Louisiana’s LAKE PONTCHARTRIAN’S NORTH SHORE EXPERIENCE
The purpose of our trip to the North Shore was to experience Mardi Gras before Fat Tuesday. One thing we learned about Louisiana is that its people are always in a party mood and that you do not need to go to New Orleans for the experience. The Mardi Gras season lasts for 30 days and the first party began as early as January 7. All of the towns mentioned in this piece all have parades, and Mardi Gras appears in the rest of Louisiana as well. You will see marching bands, dancers and floats with bead throwers. Some communities even have parades featuring man’s best friend. Madisonville has a wooden boat parade on the river. They also throw beads.
All of these parades are family friendly. Just remember to bring a lawn chair and any snacks you desire. For more information, please contact Tanya Leader at (800) 634-9443 or louisiananorthshore.com
Folsom, LA: Global Wildlife Center
Enthusiastic young guides who provide antecdotes as well as a wealth of information about the history of the center and of the animals. The center only accepts hooved animals, no carnivores. Most are threatened or endangered and now roam free. In their 25 year history, they have gone from 100 to 4000 animals. The center boasts 900 acres as far as the eye can see from every vantage point. Deer, some fallow, some not, come from countries such as Iraq and Iran. Geese, flying south for the winter, have landed in their midst. These geese have become so obese that they can no longer fly north! It is fascinating to watch how all those species get along with one another.
You travel through property by a tram-like wagon where you are protected from the animals and the elements with roof and side canvases all around. You can buy a bucket of food for a modest price and feed the animals as you go. Llamas are beggars and can be fed from your hand. The Watusi Cattle from Africa have very long tongues and it is best to put the food in a cup and fill their mouths. If you are touched by a tongue, legend has it that you have seven years good luck! Another special animal is the Beefalo, a cross between bison and cattle to produce lean but tasty meat. Don’t feed the Zebras, though, no matter how much they beg because they bite! The giraffes didn’t come close because our February tour was cold. They come from Africa, so they don’t like cold weather, but we admired them from afar as they huddled against their shelter.
The center has a gift shop that has everything you need in the way of souveniers as well as many other choices. We had a wonderful time and plan to come back some day. Global Wildlife Center is located at 23689 Hwy 40 in Folsom, LA. Their website is: golbalwildlife.com
In Slidell: Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour
This protected wildlife area is both a moving river and a swamp, a 250 acre swamp. It is a stress free experience from beginning to end. When our boat was sitting still, no movement of the water is apparent. In fact it resembled a mirror with drops of diamonds dancing across it. Our February day rose to 70 degrees. The setting had a color palette of a powder blue sky with white puffy clouds with white cypress trees against the blue. Looking down, we saw circles of green around each tree resembling Christmas tree skirts, a magnificent scene, and pure solitude.
Of course, the boat will speed up to cover a lot of area to get the best view of everything. In addition to the Cypress, we saw maple trees with red leaves. As for wildlife, we saw two adorable raccoons who ran for the marshmallow our guide threw at them. At various stops along our way, we saw branches with three or four turtles sunning themselves. The alligators are dormant at this time, so we didn’t see any, but our guide spotted a diamondback snake which eerily blended into its surroundings. Our guide was extremely informative and went out of his way to show the children on the boat special things.
The swamp/river also has a number of bird species like egrets and bald eagles as well as many others. We intend to return when the red leaves on the maple trees and the cypress trees will all be in full color. This should happen by the middle of March. It will still be relatively cool,
so y’ all come. Address: 41490 Crawford Landing Road, Slidell, LA. Their Website: honeyislandswamp.com
Madisonville: Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum and Research Center:
A valuable asset to the area both for its history and the preservation of artifacts. Located on the banks of the Tchefuncte River, it is the site for the Jahncke Shipyard which built 300 foot wooden boats for use by the U.S. Navy during World War I. The museum has twelve thousand feet of exhibit space and has interpretive programs, exhibits and publications. A historic lighthouse sits at the mouth of the river and is accessible only by boat. You may drive to see it, however. The museum is located at 133 Mabel Dr. Website: LPBMM.org
Dining in the North Shore
All three of the restaurants mentioned here are highly recommended. We enjoyed the food so much that we want you to enjoy it too.
Mandeville: Times Grill.
A fun place. It is family owned and has an original menu. I had Catfish Tchefuncte which tasted more like a high end white fish; my hubby tried two burger choices: the buffalo burger called Buffaloded and the Sweet Heat Bacon Cheeseburger, a customer favorite. Website: timesgrill.com
Slidell: palmettos on the bayou
This restaurant’s history consists of starting out with a catering business run from a trailer to the beautiful restaurant they have now. The open – air dining rooms have a definite Carribean vibe with lush landscaping and flowers plus a water view of the Bayou Bonfouca. Both of us had the catch of the day, snapper, which is their signature dish. The menu is fascinating with many choices. Weddings and other events happen here as well. Website: palmettosrestaurant.com
Mandeville: The Lake House restaurant Sunday buffet.
History: The historic Bechac house used to be the summer home for the owners of a Mandeville plantation which was down the road. In 1830 the family lived above and below had a restaurant and a casino. New Orleans’ epidemics such as yellow fever forced residents up river or across Lake Ponchitrain where they arrived at the plantations. Today, the structure sits across the street from the lake and boasts several dining rooms both inside and out. The buffet has several stations where they make custom omelets and waffles and on the other side is a full buffet starting with Gumbo Ya Ya and salads, cheeses, entrees, sides and of course desserts. You must try the white chocolate bread pudding!
We had a round of mimosas then stuffed ourselves before we headed home. Website: lakeshorecuisine.com