Just ahead of its 20th anniversary, one of St. Tammany Parish’s most touted outdoor attractions is getting a facelift. But even as the cosmetic changes are coming to the asphalt ribbon known as the Tammany Trace, parish leaders are pondering the Trace’s future, wondering how best to expand the popular path’s accessibility to more residents.
The Trace, a former rail corridor paved over and used for jogging, skating and cycling, stretches from the center of downtown Covington through piney woods to Abita Springs, Mandeville and Lacombe before terminating just east of Slidell. It gets some 300,000 visits per year, according to information provided by parish officials.
But even with that popularity, it is not easily accessible to residents of Slidell, the largest city in St. Tammany, or Madisonville, one of the parish’s fastest-growing areas. Adding that accessibility is a key part of plans for the Trace’s future, said Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for Parish President Pat Brister.
Last year, the parish got provisional approval of a $92,000 grant to extend the Trace into Slidell, where officials are planning to make it part of what they want to be a bicycle-friendly city. While those funds will cover only the cost of a lone crossing at West Hall Avenue and Carroll Road, there are plans to take the Trace from its current terminus at Neslo Road all the way to Heritage Park in the center of Slidell.
The parish also is conducting a feasibility study for extending the Trace from Covington west to La. 21, where it could turn south toward Madisonville, Simpson said.
Graham Erickson Sr. uses the path for recreation and the occasional 12-mile commute from his home in Covington to work at the Bike Path Bicycle Shop in Mandeville. He said lengthening the 28-mile path would be welcome.
“I would love to see it extended,” he said. But the expansion that Erickson, a serious cyclist, might like to see the most is to the north.
“The Trace is just too flat,” he said. “One of the complaints of the athletic bikers is that if you want to get any hill work in, you have to go somewhere else.”
Extending the trace northward into the parish’s rural areas would be great, Simpson said, but finding the money to do that would be a major challenge.
In the shorter term, the parish is focused on extending the Trace into populated areas or at least tying it into other bicycle-friendly roads or paths — something parish residents consistently requested during a series of public meetings over the summer, Simpson said.
For now, workers are busy replacing old yellow caution signs with brighter, highlighter-yellow ones. Workers also are raising the signs, adding bigger stop and warning signs, and repainting the crossings, all with the goal of making the Trace’s six dozen or so street crossings safer.
In addition, the speed limit is being lowered from 20 mph to 15 mph, the result of a study of Trace usage as well as meetings with the public, according to information provided by Brister’s office.
The upgrades cost $250,000. They should be completed by the end of October.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.