Thursday, March 27, 2014

Canal St.-Algiers Point ferry service cuts trips, charges $2 fare each way

      For years, taking the ferry from Canal Street (New Orleans, LA) across the Mississippi River to absorb some of the turn-of-the-century small town vibe of Algiers Point, has been a favorite excursion for pedestrians and bicyclists seeking a brief respite from the nonstop partying in New Orleans.
       The free trip across the river offered the best views of the New Orleans city skyline and in summer the often breezy mini-cruise offered a way to beat the tropical heat of a summer's evening.
       The views and the breezes are still there, but drastic cuts in ferry service hours and the establishment of a $2 fare, each way, has changed the way this sublime amusement is appreciated by the cult of the self-propelled.  Gone are the days when, broke and on a whim, you could visit Algiers to sight-see, groove to a festival or compete in quiz night at a cozy Algiers Point bar knowing that unless you stayed way past your bedtime, a ferry would be there to bring you to your home across the Mississippi.
       Now, visiting Algiers as a pedestrian or bicyclist via the ferry requires a willful decision and a working knowledge of the ferry schedule to void being stranded for the night on the wrong shore.
       Here is that all important schedule, from the web site.  During the daily ferry schedule, ferries leave Canal St. every 30 minutes: on the hour and on the half hour.  Ferries leave Algiers Point a quarter (15 minutes) before the hour and a quarter (15 minutes) after the hour.  The trip takes about five minutes.  No food or drink is available on the ferry or at ferry terminals.
     Monday-Thursday:  The first ferry of the day leaves Algiers at 7:15 am.  It arrives at the foot of Canal St and leaves for the return trip to Algiers point at 7:30 am.  The last ferry leaves Algiers at 6:15 pm.  The last ferry leaves Canal St. at 6:30 pm.
     Friday:  The first ferry leaves Algiers at 7:45 am.  The first ferry leaves Canal St at 7:30 am.  The last ferry leaves Algiers 7:45 p.m. and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 8:00 p.m.
     Saturday: The first ferry leaves Algiers at 10:45 am and the first ferry leaves Canal St. at 11:00 am.  The last ferry leaves Algiers at 7:45 p.m. and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 8:00 pm.
     Sunday:  The first ferry leaves Algiers at 10:45 am.  The first ferry leaves Canal St. at 11:00 am.  The last ferry leaves Algiers at 5:45 pm and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 6:00.
       The ferries are fairly reliable but if the river is foggy, they ferries stop running.  Board the ferry by walking your bike to the ferry outside the terminal on the metal grate down to the ferry.  DO NOT RIDE YOUR BIKE ON THE METAL GRATE!
     (Note: Veolia Transportation, the private for-profit company hired by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to run the city's buses and now the pedestrian/bicycle ferry at Canal St. and the car ferry downriver at Chalmette, extended ferry operation hours considerably to accommodate Mardi Gras revellers.  It might do the same for other large events such as the French Quarter Festival and Jazzfest.  Log on to the NORTA site: for the latest schedule changes.)
      In late February of this year, pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter drivers began to pay a $2 fare for a one-way trip.  Have correct change, each way.  Cars are no longer carried on the ferry.  Even though the ferry and the buses and streetcars are now managed by the same agency, bus/streetcar transfers are not valid for ferry trips.  (Because of the narrow passageways on the passenger ferry, no motorcycles are allowed on the ferry; only scooters.)  Pets are OK.
     You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that even with the slightly extended ferry scheduling on Friday and Saturday nights sampling the nightlife of one side of the river if you live on the other and depend on the ferry for transportation is not in the cards.
      But if after a night of too much fun you find yourself stuck on the wrong side of the river after the ferries shut down for the evening, it's not the end of the world.  You can take the bus.  The RTA bus crossing the river to New Orleans from Algiers is the 101 Algiers Loop bus.  The bus stop closest to the ferry landing is at the corner of Verret and Pelican and the last bus leaves at 9:49 pm.  (There is an old abandoned Gulf service station at that corner.) The fare is $1.25.  The trip takes about 30 minutes and arrives at Elk Place and Canal St.
       Each RTA bus has a bicycle rack that holds two bicycles on the front of the bus. First come, first serve. You load the bike yourself. No extra charge for the bike.   Visit the RTA web site at for instructions on how to load your bicycle on the bike rack on the front of the bus.
       The bus stop at the ferry landing is for the 106 Algiers Local.  Do not take this bus.  It does not go to the East Bank and New Orleans.  It just makes loops around Algiers on the West Bank.
      Missed the bus?  Time to call a taxi.  Make sure the taxi service knows you have bicycle you want to bring.  The trip will not be cheap but it will be cheaper than spending the night in a bed and breakfast waiting for ferry service to resume in the morning.  Either way, next time you will pay more attention to when your ship leaves the dock.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Construction on Lafitte Corridor bicycle path (New Orleans) begins

