Black Bayou Lake is the central feature of a national wildlife refuge by the same name. It is loved by wildlife, fisherman, and paddlers for its rich wetlands and surrounding forests. It is not a natural lake, but rather a large backfill near Black Bayou blocked up behind a railroad berm. Creation of the lake wasn't entirely intentional, but this novel ecosystem has proved to be desirable habitat for animals and provides convenient recreation for people. It's very popular for fishing at certain times of year, and a public boat ramp within the refuge provides easy access. At the ramp is also a canoe dock and the start of a designated paddle trail. Boaters are typically courteous toward paddlers, and they tread lightly around numerous submerged stumps, so powerboats and paddle boats can peacefully share the lake, and there is plenty of room to spread out.
The lake is dotted with standing dead trees and old stumps. These are remnants of the forest that once grew around the bayou but was drowned when it flooded behind the railroad beginning in 1910. They are cypress and tupelos, which are adapted to seasonal flooding but eventually die if their roots are permanently submerged. Those around the edge are hanging on, but most in the middle of the lake have succumbed. Their hardwood trunks remain upright, however, and now thousands of tree skeletons preside over dark waters. The whole scene provides an eerie setting for paddlers, and apparently an attraction to wildlife. Birds perch on the bare branches, turtles sun on downed logs, fish swim among the stumps, frogs leap through the perimeter marsh, alligators lurk along the shore, and all kinds of other animals frequent the lake. You are likely see a lot by spending a day observing from a boat. There is even a resident pair of bald eagles on the lake's east side that you may be able to spot.
The lake is shaped roughly like a three-leaf clover with three distinct coves. The canoe trail makes a loop in the northernmost of these, but it is hard to follow in places because markers tacked to trees are spaced far apart, and some have fallen off. There is talk of redoing the canoe trail to replace markers and make a longer loop, but for now the route remains somewhat ambiguous. This doesn't actually matter, though, because the whole lake is open to paddling and navigation is easy. You can usually see the shore from anywhere on the lake, though it becomes difficult in some places where the trees have lots of leaves. Feel free to paddle your own course, paying attention to the way you came so you will know your way back.
A concessionaire in at the wildlife refuge visitor center offers rental canoes, but you are always free to bring your own craft instead. Paddlers do not have to pay any entrance or launch fee. Hazards to be aware of are the same as any open body of water and include wind and other inclement weather, sun exposure, and mosquitos. The visitor center will shut down rentals when weather gets bad, but you should always use your own judgement about when to go out and how far to go. The wildlife refuge also has hiking trails, boardwalks, and observation decks, so you have multiple options for how to spend a day here.
This paddle adventure was equipped by and published in collaboration with Bote Boards.