Monday, April 6, 2015

Joyce WMA Swamp Walk south of Pontchoula is 25.

Swamp Walk in Joyce WMA near Ponchatoula, LA.
 
          A primitive boardwalk into a beautiful swamp in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area, off of I-55 on old highway US 51 a few miles south of Ponchatoula, LA has reopened.  The boardwalk was damaged by a storm and closed to the public for a while.  But now the 25-year-old swamp access has been spruced up with new planking and is again open sunrise to sunset.
       The boardwalk is a convenient haven for bird watching, nature photography and general nature study.  The boardwalk extends 1000 feet through a dense cypress/tupelo canopy and ends overlooking a mix of shrub marsh and wetland "prairie."
        Joyce WMA is home to a variety of birdlife (some duck species live there year around) and is popular with neotropical migrants plying the Mississippi flyway each spring and fall.
       Eagles have been known to nest nearby, osprey too.
       A brochure produced when the boardwalk was first opened in June of 1990 claims some common animals likely to be found include nutria, grey squirrels, raccoon, muskrat, mink, otter and white-tailed deer.
      Turtles, skinks and lots of frog species make the swamp home and might be visible to the quiet and patient visitor.
       Near the boardwalk are some animals to be wary of.  Wildlife officers say alligators may be seen from the deck at the end of the boardwalk hiding in the dense floating green vegetation.  Many snakes, some poisonous such as the western cottonmouth, may be seen slithering through the slime.
         It being a swamp expect stinging insects almost year around.  (Mosquitoes can be active any time of the year when temperatures are above 56 degrees.)  Biting deer flies are out in force in the late spring.  Wear long sleeves and long pants and use insect repellent to protect from these flying pests.  Poison ivy is abundant; some of it is within easy reach of the boardwalk.
       The trip to the boardwalk from the hard-packed dirt parking lot off US 51 is over an active railroad track.  WATCH FOR TRAINS!  THIS IS A BUSY RAILROAD!  SEE HOW SHINY THE TRACK SURFACE IS?  The walk also requires traversing about 15 feet of loose gravel ballast then stepping up about a foot onto a railroad tie, crossing the single track then stepping back down onto the ballast on the other side.
       The rules for dogs in WMAs are complicated but if you are not actively hunting something that is normally hunted with dogs you cannot bring a dog into a WMA.

Driving Directions

       Driving south on I-55 take Exit 23 (Frontage Rd.).  Frontage Rd. ends at a "T" intersection with US 51. The boardwalk parking lot is immediately to the left? right? across US 51.  Driving north on I-55 take Exit 15 (Manchac), turn left on US 51 and drive north.  The parking lot is on the right just before US 51 becomes one-way north to merge with I-55.

Access to the boardwalk

       This is a good time to talk about access to the state wildlife management areas in Louisiana.  You must have a LWF license to step on to a Louisiana Wildlife Management Area.  Kids younger than 16 years old and seniors 60 years of age and older are exempted.  Most people call all WMA licenses "hunting licenses."  True enough, most of the dozen or more LWF licenses permit some short of consumptive behavior, i.e. hunting, fishing, trapping and the like.  And there are commercial licenses to regulate the harvesting of seafood.
        But there is also a LWF license for those who want to visit these scenic preserves to watch birds, photograph wildlife or just enjoy some hiking.  The Wild Louisiana Stamp gives these "non-consumptive" users access to WMAs across the state.  Called the "birdwatcher stamp" by some, Wild Louisiana Stamps valid for one day are $2.00.  An annual license is $9.50 and and expires June 30.  A Wild Louisiana Stamp is valid for everyone, Louisiana residents or not, and the fee is the same for everyone.  (Non-Louisiana residents pay much higher fees for other WLF licenses.)
        Revenues from the sale of Wild Louisiana Stamps, introduced in 1993, generate revenues to support the functions of the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program.  The "stamp" is no longer a stamp. It is now a slip of paper that looks like a cash register receipt.
        So if you are at the boardwalk entrance at Joyce WMA reading the rules and wondering how you can meet the license requirement easily, just whip out your smartphone and credit card.  Call 1-888-765-2602.  After you pay the license fee and the added service charge you will get a license number you can use immediately.  Or if you plan ahead you can get licenses at the sporting goods department of any big box merchant.
        You need one other thing, in most cases, to be legal: A self-clearing permit.  They can be found at kiosks at the parking areas of most WMAs.  They are free.  They can also be downloaded and printed from www.wlf.louisiana.gov, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.  Print a few self-clearing permits in advance to keep in your glove compartment or tackle box so you will always have one if you park where there is no kiosk.  One part of the form is filled out with name and contact info and slipped into the box on the kiosk before you enter the WMA to alert the WMA staff that you are in the WMA.  The other part you keep on your person while in the WMA.  As you leave, fill it out and put it in the box at the kiosk.  It is basically a survey of how people spend their time while in a WMA.  If you engaged in an activity that is not listed, kayaking, canoeing or something else--WRITE IT IN!  This is a way of letting WLF officials know that WMAs are visited for reasons other than hunting and fishing.
     Most all of the above information is contained in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' website, www.wlf.louisiana.gov.  It is a very big site, most of it dealing with hunting and fishing issues.  Find Wild Louisiana Stamp information by clicking Licenses then Hunting.  General WMA rules are found under Hunting Regulations.  Self-clearing permits info is on page 55, dogs in WMAs on page 66.

