Spillway visitors double since ‘05

Best kept secret -- lakes, ponds stocked with fish

April 23, 2010 at 8:49 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

There are 40 miles of ATV trails at the spillway that encompass nearly 9,000 acres.
Pompo Bresciani ©nolaPIC.com
There are 40 miles of ATV trails at the spillway that encompass nearly 9,000 acres.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the number of visitors to the Bonnet Carre Spillway has doubled due to the amount of recreational activities that the nearly 8,000-acre floodway offers.

The spillway was once known only as an important flood control structure that diverted rising water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. Now though, residents can take advantage of the spillway to fish, hunt, ride ATVs, launch boats or just bask in the sun.

“There is just so much to do here,” Spillway project manager Chris Brantley said. “There are wildlife refuges and national and state parks, but they usually limit what they allow you to do. Here, we have a lot of variety.”

In fact, it’s hard to find something that can’t be done at the spillway, which is the reason why 350,000 people flocked to the site in 2009. That number is more than double the 150,000 or so that visited the spillway the year before Hurricane Katrina.

If you did have to name the most popular recreational activity, it would probably be fishing. The spillway boasts 21 fishing spots, including the only public access point to Lake Pontchartrain in St. Charles Parish. But while Lake Pontchartrain and the parish’s recreation area located off of Airline Highway are heavily populated each weekend, the spillway has several lakes and ponds that are stocked with bass, crappie or catfish.

For example, Lake Jacob is an 8-acre lake that was created in 2002. It was stocked with 40 hybrid striped bass and bluegill in 2004, and in the spring of 2005, 300 Florida strain largemouth bass were added to the lake.

But that’s not all. In 2007, nearly 1,000 channel catfish were stocked in as well.

There are more than 10 other lakes and ponds that have been stocked with similar numbers of fish. And while there are a lot of residents who fish the spillway, these lakes and ponds aren’t heavily utilized.

“We really want more people to take advantage of these lakes and ponds,” Brantley said. “They are good fishing spots, and they aren’t used as much as some of the more visible fishing sites, such as the ones located off of Airline Highway.”

Crawfishing and crabbing are also popular at the spillway, with nearly half a million pounds of crawfish being caught in the area in 2008. Those numbers were inflated somewhat due to the spillway’s opening that year, but thousands of residents have ventured out this year to try their luck.

Eddie Mayer and Craig Mailhos, both of Belle Chasse, caught nearly 20 pounds of crawfish last weekend.

“This is the first time we have been out here since the spillway opened in 2008, but we read some reports online that said people were catching some crawfish here,” Mayer said. “We caught about 20 pounds on our first run. They were a little small, but as the weather warms up, the crawfishing here will be more successful.”

Another popular activity at the spillway is deer, rabbit and duck hunting, and Brantley said that 350 people obtained permits to hunt in the spillway last year.

“We have a couple of ponds that are made for duck hunting and there are a lot of people who hunt small game, such as rabbits and squirrels,” Brantley added. “We also have certain areas that are perfect for bow hunting, and that has been popular as well.”

There are also five boat launch sites in the spillway, each with special designations. Some of the launches are geared towards fishermen, while others are for recreational boaters and personal watercraft. One launch near Lake Pontchartrain is perfect for canoes.

While fishing has been, and will continue to be, one of the most popular spillway attractions, ATV and dirt bike riding are gaining popularity.

The spillway has close to 40 miles of ATV trails that encompass nearly 9,000 acres. Twenty miles of trails are through dirt and mud, while 20 more miles travel through wooded areas. Those have been the most popular, though the wooded trails are closed until the middle of May.

“This is a good spot to ride because you don’t have to spend any money to do it,” Kevin LeBlanc, of Prarieville, said. “I travel all over to ride, and I do have to say that the wooded trails are nice.”

Brantley said that the spillway is really the only place to ride ATVs between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

“We also have a kids area for those that are just starting and we offer ATV training sessions usually once a month that teach people everything they need to know about riding ATVs,” Brantley said.

There are two heavily-enforced rules when it comes to dirt bike or ATV riding.

“You must wear a helmet and this is one of the only places in the spillway where we don’t allow people to drink alcohol,” Brantley said.

For those looking for a more strenuous workout, the spillway has a 5-mile mountain bike trail littered with jumps and bridges.

“It’s awesome,” bike rider Grenes Meyaski, of New Orleans, said. “It’s the only real bike trail around and it’s a lot of fun.”

But bikes and ATVs aren’t the only thing to ride at the spillway. Brantley said more and more people are using the area to ride horses, and he said there are plans to add horse riding trails in the future. Another planned addition is a 4-wheel truck obstacle course.

“We have a lot of people who ride their 4-wheel drive trucks here now, but we really want to give them their own area so they can enjoy themselves without tearing up the spillway roads,” Brantley said. “We want to have an obstacle course that will have tree logs they can ride over and a viewing area for people to watch them.”

But why ride when you can fly?

Parish residents Bill Phelps and Ronnie Landry are part of an RC plane club that launches from the spillway. Phelps and Landry, who are both retired, use the site as much as three days per week.

“It’s an excellent spot,” Phelps said. “There is so much open space and you don’t have to worry about irritating your neighbors or having your plane fall and land on someone or something.”

Both men also return the favor by volunteering for spillway projects. Brantley said volunteers help plant trees, pick up trash, build boardwalks and put out trash cans.

“Ten years ago, I would have been embarrassed to take someone on a tour here because of all the trash that was out here,” Brantley said. “Now, the spillway is better than ever.”

For more information on the many different activities offered at the spillway, visit the main office at 16302 River Road in Norco, or call (985) 764-7484.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dads at NES
Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dads at NES
Norco Elementary School held its first Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dads on Sept. 22.

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