Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Tour of West St. Tammany

In 1974 I was asked to give a slide presentation to the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association about the attractions of western St. Tammany Parish. The meeting took place in Slidell, and someone else was showcasing the attractions of eastern St. Tammany.

Anyway, here is the presentation I gave, which was in the form of a "road trip" around Mandeville, Madisonville, Covington, Folsom and Abita Springs, something that would serve as a guide to visitors coming over from New Orleans for a day trip. Since the original LTPA presentation was over 46 years ago, I have updated the narrative to include interesting attractions new since that time.

1. We start our tour by coming off the north end of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, turning into Lewisburg, and visiting the Seven Sisters Oak. It is the oldest and largest live oak tree in the state and is president of the Live Oak Society.

2. From there, go up West Causeway Approach and turn left on Hwy. 22. Proceed to Fairview Riverside State Park. With 98 acres of oaks and woodland on the bank of the Tchefuncte River, the park offers picnic areas, a fishing pier, camping facilities and a boat launch. The Otis House museum is also within the park for those wishing a look back into the past.

3. Heading westward and crossing over the Tchefuncte River into Madisonville, we come to one of the oldest communities in the state. Its economy thrived on lumber, brick and charcoal manufacturing, as well as shipbuilding for many years. Its cemetery has graves of many historic figures. The town hosts the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum and the annual Wooden Boat Festival. If there on a weekend, the Madisonville Museum is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

4. Traveling northward on La 21, we go into Covington, the parish seat. The old downtown section has been a center of commerce for centuries, as farmers brought their agricultural products to the Columbia St. schooner landing for shipment to New Orleans. Numerous arts and crafts shops and specialty retail shops of all kinds, Covington offers a variety of restaurant experiences. There's a trailhead museum as well as the H.J. Smith's Sons Old General Merchandise Museum.

5. From Covington we cross the Bogue Falaya River and head up Military Road (La. 21) where in a few miles we turn north onto Old Military Road (La. 1082). A short ways up we pass numerous horse farms and the famous Dorignac Farms ranch. Once we reach Pontchartrain Vineyards, we can enjoy a quick stop there for refreshments, then head south again.  

6. When we reach La. 21, we turn left and travel a short distance, and then turn south again on La. Hwy. 59. A few miles later, we are turning left into Abita Springs, home of the famous Abita Pavilion, Trailhead museum, UCM museum and the annual Water Festival. Formerly a Choctaw Indian village, Abita was once a world-famous health resort with several large hotels.

7. From Abita Springs, we travel south on La. 59 and, upon reaching U.S. 190 in Mandeville, we turn left and head for Fontainebleau State Park. This beautiful 2700 acre park was originally a sugar plantation, and the ruins of the old sugar mill built in 1829 are still visible. Fontainebleau State Park also offers a great sand beach on Lake Pontchartrain, campsites, and picnic pavilions.

8. Upon leaving Fontainebleau State Park and heading west, we pass Pelican Park, one of the largest recreational areas in the state. 

The Nature Center scenic video

Also on the right, on the east bank of Bayou Castine, is the Northlake Nature Center where an elevated boardwalk takes one on a tour of native plants and animal habitats.

9. As we near Mandeville again, turn left on Jackson Avenue and proceed southward to the Mandeville harbor, across from Pontchartrain Yacht Club. A drive along scenic Lakeshore Drive will remind one of the summer homes and several tourist hotels lining the lakefront years ago. Mandeville's trailhead museum and the Lang House Museum are additional attractions, along with several fine restaurants. 

10.  Turning west on Monroe Street will deliver us back to North Causeway Approach, where we began.Then its southward across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.