Archive for November, 2009

Friends of the Sicily Island Hills

Posted: November 21, 2009 in Homepage

The recession as we all know has had a devastating effect on the economy at multiple levels, none the least on government agencies. Money and projects must be stretched to the maximum these days. I have no idea what the budget or the financial situation is with the state as far as upkeep of the Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area but I think it would be safe to say the keepers of the flame so to speak are not sitting on a reserve of gold.

It would be nice if a friends group would be formed to aid the state in things like educational programs, fund raisers, promotion and public awareness, and trail maintenance.

Rock Falls by Landon Powers

Just as in other parts of the country, there are places that attract visitors
because of the scenery or weather conditions. Then there are some places that are created with tourism in mind. Helen, Georgia and Leavenworth, Washington both had declining economies and both communities forged a plan to become pleasant places in peoples minds. The result after a lot of hard work are places that bring dollars and visitors year round to their communities.

In the late 90’s in Monroe at Black Bayou Lake, a partnership was formed with the U.S. Fish and  Wildlife Service to create a national wildlife refuge. In cooperation with this effort a friends support group was formed. The Friends of Black Bayou Lake N.W.R has had a huge impact on the quality of the experience the many thousands of visitors have enjoyed. Because of the Friends of Black Bayou a wonderful visitor center exists and is staffed by members. The Education Building happened because of this group. Day time and night time activities have flourished due to the friends groups involvement.Canoes are available for floating the lake. An annual photography contest is held. The list goes on.

Needless to say, without the incredible dedication and willingness of members of this group to constantly look for new ways to enhance this wildlife refuge, this place would not have achieved the level of excellence that has come its way. As you may or may not know, the Friends of Black Bayou Lake NWR was chosen and honored in Washington, D.C  a couple of years ago as the finest friends group in the entire country. Considering all their hard work, its easy to to see the reason for their selection. In addition, a photograph taken at Black Bayou Lake NWR was selected as the top prize winner of a national photo contest not long ago.

If a friends group could be formed to enhance the experience at Sicily Island Hills WMA I think that would be phenomenal. Hiking is a great part of visiting these hills and trail maintenance could go a long way towards repeat visitation.  A specially designed lookout tower, perhaps on the site of the previous forest lookout tower, could be used for educational purposes and rented out for overnight lodging.  With a tower cam installed, internet visitors could enjoy views of the surrounding hills and wildlife at their leisure.

Tourism respectful of the environment is a growing area. Communities in the surrounding areas would benefit greatly in numerous ways. With the proper mix of ideas and people, there is no limit to the great things that could happen in the Sicily Island Hills region.

P.S. November 21 is my birthday.

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Fishing on the Ouachita is a major recreational activity in northeast Louisiana. The Ouachita River north of Harrisonburg is a remarkably scenic area for boaters, fishermen or visitors alike. With record fall river levels it is not advisable to boat or fish this area for now.

But at normal river levels, the fishing here can be phenomenal.  A great website for information on fishing the area is at  http://www.fishingwitheddie.com/

Eddie Roberts website is a great place to learn about fishing in Louisiana. On the left side of his website under Main Menu, click on Lake Reports and then click on Lakes> The Four Rivers Area(Black, Little, Tensas,Ouachita). Then click on Ouachita in Fall for great tips on fishing the Ouachita north of Harrisonburg.

My thanks to Eddie for allowing a link to his website.

More information on fishing the Ouachita adjacent to Sicily Island Hills will be posted in the future.

Adjacent to the western edge of the Sicily Island Hills is the Ouachita River. For those not from this part of the country you can be forgiven for not imagining how to pronounce the unique name of this river. It is pronounced as if it were spelled Washitaw.

The Ouachita River begins near Rich Mountain in west central Arkansas and flows through the Ouachita Mountains to Hot Springs and then turns in a southeasterly direction towards Camden, Arkansas after which it continues on past Felsenthal and the river enters Louisiana. Currently, with all the prolonged rains that have fallen in Arkansas and Louisiana the river is at or near flood stage along most of its lower course at an unusual time of year. Normally, the river would be elevated in late spring or early summer, not in the fall. Flood stage, to someone perhaps not familiar with rivers, is the elevation at which a stream would pour over its natural stream banks. At flood stage, levees or other man made structures contain the river so flooding does not occur, that is if these structures do not fail or more water enters the basin than the structural design limits.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website “Ouachita  River Basin Water Control Report”, the  river stage for November 9, 2009 at the Columbia Lock and Dam (upper) is 69.2,  a change of .1 and the record level is 76.2 in 1991. The river stage for the same date at the Jonesville Lock and Dam (upper) is 47.9 a change of .2 and the record level 59.7 in 1973. Each of these years are memorable for floods, especially flooding of the Mississippi River in 1973.

Floodstage at the Sicily Island Hills is hardly a problem due to the topography. The backswamp areas  northwest, west, southwest and south of the Sicily Island Hills do have concerns with floodstage. A backswamp is a natural area adjacent to a river beyond the natural levees that receives periodic overflow.

The Ouachita River at Sicily Island Hills is quite lovely especially at this time of year. However, the river is currently too high to boat safely and some areas are closed to commercial traffic, and wake enforcement is also underway.  During safer times of visitation there, travelers can observe the natural beauty of the area including wildlife. The many types of herons are of particular interest.

Outcrop on River2

A boat trip along the river from Columbia to Jonesville will provide the traveler with views of steep hills in many places with lush vegetation, and at Sicily Island Hills there is the bonus of exposed rock formations. In many parts of the country people take for granted their circumstances and surroundings. Louisiana has been at the terminus of all the silt laden drainage of  the Mississippi River and its hundreds of tributaries for thousands of years and so between erosion and deposition, the rocks of Louisiana are for the most part buried under layers of soil. So for us, it is rather refreshing to actually see rocks in our environment.

On my next trip to Sicily Island Hills, I will make several photographs of the river at SIH.

Perhaps someday when tourism is flourishing in this area, visitors might be offered outings by boat from Harrisonburg, to enjoy this tranquil stretch of the Ouachita.