Greetings and salutations,
In my last two posts, I shared words and photos about New Orleans and the Jazz and Heritage Festival. For the past four years when visiting the area, we stayed at the campground at Fontainebleau State Park located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain just east of the town of Mandeville. This 2800 acre park was once the site of a sugar cane plantation and mill operated by wealthy landowner Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, commonly known as Bernard de Marigny. Born in 1785 in New Orleans, he was a third generation descendant of a wealthy French Creole family. His father died when Bernard was in his teens thus inheriting a fortune in land and money. After his father’s death, he is described as “headstrong as a wild mustang” and totally “out of control.” His guardians shipped him off to London where they thought he could be tamed but he spent most of his time in gambling halls. When he returned to New Orleans, he is said to have brought back a dice game, now known as craps. Later he founded what was known then as the Louisiana Race Course, now known as the New Orleans Fairgrounds and Racetrack, the home of JazzFest. See the connection?!!
One of Marigny’s many land holdings was on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Since he always seemed to be in debt and needing money, he developed a sugar plantation and mill on the land. He named the plantation Fontainebleau after the beautiful Fontainebleau Forest near Paris, once the playground of the kings. He also mapped out the nearby town of Mandeville, naming it after his given family name. In 1868, Marigyn died broke gambling away his fortune. Eventually, the State of Louisiana acquired the property and converted it into a state park.
The Fontainebleu State Park offers visitors and campers lots of opportunities for recreation. The sandy beach is a great way to relax, enjoy the sun and cool off in the shallow waters of Lake Pontchartrain.
The nearby pier is a great way to catch the breezes and watch the many birds swoop around looking for food.
There are a number of walking and hiking trails within the park. You may ask: “have you seen any alligators on the Alligator Marsh Boardwalk?” The answer is: “No, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there!” Apparently, there is a resident alligator in a pond near the beach, not sure that’s true but make a wide swath around the pond when out walking.
Near the entrance to the park is the Tammany Trace, a 31 mile rails to trails bike path that is very popular. I like that it’s flat and paved!
In this photo, a school group is enjoying the park, playing games and having lunch.
There are remnants of the sugar mill still visible in the undergrowth. The following are a few photos of the old structure.
Fontainebleau State Park is home to some of the largest and oldest live oak trees in Louisiana and the deep South. The live oaks grow in a range close to the warm, humid weather of the Gulf of Mexico. Some specimens in this range are said to be up to 1500 years old! The branches of live oaks frequently support other plants such as drapings of Spanish moss. These oaks are home to many species of wildlife and birds. Here are a few photos of live oaks in Fontainebleau.
When we arrived at the park to check into the campground, the attendant instructed us to follow the road through the park and turn right at the dead tree. It was the first time in four years that we were given these directions. During previous trips, we’ve stopped on our walks to admire this tree but didn’t know it’s story. It was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina and the park staff didn’t have the heart to cut it to the ground. The leafless tree stands tall as a lookout seemingly for the other trees. I have a new found appreciation and respect for its strength and steadfastness. Even some of the Spanish moss still clings to it for support and life.
Hope you enjoyed this brief visit to Fontainebleau State Park. Just so you know, we’ll be back again next year.
Until next week, take care and safe travels.