Sunday, July 5, 2015

Star Spangled Paddle III

Members of the Mississippi Kayak Meetup group take up prime seats on Deer Island awaiting the fireworks show over Biloxi Bay put on by the city of Biloxi.



        In the late afternoon of July 4th about a dozen kayakers gathered at the Kuhn St. boat launch in Biloxi, MS.  Varying widely in experience and commitment to kayaking and summoned to the launch by an invitation posted weeks ago on the social media site Mississippi Kayak Meetup, they were planning to make the short crossing to Deer Island to watch the city of Biloxi's Independence Day fireworks display.  But the weather did not look good.  All around them dark skies were filled with piles of blue/black clouds with jagged blue/black bottoms.  Lightening occasionally flashed in the distance, for a split second brightening the dark cottony mass.  Muted thunder followed.  As they were unloading their kayaks and gear it began to rain.
       At stake was the third year of the Star Spangled Paddle, a social paddle a third of a mile across wind-sheltered Biloxi Bay, to uninhabited and undeveloped Deer Island to get an upfront and personal view of the annual fireworks display. Seeing the fireworks from the island can put viewers almost directly underneath the booming and colorful pyrotechnic display, an awesome experience, said the trip's organizer, Brent Futrell.  But the ominous weather, now all around them, could cancel the trip.  Nobody would paddle a kayak in a thunderstorm just to get a good place to stand and watch fireworks.
       The group waiting at the launch was lucky.  The shower was brief and while the gloomy and threatening skies persisted, the rain, lightening and thunder quit.  They would launch on time, said Futrell.  In the dead air of a windless humid midsummer afternoon the kayakers slid their boats from the sandy beach into the bay, their paddle blades and slender multicolored hulls breaking the water's glassy smooth surface creating dozens of tiny waves as they began the 15-minute paddle to the island.
       The crossing from the busy high rise casino strip on the mainland to Deer Island, a low 4.3 mile long sandy spit that broke from the mainland thousands of years ago, is not an epic paddle.  Those born and raised in Biloxi remember hearing from their grandparents about when swimming from the mainland to the island was routine summer fun, with little boat traffic to contend with, and just not considered a special athletic accomplishment.
       That was then.  These days the bay is busy with recreational motorboat traffic most every weekend--especially for the 4th of July holiday weekend--putting kayakers on alert to avoid a collision.  The fireworks display draws scores of pleasure boats to the bay, many anchoring hours before the nighttime fireworks show begins at 9 a.m.  The goal of the motor boaters is the same as the kayakers: get as close to the fireworks barge anchored at Deer Island as harbor police will allow.  It would be folly to think that drinking alcohol, for at least a few of them, is not a centerpiece of their holiday celebration creating a hazard for everyone on the water, not just the hard to see kayakers.
      There was some comfort to be had by seeing the flashing blue lights of the ample marine police presence on the water, but you don't have to kayak long before you realize that, when on the water, it is best to put as much distance as possible between you and any boat with a motor as quickly as possible. 
       Paddlers must cross the bay's busy navigational channel to get to the island, a serious consideration even for kayakers with long experience on the water. To reduce the chance of being run down sight unseen by a much larger, faster vessel,  paddlers, in their low profile hard to see kayaks, often sprint across busy boat channels, paddles flailing.  But some paddlers in the Meet-up group are novices.  Could the beginner paddlers keep up?   Yes.  A convoy of the small craft formed with fast and slow paddlers hanging tight together making a multicolored mass that was easier for motorized traffic to see.  As it happened the little human powered flotilla made the opposite shore quickly without so much as a boat wake to disturb their progress.
       The beach is narrow where the little fleet of kayaks landed, much of it "claimed" hours earlier in the afternoon by family groups and friends with motor boats, each group with its own arsenal of fireworks and powerful boat-based sound systems.  However, even closer to where the fireworks barge would be anchored, several kayakers from the Meetup group were camped planning to stay overnight.  In front of their piece of treeless sandy plateau topped by a sea of slender thigh-high stalks of green beach grass was a narrow beach.  We were welcome to share it with them they said..
