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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Friday, October 17, 2014

Black Creek Canoe Rental Closed for Fall 2014

       Black Creek Canoe Rental, in Brooklyn, MS, is closed for the fall of 2014 but will reopen for the spring of 2015, according to the livery's website.  No other details were posted.  The large livery rents canoes and runs shuttles in the De Soto National Forest on Black Creek, a National Scenic River,  from Camp Danzler (upriver from the NF boundary) to Fairley Bridge.  The business also shuttles hikers on the Black Creek Trail, the longest hiking trail in Mississippi.
       Still need a shuttle or to rent a canoe for fall trip on Black Creek?  Try Red Wolf Wilderness Adventures, on MS 29, north of Wiggins, MS.  The operation is about a mile or two from the creek, near Janice Landing.  The business offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttle services for paddlers and hikers, cabin rentals and a small campground with water and electric for RVs.  There are also tent sites with water.  Open by reservation only this time of year.  Call 601-598-2745 or visit their website at www.redwolfwildernessadventures.com.
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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.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lafitte Greenway (New Orleans, LA) progress report

The Lafitte Corridor Bicycle and Pedestrian Path looking towards Broad St. from Jefferson Davis Parkway.  The path and surrounding park linking Mid-City with the French Quarter is set to be completed in the spring of 2015.  Residents and commuters are asked not to use the trail until it is officially opened.
  
       The Lafitte Greenway Bicycle and Pedestrian Path, now under construction through the neighborhoods of Treme and Mid-City will open on schedule in the spring of 2015.
        New Orleans Department of Public Works construction project manager Louis Haywood assured a small group attending a Lafitte Greenway Expo at the restored Carver Theatre in Treme recently, that the park and path, "will be open by Jazz Fest."
         Construction on the project began in March of 2014.
        The 2.6 mile asphalt path connects Basin Street bordering the French Quarter (New Orleans) with N. Alexander St. near N. Carrollton Ave. to the northwest.  The path is 12 feet wide and most of it straight as an arrow.  The project also includes new ball fields in Treme, grading and replanting of meadows, landscaping and tree planting.
       The end of the path at N. Alexander St. is about three blocks from the south entrance to City Park on City Park Ave.
       The trail will be lighted and open 24-hours.  Security arrangements for the park and trail, which will open in about six months, are being discussed, Haywood said.
       The trail intersects several four-lane streets.  Haywood said drivers approaching those crosswalks will be warned of crossing pedestrians and cyclists by a state-of-the-art flashing light warning system similar to the flashing lights on emergency and police vehicles.  Trail users activate the warning lights by pushing a button at the side of the trail.  The lights come on immediately after the button is pushed.  This system of warning lights debuted in Florida recently and were very effective in stopping automobile traffic, Haywood said.
       The crosswalks will be striped with white "zebra stripes" much larger than those seen at crosswalks in the city now.  Pedestrians have the right-of-way at crosswalks.
       To facilitate traffic on the path which shares the right-of-way with St. Louis St. for a few blocks, St. Louis St. will become one-way lakebound from N. Carrollton Ave. to Soloman St.
       Residents and commuters must stay off the path until it is officially opened as it will be an active construction site until that day and is dangerous, trail officials said.  To keep sight-seers out, the pedestrian bridge at Lopez St has been closed.  It will be replaced with a new bridge when the path and park open, Haywood said.
       Plans for the Lafitte Corridor path call for it to be extended to Canal Blvd. in lower Lakeview.  However that half-mile or so of right-of-way is still an active railroad spur and not now available for path development.   
       Opening the path next spring should make the city's growing number of bicycle commuters happy.  New Orleans is ranked fifth in the nation in bicycle commuting, said Naomi Doerner, executive director of BikeEasy.org, a bicycle advocacy group in New Orleans.  In the years between 2010 and 2012 bicycle commuting in the city increased 200 percent, she told the group at the expo.
      For more information contact the Department of Public Works at (504) 658-8046 or by e-mail crobles@nola.gov.  Contact Friends of Lafitte Corridor at www.folc-nola.org.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Big Branch Marsh USFWS cleanup nets about 1,000 lbs of trash

