Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rivers, Bayous Vital To Local Economy

The importance of St. Tammany's waterways to a variety of local business enterprises was spotlighted in a detailed article published in the July issue, 1986, of the "Business Report" newsletter of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation. 

The article featured an across-the-parish tour gathering information about marinas, ships' stores, and marine services businesses, all from some thirty-three years ago,  so it's NOT up-to-date, but of interest from a historical perspective.

Marina del Ray, Madisonville

Rivers, Bayous Vital to Local Economy
July, 1986

How many rivers and bayous are there in St. Tammany Parish? 8, 12, 22? If you said over 50 you are probably correct. If you add creeks, branches and sloughs to that, the number goes well over 100. St. Tammany has at least 18 waterways that empty into Lake Pontchartrain and the Rigolets.

All of this water hasn't gone without use. A large section of the economy of the parish is based on those rivers and bayous. This article at­tempts to take an economic tour and show how the river pumps money into St. Tammany.

The east side of the parish begins with the three river Pearl River system. The Goehagan Canal off of the west Pearl River had at one time been the location of a oyster factory. The river is the base for several shrimpers.

At the foot of the canal where it empties into the Rigolets and Lake Borne, a former boat yard is being converted into a marina and condominium complex. Ma­nager David Hursey said that this ship's store there, has been open for about a month, although construction work outside on the dock is still going full pace. The marina features 32 covered slips with 10 more planned on the way. A yacht club will be opening upstairs that will offer an expansive view of the lake and marsh nearby.

Hursey says  that the marina is already popular because of its location near some of the area's best fishing spots. He knows the store will do well there because there is no place nearby to buy ice or a six pack of soft drinks, etc. 

A couple miles up the canal is the Harbor Boat yard, which at the time was doing bottom work on a large fully outfitted shrimp boat.

Salt Bayou which empties about midway up the Rigolets has also been a base for a number of shrimpers. It has the new Miss Sandy's Seafood, St. Tammany's only dockside seafood wholesaler. The business is open just two months but Dommick Bruno who handles buying and selling the shrimp said that there just isn't enough shrimp to meet the demand. 

The business also buys and sells oysters, fish and crabs. A north Mississippi businessman is hanging around the dock waiting for more shrimp to come in. He is making a minor repair to his refri­gerated truck.    Does he come down to Slidell with a list of what he needs? He says he comes to buy whatever he can, but he may have to go back today with only a partial load.

Next door is the Salt Bayou Marina, just a small ships store with beer, ice and food. There are also numerous shrimpers along Salt Bayou. These are all family op­erations.

The next inlet, Grand Lagoon serves as the entrance for Eden Isles Marina. Also in the Eden Isle canal system and fronting on Hwy 11 are Trawls by Gus, Ducote and Lee Marine, the ships store and Northshore Marine.

Continuing westward, one comes upon the Northshore canal, which most people are familiar with. Not only does the canal have numerous restaurants, but it is the home to one of the oldest con­tinuing operating businesses on the water systems of St. Tammany: Gilbert Cousin's. Cousin has been renting boats and selling bait at the shop for 53 years.

His work-force includes his three sons. While a weekday may be slow, Gilbert says that on a summer weekend, he will rent out all 17 of his 18' fiberglass boats with motor and gas for $25 a day. Add another $1 per life jacket to that rental if you don't bring your own. (These are all 1986 prices- Ed.)

On the opposite side of Hwy 11 and backing up to the Eden Isles canal are several boat dealers including Ducote and Lee Marine, Northshore Marine and LofLand Yachts. There is also a store spec­ializing in supplies for, shrimpers:   Trawls by Gus.

At LofLand Yachts, Allen LofLand sells new and used boats, runs the ships store, has classes in sailing and even occasionally charters a boat. It keeps about 6 people employed full and part time.

The sailing school has been particularly popular. The participants spend five hours of class room study and four trips of three hours each out on the boat. The whole sch­edule fits into about a two week period.  

Just up the bayou is VAC Marine, a do-it-yourself boat yard. Owner August Maurer also runs Ozone Shells, a water-dependent company which is now 16 years old.

Across the way is a prestressed concrete firm which salesman Ray Schueler describes as being in the business of building concrete platforms and concrete barges mostly for the oil companies. Employment is now at about 14 down from 24 a few mon­ths back. Next door, coal is being unloaded from barges and loaded on trucks.

Further up the bayou is Chamale Cove Marina. Real Estate Broker Ted Terry says construction has begun on a boat store there which will feature boating supplies and a fuel dock. The marina has 138 slips.


Bayou Castine —This languid bayou offers some of the nicest scenery anywhere in the parish. And perhaps because the bayou has no fuel facilities, it has specialized in sail boats, hundreds of them.

Well over 800 slips are available in the two miles from the Mandeville municipal harbor to Hwy. 190. Many of those built in just the past few years.

"We're doing all right," says Denis Bechac of Colbert's Cove Marina. With 70 percent of its 175 slips occupied, the marina is doing well. A sec­tion of the marina was sold off to The Port a waterfront condominium project that fea­tures a slip with each condo. He says that the area between Bayou Castine and the Causeway is like a fairway to New Orleans.

At the 29 slip Frosch's Cypress Cove Marina, Mrs. Newell Frosch sees customers from all over the area—even from Baton Rouge and New Iberia. She has just one vacancy.

Sarah Prieto at Prieto Marina which started 50 years ago credits the beauty of the sleepy bayou with its popularity. Fountainbleau State Park with its unspoiled splendor lines one side of the bayou and the boats rise in splendid silhouette on the other. She says her 250 slips which are in three sections of the bayou stay pretty fulL "Maybe 9 vacancies," she says.

