, there was a tiny mom and pop hamburger place on the south side of the highway that made the best hamburgers. Those were the days.

Not too far southeast of the village of Sicily Island was a greenhouse operation called Gus Watson Wholesale Greenhouses. I did not have occasion to buy much from him over the years when I was in the garden center business but I knew of other garden retailers in the Monroe area who did. I always found it sort of odd that a wholesale greenhouse could make a go of it in a very rural area, distant from large cities. But it just goes to show if you work hard and have a good product, with a good business plan you can make it anywhere.

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Sometimes you just have to let go and go with the flow. I resisted for a long time using the name Rock Falls to identify the waterfall south of Big Creek at Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management area.  I could find no mention of Rock Falls on a USGS map or in any scientific publication. Recently, I spoke to Lowery Moak of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and he informed me that Rock Falls is the name attributed by locals to this Sicily Island Hills wonder.

Rock Falls is a great name for this waterfall because, well how often do you find rocks or falls either separate or together in Louisiana?  The rock is soft and crumbly and it will not dazzle you with its bright colors but  mosses and ferns like growing on it. The waterfall ebbs and flows with the seasons but I tell you when you first lay eyes on it, especially on a hot, humid, steamy, sultry, sweaty,  Louisiana summer  day, it’s the greatest waterfall you have ever experienced, particularly at that moment.

I am always amazed by how few people know about the waterfalls in Sicily Island Hills or about the Sicily Island Hills in general, even people who live in the vicinity. For photographs and more information on Rock Falls or how to get there, go to my Photo/Maps and Waterfall pages. Over the years I will be photographing this waterfall to see how it changes.

Rock Falls. I like the sound of that. Now I need to find  a farmer or rancher in the area with an old rusty, weathered barn and work out a deal with him or her to paint Rock Falls on the roof….

As I have mentioned before on my History page,one only has to visit the Sicily Island Hills in person to walk the steep environment to realize how difficult it must have been for anyone to eke out a living there.  Traditional agriculture with row crops would be unfeasable. Perhaps a few families that lived in these striking hills had a home garden. Cattle grazing? Not likely. A ski resort? Ahh, if it only snowed more often, a perfect fit!  

My curiosity was recently abated about how this land was worked, especially with respect to forestry.  An article by Melanie Torbett in the June issue of Forests and People magazine entitled “Sicily Islands’s Hidden Highlands”, takes a glimpse at the forest, the land and some of the people who work or worked there. The link  below provides great insight into forestry in the Sicily Island Hills and is provided with the permission of Ms. Janet Tompkins, editor of Forests and People magazine:

 http://laforestry.com/Portals/8/Sicily%20Island%E2%80%99s%20Hidden%20Highlands.htm

The Ouachita River as it flows between the Sicily Island Hills and Chalk Hills is quite different than what you would expect of a Louisiana river. Steep embankments and rock outcrops greet you as if you were on the Upper Ouachita River in Arkansas.

Photo mid 1930's from Geology of Catahoula and Concordia Parishes LGS

Photo mid 1930's from LGS publication, "Geology of Catahoula and Concordia Parishes"

Recreational opportunities near the Sicily Island Hills include boating and fishing on the Ouachita River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Harrisonburg Landing Recreation Area just south of the Sicily Island Hills is a great place to have a picnic or launch a boat for an adventure on the river. At this time there is no place to rent a boat with motor or jet ski at Harrisonburg, so you will need to bring your own or rent elsewhere.

The Ouachita River at Sicily Island Hills is a place of historical significance. During the early 1800’s first explorers and then later in the 1860’s Civil War gunboats, traveled this area.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation area is at the site of the former, but original, lock and dam in this southern portion of the Ouachita. The Catahoula Shoals north of this recreation area was a major navigational issue particularly at low water. Work by the Corps removed the problem of Catahoula Shoals and made year round water transportation a reality.