    (There is no development on the uninhabited Deer Island now but the state is in the process of building a dock near the center of the island's north shore.  A barge with restrooms and snack bars will also be brought to the dock site.  When the dock is finished and the barge is in place, passenger ferry service will begin to the island.)
         Food, snacks and adult beverages suddenly appeared as kayak hatches were popped open and boats were unloaded. A row of folding canvas chairs formed a viewing area.  Others sat on ponchos on the brown, damp sand or in their boats.  Culinary holiday traditions were observed:  There were brownies and hot dogs boiled in a pot over a camp stove and served on paper plates with all the fixings.  And pickles and cookies and chips and hummus.  Cold watermelon slices, pink and green and white were there too, though how someone got a watermelon into the tiny hatch of a kayak no one was telling. 
       There was loose talk too, a lot of it.  People of all ages, from young teenagers to retirees, finding common ground to laugh, overcoming shyness, reaching out to share stories and propose future adventures even before this one has even ended.  Holding dripping slices of watermelon, sweating on brown sand in a breathless 2015 summer evening along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, waiting for darkness and an Independence Day fireworks show with people who were strangers just an hour ago, in very, very small ways lives were changed.
       As the cloudy darkness deepened anticipation for the pyrotechnic display to come was building. Those who had made the trip with Futrell before whetted the imaginations of noobs with fantastical stories of what to expect.
Brent Futrell
        At a little after 9 a.m., when full darkness had enveloped the area, the fireworks show began with a whoosh and boom as the first incendiary payload flashed bright above the island.
        Every year has had its glitches, Futrell admitted, but none so serious as to prevent planning for another year.  Heavy rains one year and another year where tents were singed by glowing fireworks debris, only adds to the adventure, Futrell boasts.
        Futrell said this year was the best year of the three.  Despite the rain threat, there was no rain during the bay crossings or while on the island for the event.  The overcast day kept the temperatures pleasant, for summer in Mississippi at least, and while flying, biting insects, shared the island with the paddlers, gnats and mosquitoes were not abundant.
       And then, of course, there were the fireworks themselves.  They were spectacular.  The fireworks barge was only a few hundred yards from the group, the fireworks mortars heaving the firework payloads almost straight up. There were a lot of exclamations of delight as several times viewers had to crane their necks to see the huge glittering colored domes exploding overhead.   The loudest explosions sent shock waves that could be felt by viewers watching the brilliant and loud display high above.  (No, there was no flaming debris this time.)  A faint smell of gunpowder hung in the still night air over the group.
       After the show was over the kayakers made ready to paddle back to the launch.  But they don't push off right away.  Futrell said the poor visibility that comes with being on the water at night is a safety issue for kayakers, most lit with only flashlights or headlamps if that.  Sharing the inky darkness with power boaters, also in a hurry to get back home, adds to the danger.  Futrell likes to wait until much of the motor boat traffic clears from the bay.
       This year, because there does not seem to be as much motor boat traffic in the bay as in previous years, Futrell says, boat traffic clears quickly.  But congestion presents a problem this time on land.  From the island the kayakers can see the line of headlights on US 90 near the boat launch.  It is not moving.
       "Even if we rushed over to the boat launch, we would have to wait for the car traffic to clear before we could cross the highway, get our cars and cross back to get our boats," said Barry Mends, a veteran kayaker and Star Spangled Paddle participant.  " So we just stay here a while." 
       Tired of waiting however, some decide to start paddling back across the now pitch black bay, taking their chances the car traffic will be gone by the time they get back to the launch. They leave Deer Island a boat or two at a time.  The kayakers, now spread out, are hard to see, even with lights.  But there were only a few motor boats left in the bay anyway and they were anchored or going very slow.  The gamble works out and everyone makes it back to the launch safely.  Sure enough, the traffic has cleared.

