The longest bayou in the world
By Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and
Originating near Pine Bluff, Bayou Bartholomew is recognized as the
lengthiest body of water of its sort in the world. It stretches for
hundreds of miles before emptying into the Ouachita River near
Sterlington, Louisiana. The stream contributes significantly to the
economic development and cultural life of the region, and serves as
the primary border separating the Delta from the Timberlands in
"Being a total of 359 miles long, it has to be not
only the world’s longest bayou but one of the longest free flowing
rivers left in this country," says Dr. Bill Layher, coordinator of
the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance. ”You don’t have many river segments
this long and not have dams on them somewhere. So it is extremely
unique that way and with the diversity of it, in my opinion, it is a
Lined with cypress and tupelo swamps, it ranks amongst the top
bio-diverse streams in North American. Layher says it contains 117
species of fishes and 35 species of mussels. It has been called one
of Arkansas’s best kept secrets by local fishing enthusiasts.
Layher says some may be surprised by the beauty of the waterway,
“especially in some areas down by Cane Creek State Park. There are
lots of old cypress, some well over a thousand years old.” He says
the bayou has been overlooked as a recreation site in part because
it wanders through sections of the state with few towns or
population centers – and from the perception of its swampy zones as
a haven for snakes and mosquitoes.
Once a pristine stream and
local water source, urban development and runoff from agriculture
left the channel polluted, log-jammed and full of sediment. In 1995,
Curtis Merrell of Monticello organized the Bayou Bartholomew
Alliance to restore and preserve its natural beauty. The
non-profit's long-term collaborative efforts, involving several
agencies and hundreds of individuals, continue today – with
sponsored clean ups, logjam break-ups and campaigns that have
resulted in the removal of untold tons of trash and waste from the
million-acre watershed. The group has also acquired funds to restore
bottomland hardwood forests along its length.
"I think all of
the things we have done have improved it tremendously," says Layher.
"I started sampling fish there in about 1994 when I worked as a
research biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I
continued doing that until about 2005. I can recall when we first
starting sampling in Pine Bluff the only thing we caught were bowfin
('grinnel' as they are called here) or spotted gar. And now... black
crappie, white crappie, largemouth bass, sunfish, spotted sucker...
indicative of good water quality." The return of these species shows
how bio-diversity is improving along with the watershed restoration.
Layher suggests the Dr. Curtis Merrell Access for those interested
in visiting Bayou Bartholomew. The concrete boat ramp and parking
lot off Interstate 530 on the south side of Pine Bluff lies on about
25 acres of land donated by Walmart, adjacent to the area’s
"There is a lot of good bird watching
along it," says Layher. "We are establishing a water trail there.
You could canoe or kayak it and that gives a unique view because it
goes through some riparian areas (natural riverbanks). There are two
nature trails in that vicinity."
Layher also recommends the
William (Bill) G. Layher Bayou Bartholomew Trail off Hazel Street
near I-530 in Pine Bluff. The 1.78 mile stretch is crossed with
boardwalks and foot bridges, giving hikers a view of wetlands home
to a beaver lodge, a heron rookery and both hardwood and mixed
Louisiana's 90-mile section of the bayou is
part of that state’s Natural and Scenic River System. With the help
of the Alliance and the general public, perhaps the future holds a
similar scenario for Arkansas’s share of the bayou.
Learn more about the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance at
. There’s also an informative documentary about
this body of water on the AETN website at
For more info:
Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism http://www.arkansas.com/
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606