Old River Control Structure to Natchez Trace Link
You can begin this route at the Old River Lock, which allows boats to enter the Atchafalaya River from the Mississippi River. If you are interested in an overnight stay, year-round primitive camping facilities are located nearby. Farther along the route, you can visit the Old River Control Structure, which enables a flow of fresh water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin, one of the last great primitive areas in the nation.
The route from here travels alongside and sometimes on top of the levee bordering the Mississippi River. The road surface is excellent and you’ll encounter very little traffic. The scenery is wonderful and varies from fertile farmland to forests. The absence of houses, stores and traffic, make this an excellent bike route. Several wildlife preserves along the way offer opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting or exploring. On your way to Natchez, you will also pass Louisiana’s first hydroelectric power plant. There are no stores along this route, so take plenty of supplies and water.
Start: Intersection of Hwy 418 and Hwy 15, go north on Hwy 15.
0.9 Old River Lock. Primitive campsites before bridge on left. The locks allow boats to enter the Atchafalaya River from the Mississippi River.
9.2 Old River Auxilliary Control Structure. Note: The Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge began to develop about 5,000 to 6000 years ago as the Gulf of Mexico approached its present elevation. It has migrated back and forth across Louisiana at least seven times, each time forming a delta by depositing tremendous quantities of sands, silts and clays.
About the 15th century A.D., a westwardly meandering loop of the Mississippi River broke into the basin of the Red River and captured the Red. The Mississippi also intersected a small distributary of the Red River which flowed south and later became known as the Atchafalaya. When the first European settlers arrived, they found the Red River emptying into the Mississippi at Turnbull’s Bend, and the Atchafalaya River a well-defined distributary flowing out of Turnbull’s Bend a few miles to the south.
1831, Captain Henry M. Shreve, the distinguished steamboatman and founder of Shreveport, dug a cut across the narrow neck of Turnbull’s Bend. The river accepted the shortcut and abandoned its old channel, the upper part of which eventually silted up, leaving the lower section, which came to called “Old River” open. The Red River no longer flowed into the Mississippi, but into the Atchafalaya. Old River connected them to the Mississippi. Old River linked the two systems.
In 1839 a log jam at the head of the Atchafalaya was dislodged by the state of Louisiana and the Atchafalaya became a free flowing and navigable river. With the removal of the log jam, the Atchafalaya began to enlarge, become deeper and wider and carry more and more of the Mississippi’s flow.
The Atchafalaya offered the Mississippi a shorter outlet and steeper gradient to the Gulf of Mexico---142 miles compared to 315---and by 1951 it was apparent that, unless something was done soon, the Mississippi would take the course of the Atchafalaya. If the Mississippi changed course it would turn the present river channel into a saltwater estuary and the effects on southern Louisiana would be catastrophic. Corporations that have spent billions of dollars on petrochemical plants, refineries, grain elevator and nuclear electrical generating plants would be left without fresh water for their manufacturing process. New Orleans and Baton Rouge would be hard-pressed to find drinking water.
The Atchafalaya Basin could not accept the Mississippi flow without massive flooding, extensive relocations and the upheaval of the social and economic patterns of South Louisiana. A tremendous volume of shallow draft navigation between the nations’ heartland---the upper Mississippi--and the ports of Baton Rouge and New Orleans would be disrupted. Something had to be done. In 1953, a report by the Mississippi River Commission recommended that the diversion of flow from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya should be controlled by a complex of structures to be built at Old River. A dam was constructed across the natural stream Old River, preventing the Mississippi River from changing its course.
Floods of 1974, 1975 and 1979 launched a relentless attack on this man-made yoke. Repairs were made but the foundation was permanently impaired. Realizing that repairs to the structures were not enough, an auxiliary structure was constructed. The Auxiliary Control Structure was completed in 1986 at the cost of 206 million dollars.
In addition to flood control, the Old River structures provide fresh water to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of the last great primitive areas in the nation not part of the national refuge or park systems. This fresh water is needed by the extensive plant and animal life in the basin swamps.
10.5 Old River Structure
12.0 Hydroelectric Station is part of the Old River Control Complex operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers since 1963. Here a portion of the Mississippi’s flow is diverted to the Red/Atchafalaya Rivers leading to the Gulf of Mexico. A portion of this diversion is allocated by the Corps to the project for power generation on a daily basis. This is Louisiana’s first Hydroelectric Power Plant.
Note: Free, year-round primitive camping facilities are located on the right bank of the plant outflow channel. They are operated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a part of the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area.
To continue to Natchez, follow Hwy.15 North until you reach Hwy. 131. Continue straight ahead on Hwy.131.Take a right at the T in Vidalia on Hwy. 65 & Hwy.84. Cross the Mississippi River into Natchez.
It’s about another 40 miles to Natchez from the Hydroelectric Station.