|Beach fun is just around the corner and upriver|
Every year, Condé Nast and National Geographic Traveler put together their lists of the nation's best beaches. Every year, Baton Rouge beach lovers eagerly turn to see if their beloved Gulf Coast strands have made the cut. And for almost 40 years, Margie Belk has breathed a sigh of relief each time she sees they haven't.
“We never wanted to encourage people. We always wanted to keep it for ourselves,” she says, laughing.
Belk's secret? She knows that some of the finest beaches anywhere are right under our collective noses. These gorgeous respites belong to the shores of the Mississippi River.
Belk, who has auctioned several guided river trips for church fundraisers, likes to say her kids “grew up on the river.” She has a lot of proof to back it up. A photo of her granddaughter crawling on a local sand bar was published in Parade magazine, and her home is filled with river maps and memorabilia. Belk and her husband Jim cruised thousands of miles on the river before his death in 1997. At 82, she still loves to swim in the Mighty Mississippi.
When asked if she worries about whirlpools, she describes how she has watched driftwood disappear, only to pop up a second later. Her take on pollution: “Since the passage of the Clean Water Act, the river has gotten cleaner and better. People think it isn't safe, but it really is if you are careful and know what you're doing.”
On a recent trip up the river from Baton Rouge, Belk dispensed some of the river knowledge she's picked up over the years. Foremost is finding out what the river stage is and whether the best beaches are exposed or not.
She recommends launching at the public ramp under the “new bridge” downtown but urges caution running a small boat north past the bluffs at Southern University and Baton Rouge Harbor.
“There can be a lot of traffic, and usually barges are moored along the shore nearly all the way to the big bend” at Thomas Point, she says. The first major island and beaches you come to are the sand bars at the head of Profit Island, 23 miles north of Baton Rouge. Next up is the gleaming strip of Feliciana sand where Thompson's Creek meets the river. Belk's favorite spot, however, is just north on the blonde sand of Fancy Point Towhead. “There are beaches like this all the way to St. Louis,” she says as she drifts downstream on her back, “but this one is special.”
Belk isn't alone in her assessment of the river and its charms. Last summer, adrenaline junkie Dave Cornthwaite paddle-boarded the entire 2,404-mile length of the Mississippi. His photo blog documents an endless series of islands and sandbars from a perspective that Mark Twain never knew when he wrote his classic Life on the Mississippi. One of Cornthwaite's goals is to encourage people to join him on the water “and develop an appreciation for the river that flows by their doorsteps.”
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr agrees. “There is a perception that the river is a really dangerous place and that you're not allowed to get in it, but you can,” Orr says. “A few people have figured this out.”
Orr's organization, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, works to protect, preserve and restore the river.
He says the unique transition that occurs around Baton Rouge from a wild river north of town to an industrialized one south of the city is instructive. It shows that there is more than one Mississippi River.
This is not the great sewer people have led us to believe, he suggests. It is a jewel.
Orr's work on the river has included helping numerous paddlers and small craft operators get the information they need to make the most of their time on the water. He reminds everyone to use common sense in small craft, whether they are paddled or motorized; to always check for public access; and to be careful around tows and moored barges. It may be our river, but it is also our responsibility to be safe.
Belk's secret Saint-Tropez? It's not really much of a secret. Log onto Google Earth and zoom in on Baton Rouge. After your jaw drops and you've scrolled over all the lovely beaches north of town, begin planning your trip. Start thinking about suntan lotion.
comments powered by Disqus
How to master the fish fillet
Step-by-step instructions for filleting fresh fish, which is a particularly useful culinary skill for those of us fortunate enough to live in southeast Louisiana.
Social media style
With our cover story featuring 25 must-follow Twitter accounts in Baton Rouge, and examining the growing social media site's impact on the local community, we wondered what Twitter might look like in the flesh—living, breathing, fashionable flesh. Prices are approximate, and price and availability are subject to change. (Styling: Erin Mehta)
Bad Guys, Good Eats! Pop-Up Dinner at Restaurant IPO
Chef and 225 contributor Jay D. Ducote and Chef Chris Wadsworth hosted the Bad Guys, Good Eats! dinner at Restaurant IPO Wednesday night. The dinner was themed around famous movie villains, pairing cocktails and ales with plates of food resembling famous baddies like The Joker, Lord Voldemort, Hannibal Lector, and many others. The highlights of the night were the three middle courses—a black bean soup laced with blood sausage to signify Lord Voldemort, a brace of coneys on black eyed peas resembling Sauron, and lamb medallions atop a fava bean puree to pay homage to the famous favorite of Hannibal Lector.
Elizabeth Arkley Hammett, a local nursing student and Fur Ball co-coordinator, and her husband Grey Hammett III, who works in commercial real estate, will take you through our summer guide. And they'll look good while doing it, too. Where noted, their clothes and accessories are available from local retailers.