Pam’s Adventure into the Marsh
Last fall, Pam LeBlanc ventured to Port Arthur on assignment with Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. She toured the town and overnighted atop a floating campsite in the marsh unit at Sea Rim State Park. Here’s what happened:
Not everything I experienced made it into the April issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. I left out the part about falling into the marsh. And skipped over the section where I had to borrow dry clothes from my camping companion. I even left out some details about the ‘glamorous’ bathroom conditions in the marsh. But first things first.
As soon as I learned about the floating campsite, designed by architecture students at the University of Texas, I knew I had to pitch a tent there myself. The platform is tucked in a saltwater marsh on the inland side of the park and is located within easy paddling distance from a boat launch.
Prepping for the Trip
I really didn’t want to camp in a steamy marsh by myself, so I recruited Callie Summerlin with the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau to join me. She wanted to see the spot and test her new kayak anyway.
I’m always game for an adventure but secretly braced myself for an onslaught of mosquitoes and stifling humidity. Perhaps a friendly alligator would decide to spend the night on the platform, too? None of that happened.
As luck would have it, a cold front blew in the day of our trip. Overnight temperatures were predicted to fall into the 30s, so I stopped at Walmart and bought a pair of cheap gloves and a knit hat. Then I dropped by park headquarters to pick up a key to the kayak rental kiosk. So far so good.
Callie was already unloading her gear when I arrived. We got her situated, then I fetched my rental kayak. I piled my gear – tent, sleeping bag, and the required waste bucket and enzyme bag – onto my boat and secured it with a bungee cord.
Paddling to the Floating Platform
By now, the cold front had pushed out that East Texas blanket of humidity, leaving behind a sapphire-colored sky. It was time to get on the water.
We shoved away from shore. We couldn’t get lost. We paddled down a channel lined with wavy golden grasses, veered left at a fork, and spotted our destination in the distance. We didn’t see any gators along the way but did spot a few areas where something had flattened the grass along the shore.
After an easy 2-mile paddle, we pulled up to the platform, then clambered onto the 13 by 20-foot, gently bobbing campsite which appeared to be popular with shorebirds, if you get my drift. We took a few minutes to set up our waste bucket inside the three-walled tower placed there for the purpose, then put up our tent. I headed back out on the kayak to take photos.
Sunset and a little upset in the Marsh
We tugged on warm clothes at dusk, and a few mosquitos turned out to greet us. We cooked a dehydrated meal using water boiled on my tiny camp stove, brushed our teeth, and I decided to make one last trip to our portable potty before calling it a night.
That’s when I somehow took a spill and landed in waist-deep, murky water. Oops.
I hauled myself back onto the platform and assessed my sodden clothes. It was already getting cold, and I didn’t have any spare pajamas. But Callie, ever the planner, had an extra pair of long johns and fluffy warm socks. I gratefully accepted her offerings, hung my dripping clothes up to dry, and slunk into the tent, which we quickly zipped shut to keep out any errant mosquitos. We turned on our headlamps and settled into our novels. Sleep came soon after.
The Day Breaks
The gators steered clear that night and the mosquitos mostly stayed away, too. The sounds of the swamp lulled me to sleep, and I awoke to the orange glow of sunrise. We spot egrets, herons and even a pelican or two.
Callie pulled out her watercolors and brushes and went to work painting, while I watched fish splash all around us, like someone was tossing coins into a fountain.
After a quick breakfast of protein bars, fresh fruit and hot coffee, we broke down camp. I loaded the portable potty with precious cargo onto my kayak, and we carefully made our way back to the boat ramp.
I’ll make the trip again. I loved the peaceful quiet of the swamp and getting swayed to sleep. But next time, I’ll remember a spare set of clothes, just in case.