The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is among nature’s most unique treasures. America’s second-largest river delta, it covers more than 200,000 square miles of swamps, rivers and marshes.
Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigee rivers, the region is where the Mobile, Tensaw, Blakeley, Apalachee and Spanish rivers flow into Mobile Bay. It is home to a wide variety of fish (126 species), mammals (40), reptiles (69), amphibians (30), birds (300) and plants (500).
Declared a National Natural Landmark by Congress in 1974, most local residents only think about the waters when crossing the Causeway or the Bayway. Driving, though, is definitely not the best way to experience this wonder of wetlands.
One should paddle to truly view this realm. The delta stretches 30 miles in length and 12 miles at its widest point. This provides a lot of room to roam for kayaks and canoes.
“The whole state of Alabama is covered in water,” said Tracy Lannie, of the Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club. “There is such a large diversity of wildlife, and we have it in our backyard.”
The MBCKC is an open group, and no dues or fees are charged. Lannie said they like to provide information about all the paddling events taking place along Mobile Bay.
The club’s origins date back 15 years, when a group of people who liked to paddle began inviting others to join them. Among those founders were Bob Andrews plus Harriett and Fritz Ingraham.
“We have meetings to talk about safety and great places to paddle,” Lannie said. “We share our experiences and try to promote paddling.”
The MBCKC currently has about 200 members. The meetings take place at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center on the Causeway. The next gathering will be on Sept. 2, with guest speakers to discuss plans about placing more campsites and platforms along the Bartram Canoe Trail.
According to the Alabama State Park website, the 200-mile-long Bartram Canoe Trail is the longest in the United States. It contains 13 different marked routes linking a series of land-based campsites and water-based floating platforms that offer overnight stops, as well as day trips.
“It is one of the best parts of paddling on the Delta,” said Lannie, who first got involved with the sport with her husband, David, eight years ago. “It is a special trip by kayak or canoe.”
The trail is named for William Bartram, a naturalist who explored the region between 1773 and 1778. The Alabama State Lands Division and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, utilizing land secured by the Alabama Forever Wild project, created it in the mid-2000s.
The MBCKC takes part in events throughout the year including the upcoming Kayak BBQ and Blues Festival Sept. 6, the Paddling Bayou La Batre event Oct. 18 and the Delta Classic Sunday Oct. 25. Activities from earlier this month included the Weeks Bay Pelican Paddle Race, the Fish River Paddle and the Bayou La Batre Kayak Classic Fishing Rodeo.
“We post all of our events with the public,” Lannie said, “and try to do trips with other clubs.”
The MBCKC also is involved with community events. They offer water support during the swimming portion of the Grandman Triathlon in Fairhope, and participate in the Alabama Coastal Cleanup.
Doing an Internet search reveals how large the paddling community is along the Gulf Coast. Andrews, in addition to having helped start the MBCKC, is the owner of Sunshine Canoes. His company rents canoes and kayaks along the delta, plus the Escatawpa River in Mississippi.
Paul Taylor, another MBCKC member, is the owner of Paddlin South Canoe and Kayak Rentals. He was introduced to paddling before serving in Iraq. Upon his return, he wanted people to enjoy the delta as much as he did. After working with city officials in Chickasaw, he opened his rental company at Brooks Park in May with four kayaks and two canoes.
“With our first rentals that weekend, I knew that Paddlin South will become a fixture in Chickasaw,” Taylor, who now has an inventory of 18 boats, said on his website. “Since we have opened, we have met many people that have become regulars and friends.”
Other groups uncovered on the Internet search include those who promote rentals and tours (Sea Kayaker, Delta Safaris, Fairhope Boat Company); some who like to wet a line (Gulf Coast Kayak Fishing Association, Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association); and others who just want to discuss paddling trips (Mobile Kayaking Group). Many more likely exist.
In addition to the delta, other locations Lannie recommends for paddling are Magnolia River, Fish River, Dog River, Fowl River, Heron Bay, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island.
“Padding is good exercise, a great way to meet people and to see wildlife up close and personal,” Lannie said. “And with our weather, there are only a few months where it can be uncomfortable.”
These are among the many Internet sites that focus on paddling the Mobile-Tensaw Delta:
Alabama Scenic River Trail, www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com
Alabama State Parks, www.alapark.com
Delta Safaris, 5rds.com
Fairhope Boat Company, www.fairhopeboat.com
Gulf Coast Kayak Fishing Association, www.gulfcoastkayakfishing.com
Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club, Baykayaker.blogspot.com
Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association, www.mbkfa.com
Mobile Kayaking Club, www.facebook.com/groups/mobilekayak
Paddlin South Canoe and Kayak Rentals, www.paddlinsouth.com
Sunshine Canoe Rentals, www.sunshinecanoerentals.com
The Sea Kayaker, www.theseakayaker.com