Six shovels at the ready ten minutes before the ceremonial groundbreaking, March 25, 2014, for the Lafitte Corridor bicycle trail.  The paved trail, 12 feet wide, will connect Basin St. at the north border of the French Quarter in New Orleans, with N. Alexander St., near City Park, a distance of 2.6 miles.  The project, which in addition to the path will include playing fields and a large tree planting, will cost $9.1 million.  It is expected to take 11 months to construct.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cane Bayou. Bayou Lacombe: So close, so different.

An early spring paddle on Bayou Lacombe, LA
       Bayous Cane and Lacombe, slack and brown waterways draining the upland pine forests, swamps and vast marshes of Lake Pontchartrain's northshore, can provide paddlers with distinctly different paddling experiences despite flowing only a few miles apart.
       To be sure, both bayous, about an hour's drive north of New Orleans, LA, have lots in common: nearly zero current allowing easy travel up and downstream, bald cypress trees draped with beards of Spanish moss, at least part of the way, muddy, spongy banks, beaucoup alligators and an astounding variety of shore birds and neotropical migrating birds, especially in spring.
       But the bayous are different.  Let us start with Bayou Cane, about four miles east of Mandeville, LA.

Bayou Cane

On Bayou Cane paddling to Lake Pontchartrain, winter 2013. 

       Lunch into Bayou Cane, from the undeveloped boat launch off US.190.   Hard-packed sand and shell, the bank, slightly smaller than a basketball court, gradually slopes to the water.   From here it is  a two-mile trip to Lake Pontchartrain, almost a straight shot.  Bayou Cane is well known among locals and rare is the parking area empty of cars even on weekdays.  There are no facilities of any sort.
       The wetlands flanking the bayou are considered to be the last undeveloped large natural area on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.  But the paddle starts with a short stretch through forested, piney uplands.  A wooden RR trestle built for train traffic over a century ago, now is used by non-motorized recreational traffic on the Tammany Trace, a paved recreation path stretching 28 miles across St. Tammany Parish.
          Paddling toward the lake on the right bank is Fountainebleau State Park, on the left bank the 19,000 acre Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  On high ground to the left just past the RR bridge is a large brick house said to have once been the television studios of Cajun humorist, Justin Wilson.  Wilson, born in Tangipahoa Parish, was the star of a cooking show that appeared on public television for 30 years.  He died in 2001.
      Downstream from the bridge the bayou widens as paddlers leave the noise from busy US 190 astern.   Stay to the left at what appears to be a fork in the bayou just down stream of the bridge. About a mile downstream the trees suddenly stop and the scenery changes to marsh.  Thick stands of wire grass, and cane, some of it six to eight feet high grows from the silty black muck, crowding the banks.  Small sloughs and waterways cut paths through this tan and green curtain leading away from the bayou's distinct channel.  This is alligator habitat and the chances of seeing one or more of the fearsome reptile are very good, especially if the weather is warm.
       A diversity of habitats based on elevations that vary by just inches, populate the marsh.  In the spring and fall wild flowers bloom.  Fur bearers such as mink, otter, raccoon, muskrat, nutria rat and many other non-game species may be seen.
        In a tall solitary dead tree in a open area halfway between the lake and the launch, a large osprey nest rests.  Brown pelicans, the state bird, can be seen in winter.  The ridges and swamps on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain offer one of the first significant landfall habitats for neotropical migratory birds after their trans-Gulf of Mexico migrations.
       Reaching the lake, if the wind in light or blowing off shore paddlers in canoes can venture into the open water and explore east and west along the lake's shore where a seemingly endless marsh grows right to the water's edge.  Go far enough in either direction and you might find a sliver of sandy beach on which to have a picnic lunch.  If the wind is from the south and creating a chop it is best to stay within the banks of Bayou Cane.
       Tahe shallow lake bottom t the entrance to Bayou Cane is covered by a large grass bed of eelgrass, wigeon grass and spike rush.   These fragile underwater grass beds provide a home for animal life while helping to purify the lake's waters.  The lake's shallow bottom tapers very, very gently away from the grassy north shore, the water in the lake only hip deep 50 yards from shore. 
       (Pollution in the lake is much less of an issue than it was 20 years ago when shell dredging in the lake kept the shallow waters constantly murky, smothering benthic flora and fauna.  Now, bacterial pollution from communities draining into the lake is the biggest risk to recreational users of the lake.)

