Last year St. Tammany Parish residents received wonderful additions to the Tammany Trace with the completion of the Bayou Lacombe drawbridge and the opening of new trailheads in Covington and Abita Springs. The bridge at Bayou Lacombe makes it possible to utilize the entire 27 miles of this scenic corridor that connects five communities and numerous parks and is used by almost 200,000 people annually. Most communities would be content with such facilities, but Parish President Kevin Davis and many others in both the government and private sectors have a larger vision for the Tammany Trace and are working hard to bring it to fruition.
Extension of Trace to Heritage Park in Slidell
One part of that vision is extending the Trace to Heritage Park in Slidell. “This project started as a relatively simple request for park benches from senior citizens in Slidell,” said Parish Council member Gene Bellisario. That initial request resulted in six benches placed one-half mile apart in Slidell and a total of 14 benches added to the Trace.
The next step was a “Trace enhancements project” to add mile markers to the existing 27 miles of the Trace. According to Bellisario, this project is being completed mostly with funding and labor from the volunteer organization Northshore Disaster Recovery Services. Mile markers will be added every quarter-mile for the benefit of runners and joggers. Sponsorships for each mile marker are being offered to local businesses and citizens to help defray costs.
Councilman Bellisario was then asked by Kevin Davis and Leadership Northshore to work on the extension of the Trace from its current end at the Slidell/Carollo Trailhead to Heritage Park. That’s when the Tammany Trace Extension Committee was formed to choose a temporary path from Camp Salmen to Heritage Park. The primary obstacles for completion of a permanent path are: 1) part of the railroad line is still active in the Slidell area and an alternate route must be found and 2) a permanent solution cannot be completed until the planned widening of Highway 190 and sub-surface drainage improvements in the area.
The Committee has held six meetings and presented a recommendation for the temporary route to the City of Slidell and the parish. “We will move forward with publicizing the route within two to three weeks once the final decision has been made,” said Tara Ingram-Hunter, Deputy Chief of Staff/Recreation Director for the City of Slidell. Funding will be pursued both through grants and parish and city budgets. “This project is a win-win for everyone,” said Ingram-Hunter. “One of the key things for this project, and a very positive sign, is that Ben Morris and Kevin Davis are both on board and fully support this project. There is also support at the state level to get this project done,” Bellisario said.
Councilman Bellisario estimates that realistically it will take two to three years to secure funding and complete the temporary route and possibly up to five years for the widening of Highway 190 and the completion of the permanent route to Heritage Park.
Plans are also moving forward to build a new trailhead near Heritage Park. “We already have everything in place at Heritage Park to be a finished pit stop,” said Kim Bergeron, Director of the Department of Cultural and Public Affairs for the City of Slidell. The primary concern with bringing a trailhead to Heritage Park is lack of parking, which is already an issue during events. Three sites in close proximity to Heritage Park are being considered that would provide not only enough land for a new trailhead facility, but additional parking for Heritage Park.
“We believe this is going to be an invaluable resource. With its completion it will give the parish and its residents more amenities and a unique way to exercise and enjoy the parish. It’s been a long time coming,” said Bellisario. Bergeron also feels that extending the Tammany Trace to Heritage Park and adding a trailhead there will benefit not only the citizens of the entire parish, but also visitors to our parish. With its completion, biking enthusiasts will be able to ride a 31-mile long unobstructed trail. “How cool will it be to be able to ride your bike from Covington or Mandeville and enjoy a concert at the end,” said Bergeron.
According to Lisa Pratt Maddox, Director of the Tammany Trace, plans are also moving forward for a new trailhead in Lacombe. Currently there are two parish-owned trailheads at Koop Drive in Mandeville and the Carollo trailhead in Slidell. The other three existing trailheads are owned by the City of Covington, City of Mandeville, and Town of Abita Springs. The Heritage Park trailhead will be owned by the City of Slidell. The proposed trailhead at Lacombe will become the third parish-owned trailhead facility. This project is currently in final review with the state and once approval is gained, will be constructed within six to nine months.
