Trail of the Month: September 2003
Tammany Trace, Louisiana
Situated to the north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, the Tammany Trace is Louisiana's first and only rail-trail. The Trace, as its known to locals, is so named because it traces 21 miles across St. Tammany Parish, connecting the communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville and Lacombe, with an additional unconnected seven-mile stretch between Lacombe and Slidell. Most of the corridor is 200-feet wide, traversing lush woods that form a canopy over the Trace. There are 31 bridges in these 28 miles and many of them are magnificent timber bridges, still structurally sound. The reuse of these original railroad trestles has helped make the Trace right-of-way into a wildlife conservation corridor that links isolated parks, creates greenways and preserves wetlands.
The development of this former Illinois Central Railroad corridor into a multi-use trail began in December 1992 when St. Tammany Parish purchased the rail line before it was officially abandoned. With the help of $1.4 million in federal dollars through Transportation Enhancements, the parish was able to preserve this rail corridor through the federal government's railbanking program, which allows out-of-service rail corridors to be used as trails.
The entire Trace has been surfaced with asphalt, making it a handicapped accessible facility that allows for a variety of uses, including walking, running, skating and bicycling. A separate equestrian path also parallels the Trace in several places. The main trailhead is located at Koop Drive between Mandeville and Abita Springs, and features an old caboose and a playground, as well as restroom and picnic facilities. In Mandeville, a renovated train station now serves as an additional fun, community trailhead, complete with a water-sprinkler system that children enjoy.
Improvements to the Trace continue to be made, including the recent renovation of the bridge over the Bogue Falaya River that connects Covington with Abita Springs at the Trace's western end. Helping to keep all of the Trace's users safe and informed are the Tammany Trace Rangers. The Rangers, with the assistance of the St. Tammany Tourist Commission, have been trained to act as tourist facilitators by answering questions about other nearby attractions, lodging and dining facilities.
The creation of the Tammany Trace can be credited to the hard work of numerous public officials and local trails activists. Topping the list is Kevin Davis, the St. Tammany Parish President. Davis is often referred to as the "Father of the Trace" and for more than a decade he has been working hard to make the Trace a reality. The assistance of the Tammany Trace Foundation has also been integral to the trail's development. Even though the St. Tammany Parish government has provided the staff and funds to make the Trace what it is today, the nonprofit Tammany Trace Foundation, formed in 1993, raises funds for continued improvement and expansion of the Trace. The Foundation hosts the annual Holiday of Lights, numerous races and various events to help fund Trace activities. Those interested in learning more about the Trace, and how they can volunteer to help maintain this world-class facility for non-motorized transportation, should contact the Tammany Trace Foundation.