Finding the boat launch

        The launch is adjacent to the south side of highway US 190 east of Mandeville.  There is no sign on the highway.   The speed limit on this stretch is 55 mph and you must slow considerably to make the right turn off the highway onto the sand, dirt and shell launch area.  The turn is about four-tenths of a mile east of the blinking yellow light at the main entrance to Fountainebleau S.P.  Your landmark is a fire station almost across the highway on the left (when driving east) from the right turn into the launch parking lot.  If you cross the bridge you have driver too far.
       What about paddling upstream of the launch going under the US190 bridge?  Well, shortly after loosing sight of the launch, a series of downed trees block progress up stream.

Bayou Lacombe

       Main St. in Lacombe deadends at the bayou Lacombe.  Here is a public boat launch used by paddlers.  There is a small area at the water with a grass and sand shore for launching canoes and kayaks.
     The bayou is broad here, at least 50 yards to the far bank. Kayak fisherman often launch here and head downstream to Lake Pontchartrain or look for deep fishing holes between the lake and the launch.  Redfish, speckled trout, largemouth bass, catfish and bream are among the fishes found in the bayou, USFWS brochures say.
        Paddlers with a mind for nature study and contemplation are encouraged to head upstream. The first two miles affords views of large wooded waterfront lots on high ground with manicured backyards sloping down to wooden decks where big boats are docked. Shortly after passing under the US 190 highway bridge the bayou becomes the western border of the headquarters of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Bayou Lacombe Center and Visitor Center and Gardens, aka the Bayou Lacombe Center and the scenery becomes a bit wilder.
        Here the bayou winds and splits, flowing through a series oxbows and bottomland hardwood hummocks. You are out of sight of manmade structures for part of the journey, giving the small area the feeling of a remote wilderness despite being only yards away from suburban intrusions.  Have no worries about becoming lost here: all the waterways are short and eventually reconnect with the main channel.
       Less than a mile upriver of the US 190 bridge, look for the small sand beach (there is only one sand beach on the bayou) east off the bayou's main channel.  Pull up on the sand and take the quarter mile walk up to the refuge visitor center.  The USFWS bought the Holy Redeemer seminary campus a few years back, turning the former chapel into a visitor center featuring wildlife dioramas, interactive displays and exhibits exploring the wetland ecosystems and wildlife of the eight USFWS refuges administered from the Lacombe headquarters.  The museum is run by volunteers and is open Thursday-Saturday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  There is a bookstore, gift shop and restrooms and a drink machine.  Admission is free.
       There are several self-guided hikes up to two miles on the walkways and trails of the USFWS campus.  Some pass through formal camellia gardens, native forests and wetland areas.  Bug repellent is recommended year around.  The trails are open Monday-Saturday, 7:00 am-4:00 pm.