NOTE:  If you do not hunt or fish, scanning the regulations governing these activities can be a window into a fascinating world.  Sportsmen and sportswomen spend plenty of time preparing for each hunting and fishing season, and learning the rules must be a large part of it.  Non-consumptive visitors to Louisiana WMAs owe a debt to hunters and fishers who, through fees and taxes on their gear, have contributed mightily to the acquisition and management of state lands we all enjoy.  The Swamp Walk, described above, was primarily funded by the Pittman-Robertson Fund established by Congress in 1937.  This federal revenue is generated by a tax paid by sportsmen purchasing rifles, shotguns ammunition and archery equipment. and is matched with state money, one dollar state money to three dollars of federal money.   Labor and lumber for the project was also donated by the Triangle T Sportsman's League.
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 2015 Events

April 10-12.  The Great Louisiana Birdfest.  Birding in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.  Register at  www.NorthLakeNature.org.  Questions? Call 985-626-1238.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lafitte Corridor path opening delayed till summer

Construction continues at the intersection of the Lafitte Corridor recreation path and N. Carrollton Ave.  Completion of the 2.6 mile path connecting the French Quarter in New Orleans and City Park is now set for early summer 2015
 
      
     The Lafitte Corridor, converting a largely derelict strip of land in the center of New Orleans to a skinny greenway stretching 2.6 miles from the French Quarter to lower Lakeview near City Park will be "fully open to the public by early summer 2015," reports the March 31 edition of the "Greenway Gazette," the digital newsletter of the Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (FOLC).  Construction officially began about a year ago.

When the bike path opens, riders
will have access to this bicycle
workstation complete with air pump
near N. Carrollton Ave. 
       The right-of-way was first the Carondelet Canal, completed in 1794, a small but critical waterway for small ships entering New Orleans using Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John.  Much later the canal was filled in and it became a route into the city for the old Norfolk Southern Railroad.
       When complete the paved path will connect Basin St., the northern boundary of the French Quarter with N. Alexander St., a street leading to the City Park Ave. entrance to City Park two blocks away. 
        In the Treme neighborhood, near the F.Q., the corridor is wide with space for developed ball fields and recreation areas.  As the corridor moves northwest it narrows containing only the 12 foot wide path.
       The park was to open in the late winter of this year but apparently the addition of a new bridge over a drainage canal and other items added after construction began delayed the project.
       
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

LHC Campfest 2015

Louisiana Hiking Club (LHC) members display their versatility by launching a paddlecraft exploration of the lake at Chicot S. P. near Ville Platte, LA.  The group launched from the east boat ramp and explored the northern part of the scenic lake, one of a host of activities group members enjoyed at CampFest, a weekend of seminars, demonstrations  and field trips held by the LHC for members each spring.. 
          Beautiful Chicot State Park, just north of Ville Platte, LA was again the headquarters for the Louisiana Hiking Club's (LHC) annual Campfest, for 2015 held March 27-29.  Also beautiful was the weather with night time temps dropping to the frosty 40's and sunny, dry days in the 70's  Members said the nice weather was a factor in attracting nearly 80 members, though the exact count is uncertain because many came just for one day and did not register.
          CampFest headquarters is at the conference center on the east side of the lake.  Attendees pitch their tents among the trees near the center.  The conference center offers group kitchen facilities, a dining hall/activity room and indoor restrooms but no showers.  Some might consider that primitive but developed camping and cabins are on the other side of the lake about a 20-minute drive away, one-way.
         Many arrive Friday when nothing is scheduled and tour the park or visit the trails at the nearby State Arboretum and the beautiful new interpretive center there. Saturday, a variety of seminars ranging from outdoor cooking and how to pack for a backpacking trip are the main events interspersed with lots of schmoosing.  The Saturday evening meal is a group effort with club members bringing side dishes and desserts and the club providing the main course.  This year, the club presented a taco bar with all the fixins' instead of the grilled meat supplied in years past. Club members appeared to approve the change in the main course.
        Afterward a raffle distributing the swag--from coffee cups to day packs-- donated by local outdoor shops and a freeze-dried food business, provided the after dinner entertainment, as usual.  There was a movie too. 
          The Sunday morning pancake breakfast was well attended though a balky coffee urn created some anxious moments.  For the other meals attendees are on their own, most snacking or feeding from cooler contents.  The 6,000 acre Chicot S.P. is in the middle of nowhere so most come to the event prepared to supply their food needs from their own portable larders.
         Many in the LHC are also paddlers, packing their canoes and kayaks wherever they go.   In Chicot the 19-mile long blazed hiking trail (22-miles counting all the spurs) which the LHC helps maintain, around the lake offers great hiking.  But the 2,000 acre lake has trails of its own.  Three water trails direct paddlers to every part of the skinny six-mile lake.  North Loop Trail is 4.8 miles; the trail connecting the east and south landings is 1.8 miles, one-way and the South Trail from the South Landing is 2.8 miles, one-way. (See previous articles on paddling Chicot S.P. in this blog for important details about securing an overnight primitive campsite along the lake.)
        Many at CampFest wound up their visit to the park with a paddle on Sunday, leaving the East Landing boat launch and exploring the northern sections of the lake.
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Northlake Nature Center (Mandeville, LA) is a convenient quickie for fall hikers