Beth Frost and her son Brendan Frost, age 13, at the Star Spangled Paddle III, Biloxi to Deer Island, July 4, 2015
 
      The Biloxi Police did a wonderful job of policing the Kuhn St. boat launch.  They enforced existing parking rules at the small launch parking area limiting parking to those with boats, chasing away those who only wanted to park in the lot to watch the fireworks.  They allowed kayakers to use a no parking zone near the water to off load their boats and gear then directed drivers to a parking lot a short walk away where they could park while on the island.  The police were still on duty after the fireworks display keeping the no parking areas of the launch parking area empty of cars so kayakers could quickly retrieve their kayaks and gear.  These efforts by the police made a huge difference in the ease kayakers could access the bay and Deer Island and made their trip much easier to execute.
       Once off the water, paddlers quickly loaded up, said goodbye to new friends and old  and headed to their homes in New Orleans, Covington and elsewhere satisfied with another Fourth of July holiday adventure under their belts.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Bicyclist on St. Claude Avenue bridge busted for obstructing traffic

 
St. Claude Avenue Bridge, 9th Ward New Orleans, LA
 

by Jack Curry Jr. 

      Each school day, twice a day, Laurence Kopelovitch, a 40-something school librarian, pedals her bicycle across the most dangerous half-mile stretch of roadway facing cyclists in the City of New Orleans: the St. Claude Avenue drawbridge spanning the Industrial Canal in the Lower 9th Ward.  The risky ride is part of her long bicycle commute and ferry ride from her home near the bridge to her job in Algiers, across the Mississippi River.
       For Kopelovitch and hundreds of others who bicycle or walk across the 96-year old bridge and its narrow approaches there is little choice.  The bridge is one of only two bridges crossing the canal in that part of the city.  The other is even more perilous than the St. Claude bridge and too far out of the way to be useful to the car-less population of the Lower 9th.
      One morning last August (2014), Kopelovitch was pulled over and ticketed for impeding the flow of traffic on the bridge after a NOPD squad car followed her as she bicycled across the bridge on her way to work to work.  On the citation were also violations for not wearing a helmet and not having a registration on her bicycle.  If found guilty to all three she faced over $450 in fines. As if bicycling across the busy bridge were not worrying enough she now had two new problems: it's illegal and expensive.
       But the French-born cyclist knew her ride across the bridge was legal.  She wanted to fight the three charges, to be contested in New Orleans Traffic Court, but felt she needed help.  Her appeal to BikeEasy, a local bicycle advocacy group, was referred to Charlie Thomas, a New Orleans attorney and Louisiana's member of BikeLaw.com, a nationwide network of attorneys representing bicyclists in court. I interviewed Thomas, April 21, 2015 about their day in court.

St. Claude Avenue is a major traffic artery


       Bicycling the St. Claude Ave. Bridge is not a cake walk.  St. Claude Avenue (LA 46),  is a major arterial highway connecting the high rise office towers and hotels of downtown New Orleans with historic working class neighborhoods downriver.  Thundering fleets of tanker trucks and other big rigs servicing chemical plants and other heavy industries lining the Mississippi River in St. Bernard Parish, are a big part of the traffic mix on the busy 96-year-old bridge.
          To make matters more tense for the cyclist, traffic lights at the beginning of each bridge approach send traffic up the approaches and across the bridge in waves: fast and bumper to bumper one minute, the next minute empty roadway.  On the bridge proper there is about a 100 feet of steel grate patched with numerous thick plates.
         Sharing the bridge's slender lanes with the noisy, rumbling stream of heavy traffic is a white-knuckle experience, cyclists say.   Often trucks, buses and cars pass within just inches of bicyclists riding the bridge despite state law requiring drivers pass a cyclists no closer than three feet.
        In 2008, St. Claude Avenue became the first street in the city to get a bicycle lane.  The lane, five feet wide and marked by a thick white line on the right side of the right traffic lane, runs from Elysian Fields Avenue downriver three miles to the St. Bernard Parish line.  At the bridge traffic is funneled into four narrow lanes, two lanes in each direction, no shoulders. Traffic lanes are not wide enough to stripe a bicycle lane on the bridge so "sharrows," thick white arrows, are painted on the road surface to warn drivers of cyclists sharing the lane with them.   

