Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grand Bay NWR: Escatawpa Nature Trail (Blog Hike #336)

Trail: Escatawpa Nature Trail
Hike Location: Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: east of PascagoulaMS (30.46175, -88.43748)
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2011
Overview: A good leg-stretcher hike to the banks of the Escambia River.
Refuge Information: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/grand_bay/
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=96684
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is located in the picnic area of the I-10 westbound rest area at mile marker 74.  Ask for trail information in the rest area’s Welcome Center.

The hike: For my general comments on Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, see the previous hike.  How many trailheads do you know that can be reached without leaving the interstate?  I don’t know of many, but this trail is one.  For this reason, this trail makes a great leg-stretcher hike as you drive westbound on I-10 between Mobile and New Orleans.  On the downside, you will be able to hear the constant hum of traffic along I-10 throughout the hike.  Also, rather surprisingly given the trail’s developed location, trail maintenance is an issue here.  Come during a dry spell in the winter for the best trail conditions.
            The trailhead is located at an information board at the far end of the paved picnic area parking lot.  Three trails forming concentric loops leave from this trailhead.  Start on the common entrance trail by passing through a gate in a black iron fence.  All of the trails here are wide gravel trails, but some tall grass is growing up among the gravel.  This grass is one reason for the trail maintenance issue mentioned in the introduction.
Black iron gate at trailhead
            At only 0.1 miles, the trail forks to form its loop.  This description will use the left fork as a return route and angle right here, heading for the river overlook.  The information board designates this as the Yellow Trail, but no signs or markings identify it as such on the trail itself.  The same black plastic mesh that underlies the Oak Grove Nature Trail lies underfoot on this trail as well.
            The trail heads in the general direction of west as it winds through some young open pine forest with a grassy and shrubby understory that includes a few palmettos.  Most of the trees are not tall enough to shade the trail, so this would be a hot, sunny walk in the summer.  Plan accordingly by bringing water or coming in the winter.
Spur trail to overlook
            As you approach the river, the trees get taller and denser.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the short spur trail which exits right to the river overlook.  The wooden overlook provides a nice view up and down the Escatawpa River.  Tall bald cypress, black gum, and white cedar trees line the banks.  The waters are calm and dark, as you would expect for rivers in this part of the country.  This should be a nice place for bird watching, but in the several minutes I waited here I did not see any birds or other wildlife in the middle of the day.
Escatawpa River
            After you have taken in the overlook, continue along the main trail.  The information board called this the Purple Trail, but trail signs call it the Outer Loop.  The trail returns to the sunny open pine forest as it heads south and directly toward noisy I-10.  Ignore a dirt access road which exits right where the Outer Loop turns left.  Water tends to pond on the trail in this area, hence my opening suggestion that you hike this trail during a dry period.  When I hiked this trail the day after a soaking rain, I was forced to wade through ankle-deep water just past this curve.
            The peril of wet feet is behind you when, at 0.8 miles, you intersect the boardwalk trail, which is marked as the Red Trail on the information board.  Turn left to maximize your time on the wide boardwalk.  The fairly new wooden boardwalk takes you over a large, sunny, grassy wetland area with a few small clustered pine trees.  Low railings on the boardwalk make it wheelchair accessible even though the grass/gravel trail to reach it may not be.
            The square boardwalk loop quickly comes back on itself, at which point a left turn is required to exit the boardwalk loop.  A few hundred feet later, you close the outer loop as you return to the entrance trail.  A short walk back out the entrance trail and through the iron gate completes the hike.

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