Additions at Koop Drive Headquarters
Most people in the area are familiar with the Tammany Trace Headquarters at Koop Drive in Mandeville because it’s the site of Kids Konnection, Louisiana’s only Boundless Playground®, visited by more than 85,000 children last year. But Maddox says there is much more in store for the residents of St. Tammany at Koop Drive. The parish is currently building a large pavilion at the site with additional restrooms and concessions and has long-term plans for an outdoor amphitheater. Maddox said there also are plans in the near future to build “Kid’s Town”, which will be a miniature village on a child’s scale and will be fully accessible.
Koop Drive also will be the site for the planned Children’s Museum of St. Tammany which will serve not only local, but regional children, families, and schools. “It will be a wonderful and unique addition to the Trace and the existing Kid’s Konnection Playground. It is going to be a highly interactive facility with space for musical performances and educational, hands-on displays,” said Kevin Davis, St. Tammany Parish President.
The Junior League of Greater Covington (JLGC) has undertaken the enormous project of bringing this museum to St. Tammany Parish in concert with parish government. JLGC Children’s Museum Chairperson Lisa Barnett said a groundbreaking ceremony and children’s concert was held on March 29th and the process of clearing land has begun. From funding received to date, they will conduct a nationwide search for an exhibit designer to design the educational components of the museum. A national search for a campaign consultant will also be held in order to take fundraising efforts to the next level. The JLGC plans to “birth” the museum and run it until it is stable and self-sustaining. It will then be turned over to a governing board of directors with operational staff for long term management. “The timeframe for everything depends on how quickly funding happens,” said Barnett.
Bigger, Better, More Cultural Events
“The fact that the Tammany Trace comes through the heart of Abita Springs provided us with a great opportunity,” said Brian Gowland, former Mayor of the Town of Abita Springs. Gowland said the town built its trailhead for a fraction of what it would have cost, due to all the volunteer labor and materials provided by local businesses, groups, and residents. It all started with seed money from a grant from the state and is now a trailhead, museum, playground, and gazebo in the center of town. Gowland said the Abita Trailhead is a “natural people magnet” and creates a wonderful atmosphere. “We have increased activities and events at the Trailhead and are in the process of planning even more because we’re realizing the value of it,” said Gowland.
The town recently hosted a successful Earth Day Fest and holds regular Sunday afternoon concerts at the Trailhead. “Abita Springs is really enjoying some national recognition right now due to the Abita Opry and Abita Beer,” said Gowland. In fact, because of the Abita Opry’s continued adherence to their mission of preservation of Louisiana roots music, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation awarded the Abita Opry a grant to assist with the Abita Trailhead concerts. On May 17th, the Friends of the Park and the Abita Springs Opry will present the “Abita Springs Gospel Music Jubilee”. The festival will take place from noon until 8:00 p.m. and will present some of the best gospel music in the area, including the Zion Harmonizers.
Denise Gutnisky, Director of Events for the Mandeville Trailhead said “Free Music Fridays” was originally done to spur economic development in the downtown area and that the city’s administration decided to fund it again because it was so well-received last year. “The city is trying to give something back to the community,” said Gutnisky. “Free Music Fridays” will continue every Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. from now through June 5th. Scheduled for June 14th at 6:00 p.m. is an all-ages concert by Taking Back Sunday in support of their national tour. “The trailhead is a wonderful gift to the people of Mandeville,” said Gutnisky.
Kim Bergeron said Slidell’s Heritage Park will host “Some Enchanted Evening” on May 2nd, which brings the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for a free twilight performance, along with the Mayor’s annual picnic contest. A Bayou Jam concert featuring The Blue Meanies is scheduled for May 31st and “Kid’s Fest” will be held June 5th.
The St. Tammany Parish Department of Cultural & Governmental Affairs has a cooperative endeavor grant program. “We are a granting agency, but do a lot of outreach and programming as well,” said Jennifer Bushnell, Arts Coordinator for the Department. Bushnell said the popular series of TGIF concerts that are usually held at the Koop Drive Trailhead in the spring will be held in the fall this year due to construction at the site. These are just some of the events being held this spring in and around the Tammany Trace and Trailheads. Bushnell said to check the St. Tammany Parish website calendar often for updates. “St. Tammany Parish has more cultural districts than anywhere else in the state. Our long-term goal is to make St. Tammany Parish a cultural arts destination,” said Bergeron.