Bridge is heavily used by non-motorized traffic too


        Despite the risks, Kopelovitch is not alone in making the dangerous bridge crossing part of her daily ride.   In 2012, a two-day survey by the University of New Orleans found about 500 pedestrians and cyclists crossed the bridge.  Many using the bridge live in an area devastated by flooding when levees along the canal were breached during Hurricane Katrina.  That was nearly ten years ago but the Lower 9th Ward, that part of town down river from the Industrial Canal, has been slow to recover, increasing the reliance residents there have on walking or cycling for transportation.  About half of the residents living in neighborhoods within a five mile radius of the bridge do not have cars, another post-Katrina study concluded.
          (A three-foot wide walkway flanks the bridge.  The elevated approaches to the bridge have no walkway.  Pedestrians approach the bridge ground level accessing the bridge at the levee by climbing several flights of narrow stairs.)

Going to traffic court

      
       Kopelovitch's hearing was the afternoon of October 18, 2014 in Division C of New Orleans Traffic Court, Judge Mark Shea presiding.  One of the few traffic court defendants to have a lawyer, Kopelovitch met with the city attorney to determine how she would plead to the three charges. 
       From the beginning Kopelovitch's session with the city attorney was tense, Thomas said.  An adult bicycling without a helmet is not breaking the law in the state but it took a computer search of Louisiana law to convince the city attorney to remove the charge, Thomas said.  (Children aged 14 and younger, on the other hand, must wear a helmet according to state law.)
        City attorneys meet with traffic court defendants prior to pleading before the judge to streamline the day's court proceedings and, from the city's point of view, to determine the strength of each case.  At these brief sessions the city attorney may offer a defendant a chance to "plea down" violations to lesser charges with smaller fines or the city attorney can drop charges altogether.
        Dropping the no helmet charge still left Kopelovitch on the hook for the two remaining violations and total fines of over $300. There are no lesser charges for impeding traffic or not having a bicycle registered with the NOPD.  So the city attorney offered her a deal: plead guilty to not wearing a seat belt--only a $50 fine--and the impeding traffic and no bicycle registration violations would be dropped.  Thomas said she looked at him incredulously and said her bicycle did not have a seat belt, how could she be guilty of not wearing one?
         Thomas said the plucky Kopelovitch dug in her heels, refusing the offer.  Bicycling on the bridge is how she goes to work every day.  He said she worried that if she let the impeding traffic violation stand she, or any other cyclist, could be ticketed any time the police saw someone bicycling across the bridge.

Bicycling in traffic: It's complicated.

        Cyclists in Louisiana are permitted to ride most all public roadways in the state--the Interstate Highway system is an obvious exception--but the law does not precisely define where on the roadway they must ride.  "As far to the right as practicable," is how the law is written, but Thomas admits that where that is depends on where a judge decides it is.
        In heavy urban traffic, when riding a narrow road or street with no shoulders, experienced cyclists will often "take the lane," riding near the center of the lane, for short distances, preventing motorists from trying to squeeze by when there is not room to pass safely. The strategy is considered by some in the legal community to be "as far to the right as practicable" considering a cyclist pinned to the right white line by a solid stream of traffic with no room for error by either the cyclists or the passing traffic, is at higher risk of being killed or badly injured by passing, speeding motorists than a cyclist riding where a motorized vehicle would drive--in the middle of the lane.  
       But a bicyclist who "takes the lane," riding much slower than the motorized traffic, can cause a buildup of traffic as drivers are unable to pass the slow moving rider.  So when the roadway widens or a shoulder or bikeway begins, the rider moves back to the right, out of the center of the lane and normal traffic flow resumes.
       Aware of the bad PR "taking a lane" can create with motorists, conscientious riders take a lane only as a last resort in situations where following traffic might try to squeeze by a cyclist even though the roadway is too narrow to pass safely.  Riders return to the right side of the road as quickly as possible when conditions permit.
         Thomas said Kopelovitch explained that she was riding as far to the right as she felt comfortable and that she knows what the laws are.  "If I was all the way to the right and two trucks were to pass me, there is probably a good chance I would be killed.  The safest thing I could do was take the lane, which I have a right to do," Thomas said Kopelovitch told the city attorney.
        At that point, Thomas said it was clear that Kopelovitch and the city attorney were at an impasse and that the only option was to go before the judge and plead not guilty to the remaining two violations on the ticket and let the judge settle it.
       "The city attorney was was not going to let her walk away and she was not going to plead to anything," Thomas said.
       As the two opposing attorneys chatted on their way to the courtroom, the city attorney admitted that he did not know how all the vehicle laws applied to bicyclists, but that he would press for a guilty verdict on the no bicycle registration charge--a fine of $154.