Members of the Louisiana Hiking Club held their November Second Saturday Hike at the Northlake Nature Center east of Covington, LA.  The park offers residents of the North Shore a convenient place to enjoy nature without having to drive a long distance.
   
      Hikers can find a hint of fall color by heading to the wetlands of Bayou Castine at the edge of the 400-acre Northlake Nature Center, (NNC) just east of the Mandeville, LA city limits.  These pond swamps are one of the four different ecosystems in the park--hardwood forest, pine-hardwood forest and pine savanna are the other three--and are the most likely to have trees and shrubs with leaves that change color and fall in autumn.
       Take the South Loop (Yellow Trail) and the North Loop (Green Trail) to several scenic spots on the east bank of Bayou Castine.  Here deciduous trees in the bottomland hardwood forest flanking the wetland are changing color.  The color change from green to red, orange, yellow and brown is muted and subtle, mostly changing from green to brown.
       But from the lookouts near Savanna Lake hikers can see clumps of leaves in the brighter, intense hues more commonly found on trees growing north of the Deep South.  Adding to the pleasure of the view is the absence of traffic noise from busy highway U.S. 190 to the south.
       These lookouts are about a mile north of the parking lot off U.S. 190. (Driving east the NNC parking lot is an IMMEDIATE left turn after crossing the short bridge crossing Bayou Castine on U.S. 190.  Blink and you will miss it.  Use turn signals to warn following traffic of your intention to turn well in advance of the turn.  If you miss the turn, continue to the entrance to Pelican Park, Castine Center and turn around there.)
       The terrain is flat and there are raised wooden boardwalks where the trail passes over wet areas.  Off-road cycling is permitted on the park's trails and hikers may encounter a few riders on the trail.  Pets are also permitted.  The numerous crisscross trails near the parking lot and the bridge over the beaver pond make this a great place to bring children for a day in the woods.
      But signage on the trails is confusing or missing altogether.  If hikers in a group have to be at the same place at the same time, stay together and take a head count after every trail intersection.  This is especially important when hiking with children who tend to disperse quickly once on the trail.  The trail intersections closest to the parking lot are the most confusing. Admission to the park is free.
       The entrance to the trails is at the eastern edge of the gravel parking lot.  A big informational sign is there.  The trail is a boardwalk at the entrance and is suitable for wheelchair use.    There is no drinking water available at the parking lot or in the park but there is a single portable toilet.  A trail to a canoe/kayak launch exits the parking lot to the west.
       Despite having about eight miles of trails, the park is compact so you are never far from the boundaries at the perimeter of the park:  Pelican Park to the east,  U.S. 190 to the south or Bayou Castine to the west.  But take one of the maps available at the entrance anyway even though trying to use it, not all trails are shown, can be frustrating.  On the other side of the map is valuable information about the park and how to join the NNC. 
       The trail leading from the rough unimproved gravel parking lot to the bridge over the pond behind the beaver dam is boardwalk and suitable for wheelchairs.  Clustered in this area of the park are shelters with tables and a pavilion used for group meetings, social events and outdoor instruction.
       Weekends with nice, crisp weather are popular times to visit the park so parking is can get tight.  So if you have a choice try to hike in the preserve early in the morning or later in the afternoon.  The park is open from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
          NNC borders Pelican Park, a recreation complex with numerous outdoor playing fields and ball diamonds to the east.  In Pelican Park there are restrooms, soft drink machines and drinking fountains to refill water bottles.  A paved spur from the Tammany Trace, a bicycle and pedestrian path, crosses U.S. 190 and the NNC to a parking lot in Pelican Park.
        Guided hikes led by local naturalists are available by appointment.  The NNC has a year-around schedule of recreational activities for kids and adults including yoga, mountain biking on the trails, kayaking on Bayou Castine and campfire programs.   Some of these programs charge fees with discounts to NNC members.  Hands-on nature walks for school groups, summer camps and clubs are also available by appointment.
        There is also an on-going campaign to recruit workers for volunteer tree plantings to restore the longleaf pines, trail building and park maintenance, aka, "titivation."  For more information phone 985-626-1238 or email info@northlakenature.org.  The website is www.northlakenature.org.
       NNC is also ground zero for the Great Louisiana BirdFest, an annual event held each spring highlighting the best birding locations in St. Tammany Parish.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Urban Marsh at Bayou St. John Dedicated