       Once back in the boat, how far you paddle upstream from here depends a lot on your stamina.  The current is almost nil from the launch to the USFWS headquarters (unless it has rained heavily recently). But as the banks change from swampy muck to piney upland terra firma, the bayou becomes less bayou-like and more creek-like.  The downstream current gradually gains momentum.  About four miles upstream of the launch the current is not rippin' but even kayak paddlers will have to work their stroke to keep their forward speed up against the opposing flow. 
      Refuge property does not extend much up stream from the headquarters.  Yet long stretches of the bayou remains in a semi-wild state.  Homes and camps are built back from the bayou edge.  Intrusive housing stock is rare and most of the shore is a mix of pine uplands and bottomland hardwood hummocks reflecting into the mirror-still dark brown bayou.  Outside the USFWS holdings, and a couple of state and federal facilities barring public access, all the land is privately owned leaving no place to step out of a canoe or kayak.  Even so dense vegetation on the bank makes getting out of a kayak or canoe unscathed difficult.
       Paddlers will find plenty of water in the channel all the way to the I-12 highway bridge but the way might be blocked by fallen trees.
       Quite paddlers have a chance of seeing lots of bird life.  There are, of course alligators and lots of them if the weather is warm.  In summer banana spiders with bodies as big as ball point pens spin their webs across the waterway high above paddlers on the dark water's surface.  Summer also brings increased motorized boat traffic to the bayou but much of it is in a No Wake zone.   Locals claim the signs are enough to keep things civil.

For more information:
Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Bayou Lacombe Center Visitor Center and Gardens, 61389 Highway 434, Lacombe, LA 70445.  Telephone 985/882-0093 or 985/882-2000.  On the web find them at

Paddling Through Time: How humans have interacted with and changed the land over time along Cane Bayou.  A canoe excursion on Bayou Cane led by the Friends of the Southeast Louisiana Refuges and held to raise money to buy more canoes and hire interpretative staff.  Registration is only by mail or in person when the visitor center is open.  You HAVE to preregister for each trip.  See calendar of events at the Big Branch Marsh web site for important details. Each paddler pays $10 and that includes the canoe, paddles and PFD.  You bring your own water, snacks, rain gear and bug repellent.  Trips begin at 9:00 am and last for two or three hours.  The trips are geared for adults but if you want to bring a kid, contact the Friends.  Don't just show up with a child.

For kayak rentals:
Bayou Adventure, 27725 Main St., Lacombe, LA. 70445, at Lake Rd. (LA 434)  Phone 985-882-9208.  Kayaks rent for $35.  Free delivery to Main St. boat launch in Lacombe.  Delivery charge to Cane Bayou is $10.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Paved rail/trail across AL/GA one of the longest in USA

