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Caddo Lake's annual Paddling Flotilla returns Saturday

By Robin Y. Richardson
April 20, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Jerry and Cheryl Wilson of Nacogdoches participate in the 2015 Caddo Lake Earth Day Paddling Flotilla.

UNCERTAIN - After a year hiatus, the annual Earth Day event, co-sponsored by the Cypress Basin Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist, is returning to Caddo Lake on Saturday, offering a fun-filled day of paddling excursions.

"We are on our fifth year for the regatta turned flotilla," chapter president, Stella Barrow, said.

The annual Caddo Lake Earth Day Paddling Flotilla will begin with registration from 7:30 to 10 a.m. at Shady Glade Resort, 449 Cypress Drive, in Karnack.

Barrow said this would've been the sixth year for the occasion if record flooding hadn't threatened it last year.

"We canceled last year because the floods got us and we had about 60 registered then," Barrow said.

"This year we have 79 registered, so we're excited," she said, sharing that's the highest number of registrants they've ever had.

She said the event is open to anyone. So far, participants are traveling from as far away as Austin from as near as Nacogdoches.

"It's anybody that wants to get in the canoe and kayak," she said, noting entrants so far range from as young as 7 or 8 all the way up to 72.

During the event, participants will take a journey on one of three paddling trails that leave from Uncertain on the shores of Caddo Lake.

"The Caddo Lake area has 10 trails designated as part of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Texas Paddling Trails system," organizers said. "Each trail has unique features and all are good for birding, photography and so much more."

Trails that will be explored Saturday are: Johnson's Ranch, Shady Glade and Crip's Camp.

Registration is $20 per person; and $5 for paddlers ages 13 and younger. Cash and checks will only be accepted for the same day in person registration. All proceeds from the event will help maintain the paddle trail markers and paddling trails on Caddo Lake and the Big Cypress Bayou.

Registration includes a T-shirt and two raffle tickets; a breakfast snack, juice and water; launch fees for Crip's Camp, Shady Glade or Johnson's Ranch. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

"Our primary focus is to try to keep the paddle trail markers up," Barrow said. "After the flood we had quite a chore getting those that had gone over (and) flooded. We've done almost all the paddle trail markers."

In addition to paddling the trails, participants will have the chance to participate in a raffle drawing and silent auction, starting at noon at the registration tent.

"The silent auction has just grown exponentially," Barrow said, noting the silent auction closes at 12:30 p.m. Participants do not have to be present to win.

They do, however, have to be present to win prizes at the raffle drawing.

Raffle prizes include a hand painted canoe paddle and a hand carved paddlefish by a local artist, life jackets, blue bird boxes and other fun items. Items from Bossier City's Bass Pro Shop and Harvey Subaru dealership were also contributed.

The coordinator encourages the public to come and join in the celebration for a day of kayaking and fun.

"It's Earth Day, a time to get out on the lake and appreciate the gorgeous lake that we've got at a slow pace," Barrow said, stressing the event is not a race, but a day to take a floating tour of the trails.

The lake

According event coordinators, Caddo Lake is one of the best examples in the southern United States of a mature bald cypress forest. The area is known for its exceptional wildlife diversity.

"The 'lake' is actually a sprawling maze of bayous and sloughs covering 26,810 acres," organizers indicated.

More about the trails to be explored on Saturday is below:

From Johnsons' Ranch - The Turtle Shell Trail will take paddlers through a well-marked maze of boat roads where they will see a beautiful, mystical and almost primeval Cypress swamp. Paddlers will be amazed by the expanse of American Lotus lining this trail. Standing several feet above the water and in some areas hanging over the trail, with their large yellowish/white flowers and "showerhead" seed cones, these plants are some of the most photographed on the lake. This trail will pass by charming cottages hidden along the shoreline as you return to the put in.

From Shady Glade - The Cathedral Trail on Caddo Lake is a turn-around trail. From the launch, travel along the Boat Road U passing charming residences and B&Bs. Marvel at some of the older trees that stand alone in the water. The trail is a short, but exhilarating stretch of towering bald cypress trees and inviting sandy rest stops. When the rain is right, the forest floor is covered with a variety of ferns, jack-in-the-pulpits, and lizard's tail. Don't forget to look up for Wood Storks and Prothonotary Warblers.

From Crip's Camp - The Old Folks' Playground Trail starts out in Goose Prairie, an area known for its abundance of white water lilies, their large white flowers open in the mornings and close in the afternoon. Other areas along this trail have large stands of American Lotus. This plant has large pads that sometimes stand up out of the water in excess of 3 feet. The flowers of this plant can also stand out of the water and the seed pods resemble inverted showerheads. Paddlers will pass by a portion of the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Event sponsors are: Cypress Basin Chapter TMN, Caddo Lake Institute, Greater Caddo Lake Association, Shady Glade RV Park and Marina, Bass Pro Shop-Bossier City, La, Tree Health Lady, Heart's Cottage, Caddo Cabins, Riverbend Outfitters and Smoothie King.

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