If you take the crosswalk on Parish Parkway across from Mary’s Grotto, go through the field to the entrance of the Main Trail and take the first path on the right, you’ll find Camp Salmen’s Gum Swamp Boardwalk. It goes through a near swamp — a low, wet spot in the woods we believe was the result of clay mining by the Salmen Brick and Lumber Company a century ago. A temporary railroad or “dummy line” was laid through these woods from the main railroad (what later became the Tammany Trace Bike Trail) and was used first to remove the timber. Then a dragline was brought in to scrape away the topsoil to reveal the ancient clay deposits underneath. This clay was dug up to make bricks at Fritz Salmen’s brick factory by the track in what is now Old Town Slidell. Traces of the rail bed can still be seen here and there in the woods that re-grew after this episode.
There are other remnant clay pits in the park and indeed, all around the Slidell area. Fritz’s brick factory was a juggernaut that made millions and millions of bricks that greatly contributed to the region’s growth and in particular, New Orleans’ Central Business District, in the 1920s including the renowned Roosevelt Hotel.
This low ground forms a basin that holds rainwater that slowly seeps into Goldfish Bayou and on to Bayou Liberty. This flooding reduces the number of small plants here and keeps the ground wet enough for moisture-loving trees like the Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) and Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflu). You can tell the Black Gum by their flared trunks, wrinkly grey bark and pointed leaves, and the Sweet Gum by their five-pointed leaves and spiky, round seedpods that drop all over the place in fall and winter.
The moisture gives rise to other wetland plants like a kind of tall wetland grass with a white button-like flower called Lady’s Hat Pin (Syngonanthus flavidulus); there’s Red Swamp Bay (Persea borbonia) and May haw (Crataegus aestivales), famous for bearing a fruit used in jellies. The Club mosses (Lycopodiopsida) look like weird, light-green, foot long pipe cleaners with bulbous tips. Animals that live in these woods, or like to pay an occasional visit, include blue-tailed skinks, armadillos, eastern grey squirrels, several snake species, deer and many kinds of birds.
We invite you to check it out; the boardwalk is not very far from the Main Pavilion where you’ll find maps and a handout about this attraction. Once there, adventurous hikers may be tempted to keep going and discover some of the other the trails in our woods.