Two kayakers and a paddler standing on a paddleboard explore the new small urban marsh at the mouth of Bayou St. John.  Spoil dredged from the center of the bayou was used to create the marsh which was dedicated to the City of New Orleans in a brief ceremony October 14, 2014.

      A half-acre of marsh created from the spoil of a dredging operation at the mouth of Bayou St. John was dedicated to the people of the City of New Orleans Tuesday, October 14, 2014.  Speakers at the brief ceremony, held under bright blue skies, said the marsh offers new recreational and educational opportunities for that stretch of the historic bayou.  Before and after the ceremony, two kayakers and a paddler on a paddleboard explored the new marsh.
       The marsh is a project of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL).  Much of the work was done by volunteers.  Some of the materials for the project were donated.
       One speaker noted that the size of the small marsh, one-half acre, is about the area of Louisiana wetland lost every day to erosion.
       An educational program featuring the ecology of the marsh is under development and will be offered to area schools, officials with the LPBF announced.  Opportunities to kayak and fish in the area are enhanced by the building of the marsh, officials said.  The area is already popular with dog owners who like to run their animals off-leash along the shore.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Paddlecraft parade to be part of Bayou St. John urban marsh dedication 10/14/2014


Andy Baker and a volunteer plant marsh grass in the small marsh recently created at the mouth of Bayou St. John (New Orleans, LA).  The one-half acre wetland will be dedicated Tuesday, October 14, with a ceremony that includes a paddlecraft parade of canoes and kayaks in  the sheltered and calm mini-marsh. 
   
        The dedication ceremonies at a half-acre "urban"marsh recently created at the mouth of Bayou St. John in New Orleans will include a paddlecraft parade.  All paddlecraft-canoes, kayaks, paddleboats-are invited to the event, October 14, 2014.  Paddlers are encouraged to costume for the event.  Participants, with their boats, should arrive on site by 9 am.  The ceremony will begin at 10 am.  The weather is forecast to be sunny, cool and breezy.
      Parking is on the west side of the bayou along Beauregard Ave. just before the "Y" that leads under the Lakeshore Ave. bridge.  There is no parking lot.  Boats will have to be portaged up and over a steep levee.  At the bayou there is a little finger of firm sand extending into the water to launch from.
      Tiny, compared to what most people think of as a marsh, the little wetland between the Lakeshore Ave. bridge and the massive water control structure about 200 yards to the south is becoming an inviting habitat for visiting shore birds and a protected spawning ground for fish, said Andy Baker, a wetland biologist managing the project.  Baker said when he heard the Army Corps of Engineers was going to dredge the bayou's opening into Lake Pontchartrain he got the idea to use the dredged spoil to build the marsh.
       Baker, originally from Philadelphia, PA, is one of many millennials who came to New Orleans to help rebuild the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and decided to stay.  Saturday,  Baker, a coastal program scientist with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF), was sprucing up the mini-marsh, picking up litter and doing a little marsh grass planting with the aid of three volunteers.
        Standing bare-footed in about four inches of the bayou's surprisingly clear water, wielding a shovel, Baker punches a hole in the sand and shell marsh substrate for a volunteer to plant one of the last clumps of marsh grass he has brought to partially fill in a small bald with greenery. 
        "I think we are ready for the photo-op," he said, referring to the dedication ceremonies planned for Tuesday.
        To retain the dredged spoil, a three -foot wall using high-tech sandbags was built, almost all of it underwater.  Without the marsh that Baker and his volunteers created, the shores of the bayou would have remained just mud and sand; little benefit to creatures looking for a place to feed, nest and breed.
        Baker is seeking volunteers to join him the second Saturday of each month to pick up litter and maintain the urban marsh with additional plantings when necessary.  The work begins at 9 a.m. and goes until noon.  Work gloves, garbage bags and tools are provided but volunteers are expected to bring their own water and snacks.  After the work is done there may be an educational talk about local natural and cultural history.
         Contact Baker directly at (504) 836-2215 or email to wetland.biologist@gmail.com.