A fascinating series of seventeen articles were written about the Dunbar-Hunter expedition on the Ouachita River by Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel. Here is a link to one of the articles entitled, ” Stuck on the Ouachita River at the Catahoula Shoals“: http://www.concordiasentinel.com/news.php?id=114 My thanks to Stanley Nelson for allowing the link to his article. If you would like to read the entire series of articles by Mr. Nelson go to  http://www.concordiasentinel.com/search.php and type in Ouachita River in the search box. A number of articles will appear. As I prepared this post I did just such a search and found the search results for the entire series of articles on the Dunbar-Hunter expedition appearing  bottom to top on the list.

You can learn more about the Harrisonburg Landing Recreation Area across from Harrisonburg and see a map of the area by clicking on the Ouachita  River Recreation link in my blogroll at the left margin of this page. This link lists many recreation areas on the Ouachita-Black River drainage. Scroll down to the Harrisonburg Landing Recreation Area  for more information and the link to the recreation area map.

Sicily Island Hills from Stafford Point looking east July 1936 from LGS publication "Geology of Catahoula and Concordia Parishes"

Sicily Island Hills from Stafford Point looking east July 1936 from LGS publication "Geology of Catahoula and Concordia Parishes"

I would like to shoot my own photographs from Stafford Point looking at the Sicily Island Hills, and at several other places along the Ouachita River adjacent to these wonderful hills. Its just a  matter of time until I do so.

Videos of the Sicily Island Hills

Posted: June 17, 2009 in Homepage
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I am aware of at least one video of the Sicily Island Hills area on You Tube showing someone riding four wheelers at a privately owned business outside the boundaries of the wildlife management area. When I make my trip to Louisiana in late July, I plan to make videos of hiking the trails at SIHWMA. So even if you are not able to visit the Sicily Island Hills in person, you will be able to view the terrain and trails by my video. That way you get to enjoy the scenery without the blistering hot and humid conditions, and free from the bite of the millions of mosquitoes there.

While we make jokes about the bugs and weather in the South it is comforting to recall summer excursions…. inside with the warmth of a fireplace during a north Louisiana winter ice storm!

Make sure you have a valid license or stamp issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries when you visit the Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area ! This applies for any activity on the WMA, and is not just for fishermen or hunters!

Obviously you do not need a state issued fishing license, hunting license or Wild Louisiana Stamp if you are visiting private property or businesses off of the Wildlife Management Area. But be aware of private property rights as well as current regulations with regards to the WMA.

 

Ok, its been awhile since I have posted. I have still been busy behind the scenes researching various aspects of the biology, botany, economy and history of these hills.

If all goes well, in the latter part of July I will be trekking the Sicily Island Hills. Hiking in areas I have never explored at SIHWMA is my goal. Contacting locals in Harrisonburg, Leland, and Sicily Island, I hope will be fruitful in obtaining new insights. I will report on any new findings and will post lots of new photographs. Hopefully there will be wildflowers in bloom.  I trust I will see you there. You will know me by the brown LSU cap I will be wearing.

Speaking of wildflowers,the staff of the University of Louisiana-Monroe Herbarium is in the process of digitizing the specimens of the herbarium collection (refer to the Geography page for a listing of some of the specimens in or near the Sicily Island Hills).  Digitizing is quite an undertaking as the number of specimens (in the hundreds of thousands) is one of the best and largest in the nation. So after the collection is online in a couple of years you and researchers around the world will have access to a treasure trove of botanical work.

And by the way, if you are in the Sicily Island Hills and you see wildflowers, please only take them back home with images from your digital camera and please do not pick the seed heads or dig up the entire plant. The plants are there serving a purpose as part of the ecosystem  and also if you take the seeds or plants you will be taking  part of the view that the next person that comes along would have enjoyed. If you want wildflowers, check out the University of Louisiana-Monroe plant sale held each spring. The plants will be easily transplantable in containers and will give you a more successful planting.