Rescued by the US Constitution


         As court was about to convene and everyone took their places, Thomas suddenly had a thought that might lead the city attorney to drop the no bicycle registration violation.  His argument would hinge on a defense based on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the so-called "illegal search and seizure" amendment in the Bill of Rights, a defense he learned in law school.
        "Let's say you lose on pulling her over for impeding the flow of traffic," Thomas said he told the city attorney in the few minutes before court was to begin.  "Then she shouldn't have been pulled over in the first place.  It was after the officer pulled her over that he discovered she had no bicycle registration sticker.  How else would the officer have known she didn't have her bicycle registered?  This is a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.  He didn't pull her over because her bicycle wasn't registered," Thomas said.
       The evidence that her bicycle was not registered--the officer did not see that there was no bike registration sticker until after Kopelovitch was stopped--was inadmissible in court because the officer's discovery was made after an illegal stop, Thomas argued.  So the officer had no proof to present in court that the bicycle was not registered.
       The legal doctrine used by Thomas is referred to in the U.S. by the legal metaphor "poisoned fruit from a poisoned tree," and described in a Wikipedia entry as "evidence obtained illegally." An illegal stop is considered in the metaphor a "poisoned tree."  Evidence from that illegal stop would also be illegal (generally inadmissible as evidence) just as a poison tree would bear only poison fruit.
       "After I spoke with the city attorney, he discussed it with the cop.  They came back and said they were going to drop all the charges," Thomas said.
       Minutes latter Thomas snapped a picture of a beaming Kopelovitch flashing peace signs with both hands.
       Unfortunately not all bicyclists caught in the legal system escape with such a happy ending.  The main issue is money, said Thomas, a native of New Orleans and a bicyclist since his teen years.
       "If she had to pay an attorney by the hour to help her with that, the costs would have been ridiculous," said Thomas, who represented Kopelovitch pro bono largely out of sympathy for her plight. 
         "There is a definite need for legal services at the pro bono level helping bicyclists with issues that they encounter like those Laurence recently faced,"  Thomas said.
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Note:  Since this post first appeared May 11, 2015, it has been edited numerous times for clarity.  The facts were not changed.
        
       
       
      


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pristine Mississippi island to get pier and barge with restrooms and snack bar

       A 170-foot public access pier and floating barge with restrooms and snack bars will soon be installed on the north shore of Deer Island, the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State (MSOS) announced in a press release today.
        A commercial charter boat service will make round trips to the island from the mainland once the construction--set to begin this summer--is complete.
       Deer Island is a slender, sandy four-mile long uninhabited island in Mississippi Sound about a mile south of Casino Row and U.S. 90 in Biloxi, MS.  The island is a great blue heron rookery and is used by brown pelicans and cormorants as a wintering habitat. It is home to osprey, loggerhead turtles and in the marsh flanking a tidal creek at the island's eastern end American alligators lurk.
        The MSOS administers and supervises the state's Public Trust Tidelands which include Deer Island.  The island was purchased over a decade ago when there were concerns it might be developed into a casino resort.  There has been no development on the island, discovered in 1699, in more than 70 years.
         The island is popular with small boaters seeking solitude, many making the short crossing to the deserted island's sandy beaches from Biloxi or Ocean Springs in canoes and kayaks.   Some come to the island to view the island's rich bird life, others to primitive camp.  At one point the island is just a third of a mile from busy mainland Biloxi.
         Public officials tout the pier, restrooms, snack bar and shuttles as a way of providing access to the island for those who do not have boats.
       "All Mississippians should have access to our public lands, regardless if they have a boat," said Mississippi Secretary of State, Delbert Hoseman said in the press release announcing the project.
       The $360,000 project was recently approved by the US Corp of Engineers.  Funding will come from state Tideland Funds, allocated by the Coast delegation of the Mississippi Legislature.
       A shuttle to the island could boost the Boloxi area as an eco-tourism destination, encouraging visitors to the Gulf Coast to stay another day, said Jamie Miller, executive director for the state's Department of Marine Resources.
       Natural barriers will limit visitors without boats of their own to the broad sand beaches that line the western and southern parts of the island.  Along much of the island's northshore erosion at the water's edge has exposed extensive mangrove-like root systems, making walking there difficult.  To the east is a broad salt water marsh.  A 30-foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, inundated the island with saltwater killing what was already a thin stand of pine trees.  Between the salt marsh to the southeast and the broad beach wrapping around the island's western tip, much of the island's interior is covered with prickly saw palmetto and sticker bushes preventing crossing the island on foot.  There are no developed trails on the island.
       (A comment (see below) said students from Mississippi State recently established trails on the island and that a sign about the trails is on the island's north shore across from Harrah's Casino on the mainland.)
        Since Hurricana Katrina the Department of Marine Resources has completed several projects to slow or stop erosion of the island.   
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ideas sought at New Orleans bicycle advocacy forum

