Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
The Big Lake and the Big Easy
New Orleans sits along the Mississippi. For the tourist arriving for a convention or a long weekend, that mighty river is the only body of water in view. But just seven miles to the north of "the big easy" on the Mississippi is the largest lake in Louisiana: Pontchartrain.
And while we're on the subject of large, the world's largest bridge runs from Lake Pontchartrain's northern shore to its southern shore, a distance of almost 25 miles. The "causeway" as it's called has a $3 round trip toll (more if you are pulling a boat trailer or are driving a RV). Causeway users should also be aware there are restrictions in place (lights. speed, single lane usage) during those days when the well-known Louisiana fog makes an appearance.
Visitors taking the Pontchartrain Causeway north from New Orleans should plan on stopping in the city of Mandeville which is located on the lake's shoreline. It's an old community featuring restaurants with a water view. Mandeville was a weekend getaway for wealthy New Orleans residents at the beginning of the 20th century and in 1840 was also a haven for residents trying to escape the ravages of malaria that had spread through the city. Mandeville is also the site of a popular seafood festival held every Fourth of July weekend. Boaters come from throughout the state to watch the fireworks from Lake Pontchartrain. There is a boat ramp in the city park.
Just east of Mandeville is Fountainbleau State Park; 2800 acres built on land that was once a sugar mill. This waterfront park has sandy beaches, trails and 127 campsites.
The trailer boater using Lake Pontchartrain is advised to always be aware of afternoon thunderstorms that occur frequently and, more important, quickly. Anchoring is another issue and boaters are asked to always carry a recent chart of the lake with them because pipelines running along the Pontchartrain bottom are to be avoided. In short, don't anchor anywhere near a pipeline.
Because Lake Pontchartrain is shallow (average depth is 12 feet), boaters need to be aware of what a stiff wind can do. Richard Husser is producer/cameraman of a Saturday television show about the Louisiana outdoors (details on his web site at www.sportsmans-paradise.com) and says waves can run as high as six feet when the wind kicks in across the open water. "The combination of the shallow water and a strong wind is something every Pontchartrain boater needs to be aware of," say Husser who has fished the waters all his life (he owns-appropriately-a 19 ft Cajun with a 150 HP Yamaha on a Magic Tilt trailer). Husser's picks for Pontchartrain fishing include speckled trout and redfish. "We're seeing a real resurgence in fishing," he says,"so much so that I can say the lake is great if you're going after large trout. There are more and more fishing rodeos which is proof Pontchartrain is becoming a healthy lake again."
Twenty years ago Husser wouldn't have been able to make that statement. Pontchartrain was in trouble as a result of development along its shores, agricultural runoff and industry. Even the state bird, the brown pelican, left the lake in search of a healthier environment. Today, sea grasses are once again growing, fishing has become a multi-million dollar business and, yes, pelicans are once again a common site.
It is a given that anyone visiting Louisiana's largest lake will spend time in New Orleans. Commercial barges and ships make their way up and down the Mississippi, as do the riverboats filled with convention-goers and tourists. There is one point on the river where boaters will come upon a stoplight, which is designed to keep small craft out of the way of tugs and barges coming from the opposite direction. This is the only stoplight known to be in the water and controlling traffic. The past few years have seen another kind of riverboat in New Orleans: casinos. Gambling has quickly become as popular as Bourbon Street, Dixie Beer and the raw oysters at Felix's in the French Quarter.
The smart money, however, is on most trailer boaters enjoying the tastes and the music and the sites of New Orleans, but looking for the next launch ramp. You can bet on it.
For More Information... Richard Husser's Suggested Pontchartrain Boat Ramps:
Bonneville Boat launch
Williams Boat launch, Kenner
Lafitte Harbor Marina 504-689-2013
Blackie Campos Marina, Shell Beach 504-676-3679
Highway 11 Bridge Marina, Slidell
Reggio Marina, Regio 504-684-3780
Fountainbleau State Park 888-677-3668
Aquarium of the Americas 504-581-4629
Tourism Information: www.neworleans.com
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Information: www.thecauseway.com