The end of the Silver Comet Trail and the beginning of the Chief Ladiga Trail at the GA/AL state line. 
       The second longest paved trail in America (according to is just an eight-hour drive, or less, from New Orleans.  The 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama and the 61.5 mile Silver Comet Trail in Georgia meet at the state line to form an unbroken paved path of 94.5 miles, perfect for long bicycle trips without ever having to share a roadway with a motorized traffic.
       The closest trail head to New Orleans is Anniston, AL.  (The trail ends right at the city's border with Weaver.  There are plans to take the trail into Anniston to the Amtrak station, about seven miles south of the trailhead.)
       In Georgia, milepost 0 is the Mavell Road Trailhead in Smyrna.
       Michael Tilley, 38, a bicyclist from Baton Rouge with 15-years of in-the-saddle experience rode the two trails end to end and back in the spring of 2013.  He took a leisurely approach taking four days to complete the ride averaging about 50 miles a day.  He stayed in motels along the way. The first section of the trail opened 20 years ago but is well maintained and mostly smooth, Tilley said.
       Talking trail with Tilley reminded me of my excursions to the trail several years ago.  Using several out-and-back day trips, I covered the trail from just south of Jacksonville, AL, east to the Powder Springs trailhead in Georgia, a total one-way distance of about 80 miles.
       Chief Ladiga Trail rolls north from Weaver, AL through a mix of farms, apartment houses and woods.  At Jacksonville the trail passes near the campus of Jacksonville State University, a major supporter of the trail.  Downtown Jacksonville (food, lodging) is about a half a mile east of the trail.
       This area was first settled before the Civil War but landmarks commemorating that history are hard to find.
       As you ride north from Piedmont the vista changes as riders approach the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in the distance.  The total gain in altitude from Anniston to the AL/GA line is only about 250 feet and any ups and downs on the trail are tamed by the trail's 2% grade.
       After Piedmont, the trail passes through the Talladega National Forest as it climbs gently beside Little Terrapin Creek to meet Georgia's Silver Comet Trail at Esom Hill at the state line.  The trail very gradually drops to Cedartown, GA.  This is a remote 24 miles so be sure to stock up with water and snacks before leaving either Piedmont or Cedartown to ride this section.         
       The trail follows the railroad grade through the highlands to spare riders from extreme climbs and descents with one exception: Cedartown and Rockmart.  Here the trail veers away from the railroad right of way forcing riders to negotiate steep climbs and hair raising downhills requiring excellent brakes.  One treacherous descent ends with a hard turn.
       The high point of the trail is in Georgia: EL 1092 near Dallas, GA.
       East of this, the trail returns to the fairly flat railroad grade for the trip east to Smyrna, GA, the eastern terminus of the trail.  Smyrna is part of the urban sprawl extending at least 25 miles north of Atlanta, and Tilley reports that the trail can get busy as it nears Smyrna and the Atlanta megaplex.
       (Getting to the trailheads near Smyrna from most anywhere in Atlanta can be time consuming because of the crowded highways connecting Smyra with Atlanta.  Allow plenty of time for this connection.)
       Flatlanders from Louisiana will enjoy riding through the Brushy Mountain Tunnel, 800 feet and 68 degrees all summer long.  Trailheads with restrooms, parking and picnic tables appear to be more numerous on the Georgia trail.
       The Rockport downtown has seen better days, and the trail passes through an iffy neighborhood in Cedartown so be sure to have a bike lock and park your bike where you can see it when off looking for a place to stay or somewhere to eat.
       Tilley said reserving rooms for motels along the route was easy.  But cyclists looking for a place to camp may have a harder time finding a place to stay.  In Alabama, call recreation centers in Piedmont and Jacksonville to see what camping is being offered to trail users.  There are no developed campgrounds in the Talladega NF near the trail put camping is permitted in most of the forest.  Chief Ladiga Trail cross the Pinhoti Trail but no bicycles are permitted on that trail.
       In Georgia riders will find a full-service private campground, "The Rock" a few miles east of Rockmart. The site also offers a primitive camping area and also some inexpensive primitive cabins. The private campground is ground zero for many concerts and large gatherings.  Be sure to check their schedule to avoid crowded conditions.  That is, unless someone you want to hear is performing.
       There is a primitive campground on the Silver Comet Trail that does not show on the map.  Good luck in finding out about that.
        You can learn more about hometown boy Sterling Holloway, a film star from back in the day, than you ever wanted to know at the restored railroad station, that also serves as the town's visitor center, on the trail at Cedartown.  There is a full service bicycle shop at the Powder Springs, GA trailhead that rents bicycles.  In Anniston try Wig's Wheels, 256-237-9447.
        Because Amtrak operates stations with baggage service in both Anniston and Atlanta it is tempting to want to use the train for a shuttle.  The train schedule is OK: leaves Anniston heading east to Atlanta late in the day.  The train station in Atlanta is downtown and just too far away from the Smyrna trailhead to make the shuttle practical.  But having to buy a box for your bike and taking the time to pack it, not counting the distance of the stations from the trailheads might encourage you to think twice about using Amtrak as a shuttle right now.
FOR MORE INORMATION: camping near Rockport, GA or Jack Holder at the Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont, phone 256-447-3363.  You might be able to get a shuttle.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Rain dampens some events at Campfest 2014 but not the fun

