Monday, January 25, 2016

Buccaneer State Park (Blog Hike #560)

Trail: Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail
Hike Location: Buccaneer State Park
Geographic Location: west side of Waveland, MS
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2016
Overview: A short hike with nice views of a tidal marsh.

Directions to the trailhead: Buccaneer State Park is located in the boot heel of Mississippi flush against the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not easy to access from the interstate.  The best route is to take I-10 to SR 603 (exit 13).  Exit and go south on SR 603.  Drive SR 603 south 3.4 miles to Kiln Waveland Cutoff Road and turn right on Kiln Waveland Cutoff Road.  The road’s name changes to Waveland Ave. when it crosses US 90.  Drive a total of 3.7 miles from SR 603 to Waveland Ave.’s south end at South Bay Boulevard and the Gulf of Mexico.  Turn right on South Bay Blvd.  Drive South Bay Blvd. west 1.7 miles to the main park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and park in the first parking lot on the right in front of the restroom building and Buccaneer Bay Water Park.

The hike: Once upon a time Buccaneer State Park had beautiful, towering oak trees and wonderful park structures to accommodate visitors.  Then on August 29, 2005 the eye of devastating Hurricane Katrina made landfall just west of the park’s south entrance, the one you entered if you followed the driving directions above.  The hurricane’s 30 foot tidal surge and 160 mile per hour winds destroyed every structure and amenity in the park, including its trail system.
            The rebuilding process took more than 8 years, but in November 2013 the last phase of reconstruction was completed.  The rebuilt park features a massive 276-site campground including 70 beach sites, some picnic pavilions, a disc golf course, and a fabulous waterpark.  The park is named for the famous French pirate Jean LaFitte, who lived in this area and smuggled goods along the Gulf Coast in the late 1700’s.
            The park lists only one trail, the Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail described here, but this “trail” is actually a trail system with many interconnecting routes and options.  The trail system is difficult to navigate: no trail markings exist, and the dead flatness of the land combined with the persistent sameness of the coastal scrub forest ensure that every trail looks exactly like all the others (except the one along the marsh).  The only saving grace is that the trail system covers a rather small area, so it is hard to get seriously lost even if you take a few wrong turns like I did.
Pirate's Alley Nature Trail trailhead
            From the signed trailhead across the park road from the parking area, three trails head into the woods.  Choose the one in the center; the path going right will be our return route.  One of the baskets for the park’s disc golf course is also located here.
            The grass/dirt trail heads west into the coastal scrub.  The young trees include longleaf pine, loblolly pine, and live oak.  At 0.1 miles, you reach a trail intersection that presents 3 more options.  The trail going right is one of the interior short-cut trails, and the trail leaving at a sharp angle left takes you directly back to the trailhead.  Thus, you should angle softly left to continue following the outer-most loop toward the marsh.
Hiking through the coastal scrub
            The meandering trail continues in the general direction of west.  When I hiked here a few days after a major rain, there were a large number of wet areas I had to negotiate.  Despite this hike’s flat terrain and short length, I was glad I wore my waterproof hiking boots.
            At the next intersection, turn left again.  Soon thereafter the tidal marsh comes into view, and what has thus far been a rather uninspiring hike starts to get more interesting.  The grassy tidal marsh is nearly a half-mile wide, so the bird and wildlife viewing opportunities are plentiful.  I saw several egrets and herons during my time along the marsh.
Grassy tidal marsh
            The trail follows the marsh for more than 0.3 miles.  Ignore interior trails that exit right.  At 0.45 miles, you pass a small wooden pavilion that extends a few feet out into the marsh.  The pavilion gets you out past the grass and next to more open water.  The South Street vehicle bridge can be seen up the marsh to your right.
View from pavilion near sunset
            At 0.6 miles, the trail curves right to leave the marsh for good.  The route becomes a little more primitive as it heads first south and then east.  A couple more interior trails come in from the right.  Soon the park road comes into view through the trees on the left, and then the trail curves right to arrive back at the trailhead, thus completing the hike.

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