|There are forested sections of the 27 mile long Tammany Trace in St. Tammany Parish Louisiana|
The Trace passes through Fontainebleau State Park where early morning riders can see wary deer foraging near the trail. Lucky riders may look up to the sky and see a bald eagle or soaring osprey from Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge or hear the steady drumming of the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers that make their home there in the tall pines.
St. Tammany Parish has long been a natural playground for New Orleans residents seeking a convenient escape from the summer heat in the city. Beginning in the 19th century, ferries would ply Lake Pontchartrain taking passengers to and from New Orleans and resorts in Mandeville, Abita Springs and Covington.
Around 1900 the railroad line which the Trace follows was completed to Covington. In 1956 the opening of the 24-mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain sealed the fate of the railroad and it was abandoned in the 1980's.
The western trail head is in downtown Covington, a quaint southern town on the cusp of celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding on the banks of the shallow Bogue Falaya River. The parish seat of government, it is a market town with many tony boutiques, coffee shops and antique/curio dealers either right on the trail or only a block or two away. The Covington Farmer's Market sets up shop at the trail head each Wednesday.
Heading east the first town is Abita Springs, 3.5 miles from the Covington trail head. Here a small museum (open weekends) adjacent to the trail, explains the town's history as a health resort in the early 20th century. The notion that the combination of piney woods, mineral springs and pleasant scenery might be healthy got a boost from federal health officials when this "Ozone Belt" was named the healthiest region in the country in the early 1900's.
A couple of blocks down the Trace housed in a depression-era service station, is the Mystery House, an eclectic collection of off-the-wall exhibits and dioramas, most of them created by artist John Preble. The Mystery House, aka UCM Museum, is ground-zero for the Louisiana Bicycle Festival held each year the Saturday before Father's Day. (In 2013 the date is June 15.) The festival offers food, music, bicycle rides, a bicycle flea market and some of the weirdest working bicycle creations you have ever seen.
The Mandeville trail head, 12.15 miles from Covington, is designed to look like a turn of the century train platform. Here a unique splash fountain for the kids keeps them cool in the summer. The open-air amphitheater here is busy with events.
In Mandeville, riders can leave the Trace and ride a residential street south about .7 mi. to a bike path along the Lake Pontchartrain seawall. (Do not ride Gerard St. It is narrow and busy with traffic. Almost any other street to the lake will have lighter traffic.) At the marina and boat launch at the eastern end of the seawall, the path curves north to connect with the Tammany Trace at Jackson Ave.
After crossing Bayou Castine, the Trace passes for almost 2.5 miles through Fontainebleau State Park. The large park offers camping for RVs and tents and a sandy swimming beach on the lake. There are no bathrooms near the beach. Vacation cabins in the park, damaged by Hurricane Isaac in 2012 are still closed. A fee is charged to enter the park and for camping.
East of Bayou Castine the trail can seem remote as it passed through undeveloped sections of the state park. After crossing Bayou Cane, a popular destination for paddlers, dwellings begin to reappear.
About a half-mile west of Bayou Lacombe, riders can take Lake Rd. (LA 434) a short distance north into the working class community of Lacombe where there is a bicycle/kayak rental and a few stores and eateries. Main St. has some beautiful old live oak trees and there is a small museum near the library.
The drawbridge crossing Bayou Lacombe is down--meaning trail users can cross it--from sunrise to sunset. There is a clock on the bridge displaying the time it will close. Pay attention. There is no easy or safe detour if the bridge is up. At the bridge there is a recently completed trail head (the only access is by the trail so there is no parking) with restrooms, drink machine and a bench with shade to sit over looking the bayou.
East of the bridge the trail passes through a lovely grove of young pine trees next to the trail.
The current eastern terminus of the trail is at the Slidell/Carollo trail head, 27.35 miles from Covington, where there are restrooms and a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's substation. The trail extends about a quarter of a mile beyond this to dead end at Neslo Rd.
Beautiful as it is the Trace can be dangerous for the careless. Bicyclists should assume they NEVER have the right of way at cross streets (and they seldom do) and there are lots of cross streets. Come to a complete stop at stop signs. Often vegetation growing near the intersection prevents a driver from seeing the Trace until they get right on it. A competitive teen aged rider, racing on the Trace through an intersection between Covington and Abita Springs was killed earlier this year. There is a white "ghost bicycle" at that intersection as a memorial.
Several years ago an adult rider speeding on the Trace toward a street crossing was paralyzed from the neck down after hitting one of the steel bollards at the edge of the Trace when he and a driver crossing the Trace mixed up signals about who had the right of way.
The Trace can be very crowded with people, walking, jogging, skating, pushing strollers, skateboarding, you name it. There are toddlers on bikes with training wheels. And the path is only ten feet wide. If you want to race or train fast, pick one of the more remote sections of the path to avoid hurting yourself or others. There is a 20 mph speed limit. No pets are permitted on the Trace. Wear a helmet.
There is not much shade along the Trace so be sure to keep hydrated when riding the trail in warm weather.
Brooks Bike Shop, 416 Gibson, Covington, LA. Phone 985-237-3658. (On the Trace near the Covington trail head.)
Shiver Shack, 2020 Woodrow St., Mandeville, LA Phone 985-246-9595. (Across from the Mandeville trail head.)
Spokesman Professional Bicycle Work, 1848 N. Causeway, Mandeville, LA. Phone 985-727-7211.
Bayou Adventure, 27725 Main St., Lacombe, LA. 985-882-9208.
Bayou Lacombe Rural Museum, 61115 Saint Mary St., Lacombe, LA 70445. Phone 985-882-3043.
Abita Mystery House and UCM Museum, Phone 985-892-2624. Admission $3. Open seven days a week. ucmmuseum.com.
Abita Springs Trailhead Museum, 22049 Main St., Abita Springs. Phone 985-871-5327. Open Friday and Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays noon to 5 pm.