Empty chairs around the firebowl await Saturday afternoon while their owners, members of the Louisiana Hiking Club, attend seminars or hike or paddle in Chicot State Park, north of Ville Platte, LA Saturday at the 2014 Campfest.
       A threat of rain dogged the 60-70 participants Saturday at Campfest, the annual camporee of the Louisiana Hiking Club, held at Chicot State Park north of Ville Platte, LA.  But the weather stayed dry until the seminars in birding, map and compass work, and several demonstrations of new outdoor gear and other topics were completed.  Between these activities and the hikes and the paddling trip on Lake Chicot, there was plenty of downtime for old friends to just catch up since last years event.
       When showers finally did appear in the late afternoon, the noisy gabfest came inside the dining hall, the hungry attendees anxiously awaiting the club's signature potluck dinner.  The club provides the main meat course and members bring the sides.  After the feeding frenzy ended this year one long- time member declared, for all to hear, that this was the "best potluck ever!"  Maybe that is because every year there seems to be more and more desserts!
       Immediately after the dishes were cleared, the raffle began for the many outdoor doodads donated by area outdoor shops and regional outdoor gear reps.  The crowd, which seemed a lot larger than 60-70 people, all responded enthusiastically when the big ticket items, such as packs, a hammock, generous gift certificates and a water filtering system found their way to the hands of appreciative winners.
       After the giveaways, a movie, "Journey on the Wild Coast" was shown.  The movie featured Erin Mc Kittrick and her husband Brentwood "Hig" Higman hiking and cross country skiing across the wild and mostly frozen terrain along the Pacific coast between Seattle, WA and the Bering Islands west of the Alaska mainland.  The inflatable rafts they carried or dragged behind them to carry gear through the snow and ice, were used for crossing rivers and open waters.  The pair also filmed two tense bear encounters and ran dangerously low on food near the end of their trip.
       The 4,000 mile trip, which took nine months to complete, was taken, in part, to raise awareness for an environmental awareness foundation the pair started.
       Before the film was released, McKittrick wrote about the adventure in her book "A Long Trek Home: 4,000 miles by Boot, Raft and Ski," published in 2009.  Her most recent book, "Small Feet, Big Lands: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska," is about introducing her two children to the rigors of traveling the frozen tundra of Alaska at a very early age.
       Most of those viewing the film were particularly impressed, but not in a good way, with the scene of Hig crossing a stream amid the broken ice chunks in bare feet.  Perhaps the biggest crowd reaction came from the clip of McKittrick, in full pack, and probably newly pregnant, laboriously cross country skiing through deep powder briefly singing an hilarious and profane reworking of the chorus of the classic winter song, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow."
       Sunday morning at Chicot State Park made the frozen Northwest in the film the night before seem a world away.  After a wet, stormy Saturday night, Sunday dawned gray and warm.  The traditional pancake breakfast went off without a hitch, but leftover light showers cancelled an early morning hike.  After the showers passed many remained to explore the nearby state arboretum and new visitor center in the park.
       Before leaving for the drive home, most stayed to make the dining hall spic n' span and to thank the many volunteers who give so much time to make such a fun event possible.
       This year Campfest was held March 14-15-16.  Usually it is the first weekend in March but this year a conflict with the scheduling of the Mardi Gras, Tuesday, March 4 was Mardi Gras Day,  made the later Campfest date necessary.