The excellent, fresh new weather makes it worthwhile to be outside, don’t you think? So, let’s get frisky and hike Camp Salmen’s trails. They’ve recently been widened and groomed and have never been in better shape. So grab a map in the Main Pavilion, cross the Parish Parkway crosswalk and enter our Main Trail system. It has the majority of the park’s three and a half miles of forested footpaths and boardwalks.
Just inside the entrance, the first trail on the right goes to the Gum Swamp Boardwalk. It has its own story, which is told in the sitting area on the boardwalk and in an information flier in the binder by the maps. Since it’s so close to the Main Pavilion it makes an easy goal for a quick hiking expedition.
If, instead, you stay to the left (and avoid entering the two or three short dead-ends on the way) you’ll end up about a mile away at the Pine Savannah Boardwalk at the other end of the park. This is not too arduous of a walk and probably takes an hour or so for a quick round trip. There are several optional and equally interesting side trails on the right that either loop back or end up out on the Parkway where there is a convenient path along the edge of the woods that goes back to the beginning. These are all described very well on the map, which also has the Park Ranger’s phone number. Bikes are allowed, but not motorized vehicles unless used by the handicapped.
If you meander through this network of trails and also visit all the trails on the other side of the Parkway you’ll probably use up most of an afternoon. Please be wary of our closing time, which is 7:00 in summer and 5:00 in winter. These trails offer a great opportunity to see nature up close and you never know what marvelous curiosities you’ll encounter. Don’t worry about getting lost and starving to death, you’ll no doubt find the Parkway for a quick, certain return to your car. Besides, Camp Salmen is surrounded by civilization and friendly neighbors who will probably give you some food and water and let you use their phone.
A little history: the ancient Longleaf Pine forest that used to cover St. Tammany Parish disappeared over a century ago from extensive logging. In 1901 Fritz Salmen acquired the land and began to use a railroad to remove its timber and clay. His old rail beds and clay pits remain. Since that time a cattle pasture, a Boy Scout camp, Pine Beetle infestations, hurricanes, tornadoes and the creation of a nature park also opened up parts of the tree canopy in these woods. After each incident there was an initial confusion of new vegetation sorting itself out through intense competition in the newly reintroduced sunlight. As these woods slowly recover, mature trees will create a solid, new shady canopy, understory plants will diminish and the view through the woods will become less cluttered. This is already happening toward the north end of the trail, just before you get to the Pine Savannah Boardwalk. Eventually, without new disturbances, the evolution of these woods will slow down and something like equilibrium will be achieved.