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Sunday, September 23, 2001

Hi y'all. This is Bruce. I'm home infrequently, and rather randomly, these days. My employer lets me out of my box for 2-4 days at a time when operations permit it. Sometime ago, Bob Andrews put the idea in my head to look for access to Soldier Creek. Baldwin County provides information about streets with public water access. The trick is to match the Baldwin County Water Access list ( I passed out a dozen copies at one meeting) with a really good street map and go do some checking for ground truth. Julie has a really good map and a great sense of direction so we went out on reconnaisance.

On the first trip we tried going down county road (CR) 99 south of Lillian, Alabama. We found Perdido Bay Recreational Beach (#38 on the county list) which is attractive for picnics and hiking over some severely eroded clay cliffs, but the portage to the water might have to be done with a pack mule. It is a long way from the parking lot to the water over rather steep difficult terrain. The rappelling phrases "Belay on!" and "On belay" came to mind. So we continued south looking for one more water access (#37) at the end of CR 99. It was Randolf Drive, but the water access sign was missing and other signs saying "Private" and "keep out" were at the gate! Things that make me go Hmmmmm.

We took a heading back north and found our way over to CR 97. This road goes south from US Highway 98 to Perdido Beach, Alabama and T-intersects with Magnolia Road. Both CR 97 and Magnolia Road have several water access lanes, courtesy of Baldwin County Parks. These give us paddlers a way to reach soft water access without tresspassing. Generally these lanes are limited in parking space to 2-5 cars, but CR 97 has four good access lanes terminating on Palmetto Creek and Magnolia Road has two good and two so-so access lanes to Perdido Beach and Perdido Bay. The Magnolia Road access lanes are an easy paddle to either Palmetto Creek or Soldier Creek entrances.

The day was getting late and we wanted to paddle so we chose Baldwin Street access off CR 97 for our put in to Palmetto Creek. The put in is natural sand, but narrow. The lane is wider than most and quite long. A No Parking sign prohibits parking too close to the water, but it is ok to offload at the water's edge then back your vehicle away to the grassy shoulder of the lane. We took a right, heading north up Palmetto Creek. This is wide navigable water. We have to share, at least initially, with motor traffic. The shoreline is somewhat developed with landscaped yards and wide spacing between homes. About halfway up the creek, the water narrows but stays deep. The development falls behind us and we are in the woods. The water stays deep, 5 feet or so, and we wind our way up until a deadfall stops us. We headed back down the opposite shore in the late aftenoon sun. We started to look at Spring Branch but postponed that exploration until another day.

The second visit to this area, we put in at Mobile Avenue access off Magnolia Avenue. This put us into Perdido Bay about midway between the entrances to Soldier and Palmetto Creek. We chose this because it has the best beach slope for launching. As a bonus this access has a pair of breakwaters 20 feet off the sand which give a nice lee. If you have the Orange Beach Quadrangle Topo (7.5 minute series), this launch is near the upper right edge of the map just above the label "Perdido Beach". We paddled east along the shoreline listening to not so distant thunder. We stayed in close to shore to let the pines be the highest target, not us. At the entrance to Soldier Creek, we passed a fine beach at the tip of a natural sandy hook of land that protects the creek from seas and swell from Perdido Bay from entering full strength into the creek. This beach is privately owned.

Inside the Creek we were in wide calm deep water. The shoreline has nice homes. It's OK, but we wanted to see more than that. This Creek is mostly on the Perdido Bay Quadrangle (7.5 minute series). Coming around the second bend, we stopped at a really nice beach on the west side with a brown county parks sign. Next door to that park, across a gated fence, was a dock and ramp and signs threatening 6 weeks in jail for tresspassing. On the topo map, we located this county park, the only public access we could find on Soldier Creek. On the Perdido Bay Quad, this is near the upper left edge of the map near a 7 foot sounding label in Soldier Creek. On the map, a dirt road is marked heading east to the water and a red section line splits this road at the shore. Later we found by driving around that this is State Street (36 O on the county list), which is off CR 97 between Riggs and Baldwin Avenues.

The best part of Soldier Creek paddle is at the north end when you go off the top edge of the Perdido Bay Quadrangle map. The creek is deep, winding through the trees and gradually clearing and cooling in temperature. Julie was leading and I heard her say, "Wait, there's more!" at every bend. We continued up through forest which had no invasive plant species: no tallow trees, no kudzu, no Japanese ferns. We did see several stretches of white Alabama Azalea and deep carpets of native ferns. Finally when the water was only 4 feet wide we hit three deadfall trees that blocked the way. We had been paddling almost 4 hours up Soldier Creek. We backed out to the last bend to turnaround and retrace our way to the car.

Our third trip exploring this area covered Spring Branch, which is west of Palmetto Creek. The branch starts very wide and the south shore is developed with no public water access. The north shore is still undeveloped and pretty. At the west end some shallow water grassses and sedges make sheltered water. If you hold to the left (south) side, that is the way up stream. This is nearly as good as Soldier Creek. The water bends through the forest and I only saw one tallow tree. The rest of the plant life looked native. This branch ends in a 40 foot wide cul de sac with high banks and a view of a green grassy hill.

If you have not been over, I would suggest going first up Palmetto Creek for your first paddle. Then do the Spring Branch paddle and save Soldier Creek for a nice long day when you can go all the way up to the north end. Palmetto Creek Water park at the south end of CR 97 has boat ramp access, parking and picnic facilities as well as a port-a-let. See ya on the water.