  
WELL I'LL BE DAN!  Dan Jatres (l) Program Manager, Greater New Orleans Pedestrian and Bicycle Program,  Regional Planning Commission (RPC) and Dan Favre, Executive Director for BikeEasy, a bicycle advocacy group in New Orleans, relax at the NOLA Bike to Work Week Community Forum April 21, 2015

      Bicycling advocates, both professional and just interested folks, recently held a forum to discuss and plan what they would like the future of bicycling in New Orleans to be like.    Of the four dozen or so advocates attending the meeting--one event in "NOLA Bike to Work Week" presented by Entergy,  some were urban planners who contribute to the design and implementation of bicycling facilities, others were paid heads of cycling advocacy groups and some were volunteeers in those groups.  There were a sprinkling of  city government representatives.  But many sitting on the hard plastic chairs behind folding tables topped with maps, pens and colored markers, in the Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center near Treme, had no skin in the urban planning game other than just wanting to contribute their say about the cycling life in the Crescent City now. 
       Like Dean Gray.  Speaking for stolenbikesnola, a Facebook site dedicated to combating the recent rash of bicycle thefts in the French Quarter, Gray rose to speak late in the meeting to encourage those who have had their bikes stolen to file a report with the police.
        "The police will not press charges if there is no police report, even if the bicycle is recovered," Gray said.
      Pictures of stolen bikes posted on Facebook, a social media site, has led to the recovery of some of them.  But if there is no police report with a bicycle serial number there is very little the owner of the stolen bike can do to prove the bicycle is his.
        Filling out a report requires a visit to the district police station in the district the bike is stolen but the report is easy to fill out and the officers in the Eight District, where most of the thefts are now occurring, are very helpful, Gray said.
       Grey, who said he became interested in the issue when thieves stole a bike he gave to his girlfriend, strongly advised riders not to rely on cable locks, which can easily be cut with bolt cutters, to prevent bicycle theft.  Instead use stronger, more resistant to cutting and more expensive, "U" locks. Also when locking a bicycle, carefully inspect what you are locking it to.  To steal bikes in New Orleans, thieves have cut metal sign posts, like the metal posts with parking regulation signs, from their concrete bases then reinserted the posts into the ground using easy to remove PVC pipe sleeves. Gray said he found six posts in the French Quarter that have been altered in this way.
      The meeting opened with a brief but wide-ranging panel discussion of where bicycling is now in New Orleans and where it should go.  The group then broke up into smaller discussion groups which presented the fruits of their discussions at the end of the evening on big sheets if butcher paper taped to the wall.
        The panelists were Eric Griggs, M.D., Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, Jennifer Ruley, with the Louisiana Public Health Institute and Charlie Thomas, from Bike Law Louisiana.  The panel moderator was Sophie Harris of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor.
         The welcome was given by Dan Favre and Jamie Wine.  Favre, on the job as BikeEasy's new executive director for a whole seven days, told the group that while much had been done, there "is a long way to go."
         Speakers touted the nearly 100 miles of bicycle routes now in New Orleans.  Charlie Thomas, a lawyer who defends cyclists in court told the group two cautionary tales of what cyclists might expect when seeking a court remedy.  (What Thomas said will be the subject of a future post.)
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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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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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