by Jack Curry Jr.Over ten miles of lagoons, dug by hand in the 1930s, meander through scenic City Park in New Orleans, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S, Beginning Wednesday, May 20, 2020, about two to three miles of these languid waterways will be open for exploration by canoeists renting boats from LOOP (Louisiana Outdoor Outreach Program) at 1031 Harrison Ave. in the park just west of the Couturie Forest.
The waterways open to paddlers are in a more remote less busy section of the park designated for passive recreation. It is not exactly wild: tractor mowers mow the grass regularly. But without the noisy revenue generating developments that crowd the southern part of the park the area between Harrison Ave. and Zachary Taylor Drive is more like a park, less like an amusement park.
"We are offering paddling in this part of the park so people can come into the park get a little exercise: get some fresh air," said Heather West, LOOP program director. Still, dark waters frame picture postcard views of the wooded shore of Scout Island, and the wildlife-rich wetlands along the shore of Couturie Forest--habitats that are home to a wide variety of trees and critters.
"We saw two little alligators there the other day," West said. "So don't drag your fingers or toes in the water." There are about 50 tree species in the 1300 acre park--one of the largest urban parks in the country. Along the shore, bald cypress tree "knees" break the water's surface. Ancient and majestic live oaks spread their massive branches draped with Spanish moss in the park's bottomland hardwood forests. Tall pines can be seen. In late fall a smattering of deciduous trees show red, yellow and orange leaves.
Renting a Canoe from LOOPCanoes must be reserved and paid for in advance using a credit card. Call Heather at (504) 655-2770, to reserve. After reserving you will be directed to a pay site. Bring the credit card to your launch. You will leave it there to serve as your deposit. It will be returned to you when the boat(s) are returned. The canoes are 16 feet long have two seats. Maximum three people in one canoe including children. No walkup rentals. Rental fees include life vests and paddles. An hour's rental is $25; three hours is $40 and six hours is $55.
Canoes are rented Wednesday-Sunday, 9 am-3 pm.
The put-in is at 1031 Harrison Ave. in City Park just west of Couturie Forest.
Children are permitted but must weigh at least 50 pounds. For each boat rented there is a $5 discount if there is a child in the crew. There is no store at the put-in. Bring everything you will need for up to six hours on the water: sun block, water, snacks, hat, a poncho in case of a sudden shower. A garbage bag for litter is also a good idea. Secure glasses to your face, decide well in advance what you are going to do with your car keys, wallet. Having them with you in the canoe is not a good idea. Cell phones have their own special set of issues and are slippery when they are handled with wet, sunscreen soaked fingers. Dropped in water they sink. Be careful what you put in shirt pockets-if anything.
All trips are out and back. There are no guided trips but each rental comes with a detailed map showing where canoeing is permitted and where it isn't. Portaging canoes to nearby lagoons where canoeing is not permitted is, of course, not permitted. Sometimes dense floating patches of the invasive water hyacinth plant will block paddlers from exploring all of the lagoon that is open to them.
Paddlers with their own boats are not allowed on the lagoons in City Park. Don't assume you cannot get lost in such a small forested space surrounded by a major U.S. city. It happens all the time.
A national franchise operates a boat and bicycle rental (paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and pedal-surreys, bicycles) on Big Lake. There is at least one kayak rental on Bayou St. John.