Editor’s note: New guest writer James gives us a sorely needed mountain biking post on the Spillway(so close!).
Just 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans is the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway. The Spillway, as it is known locally, is a stretch of water connecting the Mississippi river to Lake Pontchartrain. Most days, this channel is closed to river water, creating a brackish water recreation area for fishing, boating, ATV riding, and mountain biking. When the river gets near flood stage, the Spillway gates are opened and the excess water is diverted to the lake easing the stress on the river levees. The Spillway runs from the river to the lake, but the area’s recreation is primarily based in the section accessed by Airline Hwy. The Airline Hwy. entrance has a pavilion, concrete boat launches, ample parking, portable toilets that are cleaned regularly, picnic tables, trash receptacles, an ATV trail network, and the subject of this post, a mountain biking trail. Here is how to get there:
While the term Mountain Biking is a bit comical for Louisiana, The Spillway Trail is an offroad bicycle trail through a wooded section that parallels the spillway’s main channel. When entering the area from Airline, enter the parking lot and look to the right as you descend the levee. There you will see the trailhead.
This is where the trail begins. The trail is 5.5 miles long and is basically a loop so there is no worries about getting lost and there are a few spots where you can exit to the shell road on the levee if you want out. Surrounded by oaks, palmettos, gum trees, and vines and shrubs of all sorts this trail cuts through some serious brush but it is well ridden and superbly maintained by the local mountain bikers club NOMAMBO. The members of NOMAMBO are responsible for the building, design, maintenance, and administration of this FREE trail and even organize several events and races annually. Check them out at: http://www.nomambo.net/. Now to the trail itself:
The trail is pretty easy for the most part. The sections that do have more difficult features always have a bypass option so no one has to feel uncomfortable. One of the great things about this trail is that the difficulty level is directly relative to your speed. If you are riding at a slow relaxed pace the turns are nice and easy and everything flows, but as you speed up, those nice turns become twisty, technical single-track and can pose a nice challenge. There are no screaming downhills or monster climbs of course, but for an avid cross country rider this trail can be challenging and fun at speed. Likewise, at a slower pace, someone could have a pleasant, relaxed nature ride with no real trail experience. You will, however, need a capable bike. This doesn’t mean something expensive, but no street bikes, cruisers, or commuters. Have knobby tires, and working brakes, and a HELMET, which is required(I have seen a few teens out here on BMX bikes, but for that you will need teenage legs and lungs).
Gloves are a good idea but not a necessity like WATER and bug spray(in summer). The main channel of the spillway borders a good portion of the trail and makes for some nice scenic spots. Several wooden bridges add a nice touch as well.
And of course, there is the “Teeter-Totter”(seen above). Not for the squeamish, I have personally seen this beast at its cruelest, but it is fairly easy when all goes well. When it doesn’t… well, at least it isn’t too far to walk, or crawl to the exit from here. Below you can see a profile of the teeter-totter. See the bypass? No shame in ridin’ past this. (Editor’s note: I have personally busted my ass on this thing and landed straight on the top of my head, telescopically compressing my spine. Of course, as soon as I could walk again, about 5 minutes later, I had to complete the bridge successfully one last time before retiring from the Teeter-Totter for good. My neck hurt for days, I had a waffle of mud in my hair and I was soaking wet in December, but it could’ve been much worse. Be careful on this one.)
Most of the trail is dedicated to making the most of the available space and there are plenty of turns and banks to keep it fun and flowing. The guys from NOMAMBO do a great job of keeping the vegetation under control and the trail clear. This is no small feat and they are a volunteer-only workforce so many thanks and props to you guys. In the warmer months, the poison ivy can get pretty thick despite efforts to tame it – so if you are highly allergic, take precautions. I have a mild allergy and have never been exposed while riding, but if you were to fall in the wrong spot, it could happen. This is really only a concern in August and only the real diehards tend to ride in 90+ weather. In winter, the undergrowth dies back drastically and the woods open up.
Here is another easy to bypass trail feature of a “log pile” that can be used as a ramp or rollover. There is no better time than now(fall/winter) to try this trail out. The vines are dying and the weather is exceptional. The maintenance plans are not focused on weed control, so the trail should be in tip-top shape and there will most likely be some enhancements like this being done throughout the season. Also, in winter there are no snakes or bugs.
The best thing about this trail is the location. Minutes from New Orleans and seconds from Kenner, two laps on this puppy can be a great workout in great surroundings. The Spillway is teeming with life and if you ride early and quietly you can see some of it. I have seen owls, rabbits, rat snakes, pine snakes(scarce species in area for a long time), turtles, ibis, herons, and tons of little birds and alligators. In this area, there is a native species to watch out for – Fat City types like this guy. He was well behaved this day, but…
Fat City in action!
Once again, there is no shame in walking(this particular rider is not from Fat City and usually would not walk over an obstacle, this was done strictly for journalistic value.)
If you have never been in the spillway or haven’t been recently you may be surprised by how scenic it can be. There are large mossy oak trees, water, wildlife, and a remote feel. Some sections of the trail are downright beautiful and can transport you to other places, like these “northwestern” looking fern gardens.
So it’s not Washington state, but it is a nearly tropical , almost rain forest, semi-hardwood swamp that you can easily drive to… and mountain bike.
This area is a swamp and the trail will need roughly a day to dry for every inch of rainfall.
Even on dry days:
There is no water at the spillway, other than the spillway itself, so bring plenty with you. There is a gas station store right across from the spillway entrance if you need anything and there are plenty of places to sit and eat if you want to bring a lunch. There are basic rules posted at the trailhead and trash receptacles nearby so don’t litter and respect the common sense rules of the trail. Most importantly, no matter how cool you are, wear a friggin’ helmet. Eventually, you will be glad you did. Plus they are great for your hair:
This trail can be ridden all year round and trail info and conditions can always be found at http://www.nomambo.net/. I would like to once again thank the guys from NOMAMBO for the great trail and encourage everyone to do something at the spillway. Besides the bike trail, they have multiple boat launches, fishing, water skiing, an extensive ATV trail system, and a large pavilion area. There are also some awesome access areas for canoeing and kayaking into areas impenetrable by boats, but that’s another post altogether. Get out, get active, and catch me if you can…