Angie Braaten (left) a volunteer at Big Branch Marsh NWR Beach Sweep, September 20, 2014, tells Emma Congalton (right), a volunteer intern with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) what types of trash she picked up.  Braaten, an English teacher at Salmen High School in Slidell brought several students with her to help with the trash pickup efforts.  Congalton, from Durham, NH, is an environmental education intern at the refuge.
       Saturday morning, nearly 40 volunteers of all ages gathered at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service boat launch on Lake Rd. south of Lacombe, LA to begin a three-pronged assault on trash and litter near the launch, the most visited site in the 15,000-acre Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.
        A large portion of the refuge is wetland, accessible only by motorboat, canoe or kayak.  Crisscrossed with numerous unnamed bayous and dotted with ponds the marsh in Big Branch Marsh NWR is popular with fishers and hunters. 
       The marsh is on the Mississippi Flyway, an avian highway for migrating birds flying to and from North and South America.  Bird watchers visit the preserve to observe the variety neotropical birdlife migrating through the marsh spring and fall.  USFWS officials estimate 100,000 people annually use the popular Lake Rd. boat launch to put into Bayou Lacombe near Lake Pontchartrain. 
        Lucky with the weather--bright sun, low humidity and a slightly cool but still comfortable for short sleeves morning--the volunteers, and a sprinkling of full-time USFWS staffers, divided into three groups.  One group scoured the shoulders of Lake Rd.  A second group prowled the quiet sloughs in canoes.  A third smaller group of adults boarded an airboat for a swift trip to where the marsh meets Lake Pontchartrain near Point Platte.
       On the narrow beach the group of five spent about two hours combing the thin ribbon of sand, and the marsh immediately behind it, for bottles, cans and all forms of plastic trash marring the pristine scene.  "Beach" is a bit of an exaggeration.  Often only a yard or two of tan sand separated thick stands of stiff, green marsh grass, punctuated by an occasional bright purple morning glory and the lapping waters of the lake.  And even that meager apron disappeared when the marsh grasses grew to the water's edge blocking passage farther by foot.
       Sand beaches are rare on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.  When sand is not hauled in or washed in from somewhere else, beaches are usually formed by eons of wave action pulverizing rock into fine bits and depositing the tiny grains up on the shore as sand.  The bottom of Lake Pontchartrain is predominately silt overlain by a thick organic layer of mucks and peats. No rocks here.
       From the remote strand the view to the north, east and west is of thousands of acres of featureless prairie--green marsh grass mostly the horizontal sameness broken only occasionally by a rattlebox shrub, its long green seed pods dangling, twisting in the breeze.  In the distance there are pine trees, evidence of the slightly higher and drier ground that marks the edge of the marsh.  You have to look hard to see any evidence of man.
       The scene probably looks as it did in the spring of 1699 when a 26-year old Pierre le Moyne Sieur d' Iberville and a small party of French explorers traveling in dugout canoes camped at nearby Goose Point.  Establishing a base camp on Ship Island after arriving from France just a few weeks prior, the group was exploring the Pontchartrain Basin for the first time looking for a site to colonize, securing their claim to the land.  Iberville's younger brother would later found New Orleans on the Mississippi River in 1718 but that is a long story.
       Lake Pontchartrain fills the view to the south.   On mornings such as this when the first faint cool front of the fall moves through, bringing a bright sun to dry the air and paint the sky bright blue, tall buildings in downtown New Orleans 20 miles away can be seen from the lake's north shore.
       Regrouping at the USFWS boat launch for a light lunch provided by the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, the group of high school students from Slidell, and adults--for which high school is a very distant memory--got an estimate of what was collected.
     "It looks like at least a thousand pounds," announced David Stoughton, surveying the pile of black garbage bags bloated with trash.  Stoughton is a Supervisory Park Ranger at Big Branch Marsh and the "volunteer wrangler" there.
       Volunteers also plucked a couple of abandoned wire crab traps from the preserve's muck, removing a danger to boaters who visit the refuge.  The refuge is open only during daylight hours and even if you could find a spot dry enough to camp in the marsh, which is not very likely, camping anywhere in Big Branch Marsh NWR is strictly prohibited.
       Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is one of eight refuges in southeast Louisiana headquartered on a 110-acre tract of of the refuge along scenic Bayou Lacombe, 61389 LA Highway 434 just north of highway U.S. 190, and just east of "downtown" Lacombe.  The facility is surrounded by a variety of formal garden areas, camellia gardens and ornamental species and was once operated as a commercial garden attraction. The grounds, maintained largely by volunteers, are open Monday-Friday 7:30 am - 4:00 pm.  Free admission.
       Southeast Louisiana Refuges headquarters is on the site of a former boarding school operated by the Redemptorist Fathers.  The building that once housed the chapel now serves as the visitor center for the headquarters.  Under its soaring wooden vaulted ceilings are excellent displays explaining the fragile ecology of the wetlands of south Louisiana.  There is also a small gift shop.  The visitor center is free and is open three days a week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm.
        Established in 1994, Big Branch Marsh NWR is one of the nation's newest federal refuges.
       National Wildlife Refuge Week is a big deal at the Lacombe headquarters.  The grounds host one of the largest "Wild Things" celebrations in the nation, attracting thousands of visitors.  There are displays, tours, demonstrations and presentations from almost all of the local organizations and governmental agencies that have something to do with the environment and recreation in it in Southeast Louisiana.  Very family friendly there are canoe rides and plenty of opportunities to touch stuff and animals. The 2014 "Wild Things" is scheduled for October 18.
       For more information call 985-882-2000 or 985/882-0093.
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Orleans ranked #22 on Bicycling magazine's list of America's Best Bike Cities