She also has the Yacht Works, a full service marine shop and marine store. It features a 15 ton marine travel lift and a 5 ton stiff leg crane that is used mainly for hoisting masts and engines on and off of the boats.

Also located in the Yacht Works Yard is West Wind Sales. The 5 year old company, one of the few waterfront manufactures expanding in the parish, makes sails, cushions and biminis for sail boats.

The company recently purc­hased two new industrial sewing machines and now has a six person work force. Owner David Bolyard says he got into the business as a life-long sailor.   "Most of our business is in racing and cruise sales," he says. His ad in a local sailing publication lists an impressive number of trophies won by ships with his sails.

Mandeville Harbor

Mariner's Village—The Pilot House, a retail marine supply store that sells all types of ship's supplies including elec­tronics, cleaning supplies, and foul weather gear, is run by Minta Dietrich and her husband. Mrs. Dietrich says most of her customers are men who own their boats. She says maybe 40 percent are from out of the parish.

The location at the foot of the causeway may have something to do with that.She got into the business after her husband bough t into a boat yard in Slidell several years ago and found out that this shop was available. They have since sold their interest in the boat yard.

Mrs. Dietrich doesn't see how her store can have much impact on the economy of St. Tammany parish but can see how out of town boaters bring revenue into the parish. "When they drive over (the cau­seway) to go boating, they buy groceries and eat out and things like that."

She says the problems with oil related industries are evident in her business. After all, many boat owners work for oil related businesses.
Nunmaker Yachts, also located in Mariner's Village sells Carver and Formula boats and brokers used boats for others. 

Nunmaker Yachts is now located in Madisonville

Kevin Nunmaker says that much of the customers for the business owned by cousin Mike Nunmaker are owners buying up to a large size boat. "Nobody buys down." They sell only power boats with cruising yachts from 26 to 42 feet and performance boats from 20 to 35 feet.

The business has been in several locations in St. Tammany in the past but moved to the present location one and half years ago.

Marina del Ray swimming pool, Madisonville
The big boat builders in Madisonville are quiet now. Equitable Shipyards is sitting mostly idle. Jahncke Shipyard which sits on the Tchefuncte River just down from the municipal dock is also idle. The property has a for sale sign and according to Marcia D'Amico with Latter and Blum has been sold. There is no word on how the property will be used. (The property was recently purchased and will be building boats again - Ed)

But a series of condomi­nium projects has the feel of hustling and bustling on the west bank of the river with construction crews at work. Nestled in all that activity is Cook Marine that has been in operation under that name for a year and half.

Doug Cook says his 25 ton crane and the fact that he can get about six boats out of the water at the same time puts him as the largest yard on the west of the Causeway. The firm does all types of repairs: fiberglass, steel and wood. Does he also build boats?

"Not right now. We have done some in the past." He says he specializes in building in fiberglass.  "If its fiberglass, we can build it whether its a boat or a box or whatever."

Business is slow because of state's problems with oil related industries. "Some how everybody (in Louisiana) is related to the oilfield. "

Marina Beau Chene

Five miles up the river and back closer to Madisonville is is Marina Beau Chene. Gayle Leslie looks over Marina Beau Chene. This marina features a lot of live aboards. People who have opted to use their boats for more than pleasure. Or if you will, to extend their pleasure to full time.
Ms. Leslie says the 24-hour security and slip side parking have a lot to do with that. "We are also the most protected. Being five miles up the Tchefuncta shields us from the effects of hurricanes and storms."

The Swamp Tours

And back in 1986, there were also the swamp tour operations. Did pirates of old really bury treasures in the Honey Island swamp? That may never be known. But there is definitely a treasure there.  It awaits only the explorer.

At least three St. Tammany businesses offer the chance to explore the treasure of the most unspoiled swamp in the United States: Honey Island Tours, River Rat Enterprises and the Bogue Chitto Outfitters.

Sue Wagner of Honey Island Swamp Tours says her husband Dr. Paul Wagner is fulfilling a life-long dream. Their former environmental consultant started the business part time from the back of his house. Both Wagners and Robert Charbonnet work full time at the tours. They use a 16 and 20-seat boat, both with outboard motors. 

Tours are now loaded at the Indian Village restaurant to keep the traffic out of the residential neighborhood. "We enjoy dispelling the myths of the swamp as dark and gruesome. My husband is able to show the flora and birds and generally interpret the life of the swamp. It comes alive in their (tourists) minds."

Cameras, binoculars even video recorders are encouraged. Visitors come from all over. "We had a writer for a French magazine do a story on the tour. Now not a week goes by that someone from France does not inquire."

Just up the road a way Buzz & Magarita Knowles run River Rat—canoe tours of the swamp and canoe rentals. The tours run from four to five hours.  You can rent a canoe and explore yourself overnight or a weekend.

North in Talisheek, Bill Magee, Robert Purvis and Gary Alexander run the Bogue  Chitto Outdoor Center, outfitting canoe and camping trips and offering guide services. The firm offers two tours: An overnight tour of the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge (they are official concessionaires) or an overnight tour of the Bogue Chitto River.  Included in the rate are canoes, paddles, life jackets, tents, dinner, breakfast, guides and transportation to and from the river.

Guides are CPR certified and certified canoeing instructors. Also the group operates a 350 acre primitive campground on the Pearl River Canal with fishing and skiing. "There are some really nice white sandy beaches," says Magee. 

Today's Pearl River Swamp tours..