A sharrow in the right travel lane heading to the French Quarter
 of Orleans Ave. in New Orleans

        For the year 2013, New Orleans is ranked #22 on Bicycling magazine's 50 top cities for bicycling in the U.S.   The magazine ranked the city 43 in 2012.   Number one for 2013 was New York City.
       The rankings boost for New Orleans is attributed to the expansion of the city's bicycle network from about five miles to nearly 100 miles since Hurricane Katrina nine years ago, the magazine editors say in a blurb in the October 2014 edition of the magazine.
       (As reported in the Times-Picayune November 7, 2014, the city had 37 miles of dedicated, on-street bike lanes and 16.5 miles of off-street paths.  The city has 40 miles of designated "shared" lanes.
        Shared lanes are traffic lanes marked with "sharrows",  arrows and a bicycle glyph painted white on the roadway.  Some have signs too.  Shared lanes do not exclude motorized traffic.  Shared lanes offer little or no protection to cyclists because drivers follow the suggestion of sharing the lane with cyclists only if a driver wants to.  Many city streets with shared lanes carry heavy traffic.  Shared lanes are used on such busy city arteries as City Park Ave. leading from under an   Interstate interchange to Delgado Community College and east bound Orleans Ave. a four-lane street leading to the French Quarter.)
      However, infrastructure improvements over the past several years not mentioned in the magazine's appraisal do boost the city's reputation as a bike friendly town.  About two miles of Esplanade Ave. from City Park to Claiborne Ave. was resurfaced and restriped converting the narrow four-lane into one wider traffic lane and one bike lane in each direction.  This has become the main route used by cyclists traveling from the French Quarter to Lakeview and City Park.  (Cyclists must still negotiate a half-mile stretch of Esplanade riding in a narrow traffic lane between N. Claiborne and Rampart St. at the edge of the French Quarter.)
       Last year the bike path along Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish was finally finished after about 35 years of on and off construction and partial closings because of levee and pumping station construction.  Riders can now ride the entire 10-miles from Bucktown at the 17th Street Canal separating the parishes of Orleans and Jefferson west to Kenner without having to detour or leave the path for any reason.  The ride can be extended two miles (one-way) by turning south at the end of the path in Kenner onto the broad concrete service apron at the base of the storm wall along the Jefferson/St. Charles parish line.  This path dead-ends at a pumping station.  Until completion of an underpass at the Causeway Bridge last year, causeway traffic served as a de facto barrier separating the trail into east and west sections.   Cyclists and pedestrians would have sprint across six lanes of busy highway traffic to complete their trips on the path.   
       (While that path is not in New Orleans it is very popular with riders from New Orleans who ride it regularly and its existence contributes much to the cycling climate of the area.)
       To be completed in the spring of next year is the Lafitte Corridor multi-use path and playground, from N. Alexander St. near N. Carrollton Ave. to Basin St.  Construction of the path is well underway with the blacktop down in some sections.
A view of the path under construction in the Lafitte Corridor in New Orleans taken 09-11-2014.  The view is looking southwest towards N. Carrollton Ave. from N. Scott St.  Rouses is on the left.
       In a move sideways, two-way traffic was restored to Lakeshore Drive on weekends but to partially mollify cyclists who use the scenic roadway in great numbers, sharrows have been stenciled on the right lanes in each direction of the four-lane road.
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