Harts Island Road, a 6.5-mile straight ribbon of road in South Caddo Parish just south of Shreveport, is a favorite of local cyclists during any season, but it’s particularly scenic during fall when the cotton fields are full and the leaves start falling along the path. Here are 10 reasons why we like it.
2. Pretty Sunsets
3. Sunrise Isn’t So Bad Either
4. Flat and Shady
5. Speed Limit 25 mph
6. Fall Color
7. Today’s Industry
8. Pretty Pasture Scenes
10. Lovely Live Oaks
A round trip on Harts Island Road makes a nice leisurely ride of 60 to 90 minutes. It’s not the car-free traffic of dedicated paths like the ones on both sides of the Red River, but it’s close. The only motorized transportation is the occasional farm truck or car going to one of the dozen or so houses along the strip. You can lengthen the ride by heading west on one of three roads intersecting with Harts Island–Robson Road, Hwy 175 or Ellerbe Road but expect more traffic and higher speed limits.
Going south on Highway 1, turn right on Hart’s Island just across from The Port of Shreveport-Bossier water tower. Drive less than a half mile to the Louisiana Pecan Research Station. If you’re interested in growing pecans, stop in and get some information. Otherwise, park along the side of the road, get on your bicycle and enjoy a beautiful fall ride.
What are your favorite spots along Harts Island Road or scenic bicycling routes you love around Shreveport-Bossier City?
When I became interested in bicycling again a few years back, I started reading up on old railroad beds that had been converted to bike trails.
No car traffic. Small towns, rural scenery, city waterfronts. Rest stops and water fountains along the away. Sounded great.
And it is.
My first rails-to-trails ride was on the Tammany Trace on an old Illinois Central corridor in South Louisiana. I rode the entire 27.6-mile trail and back during my 55th birthday weekend. It’s a beauty. Since that ride about four years ago, I’ve been to others, including the Katy Trail in Missouri, a 238-mile trail that stretches across most of the state. (For the record, my husband and I rode sections not the entire Katy Trail).
There are new trails to ride almost every day thanks to The Rails to Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a more bikeable and walkable America. Their website TrailLink.com contains a wealth of information on these trails–not only on rails-to-trails conversions but all traffic-free bicycle and pedestrian paths. You can find out about surface types, towns and things to do along the routes, user reviews and more. Most trails also have their own websites independent of TrailLink.com.
I have the TrailLink app on my phone that points me to nearby trails while I am traveling. A few like the Katy are crushed limestone, and we were glad we had hybrid bikes with wider tires when we rode. The trail was smooth but we couldn’t manage much more than 8 mph in places. I prefer the paved trails (either asphalt or concrete) with small towns to explore along the way.
There are plenty of rail-trails with all types of surfaces. According to TrailLink.com, there are now 1,997 miles of rail-trails comprising 22, 470 of miles in the United States. Another 777 trails are under construction.
Most rail-trails have speed limits of 15 mph or so, You aren’t competing with racing cyclists, but you are sharing the trail with pedestrians and, in some cases, equestrians and skateboarders.
There are some exciting rail-trails/greenways under development. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile project that will connect Maine to Key West, Florida and many Atlantic Coast cities between them. Closer to home, a 132-mile Northeast Texas Trail is being developed between surburban Dallas and the outskirts of Texarkana. Some sections are already open, but it’s a mix of gravel, crushed stone and asphalt. Study the map and read the comments on road conditions carefully before you head out.
One of my favorites to ride was the High Trestle Trailin Iowa, so named because it includes a 13-story converted railroad bridge over the Des Moines River. The bridge lights up at night giving the experience of riding through a tunnel. My current favorite is the one I rode most recently: Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi down the path of a railroad built by William Faulkner’s great grandfather. The fun is experiencing small towns along the route. You can read about my experience here.
Next month I’m going on vacation to Washington and Oregon, and I’ll be trying a couple more rail-trails.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy also has a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame–currently at 30 trails. They are recognized for such things as scenery, maintenance and community support. Here’s a few from that list:
Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in Wisconsin. This is the original rail-trail, opening in the 1960s. Wisconsin has a vast network of rail-trails, and we are just going to have to go back to Wisconsin to explore them all. We did enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail along Milwaukee’s lakefront and the rural Ahnapee State Trail in Door County, Wisconsin. The Elroy-Sparta is crushed limetone and features three tunnels. The 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta connects with three other trails to form 101 miles.
But I’m partial to the paved trails, so I’ll be exploring these Hall of Fame trails soon:
Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail: These trails join together for 95 continuous miles. The Silver Comet, named for a popular passenger train that traversed the route during the 1940s and 1950s, is the longest at 62 miles beginning on the east at Smyrna just outside Atlanta. At the Alabama line, it joins the 33-mile Chief Ladiga and proceeds to its western end at Anniston.
Longleaf Trace. This is one in my home state that I keep intending to try, but I have just not made it there yet. The route is mostly a rural 41 miles through fields and the trail’s namesake longleaf pine forests.
Seeing Longleaf Trace on the list makes me want to plan a trip tomorrow. Anybody want to ride with me?
I’m finally getting some jalapenos on the one plant in my garden. Last year I planted half a dozen jalapeno plants, and I had 127,661 jalapenos. Or so it seemed.
How many jalapeno poppers can I eat?
“Plenty” is really the answer, But since I’m cutting back on cheese-stuffed anything, that includes poppers. I scaled back on the jalapeno plants and looked for healthier ways to use the ones on my lone plant.
There’s nothing really special about backyard jalapenos. Supermarket ones are totally fine. But jalapenos are easy to grow. That gives a novice gardener like me more confidence.
Really, I like just about anything with jalapenos. When I scarfed down the green jalapeno peanut brittle I bought in the Texas Hill Country a few years ago, my eyes were opened to the possibilities jalapenos could bring to many other things.
I was over at the Minimalist Bakerblog one day and noticed this roasted jalapeno hummus recipe. Since tubs of Sabra’s hummus are becoming almost as common as ketchup bottles at our house, I figured I would try making my own with my backyard jalapenos.
This was easy as Minimalist Baker usually has recipes of 10 ingredients or less. The only baking here is roasting the jalapenos and garlic. At first, that intimidated me, but I forged ahead and loved the smell of both jalapenos and garlic roasting in my oven.
On a clear Saturday in the hiatus between the summer and fall Shreveport Farmers Market, I drove to Mahaffey Farms east of Haughton to buy some meat. When you visit, farmer Evan McCommon will let you wander around his pastures as he wants you to get a close view of how his cattle, pigs and chickens are raised.
“If all agriculture was transparent, it would change the way people eat,” says McCommon, who is doing his part in “being the change” in Shreveport-Bossier City. Mahaffey Farms, is at the forefront of the farm-to-table culture in North Louisiana.
Mahaffey Farms uses no chemicals, no pesticides, no hormones. The farm’s practices go beyond sustainable. As McCommon says, sustainable implies keeping things as they are. Regenerative agriculture makes things better — the soil, the environment and the way a community eats.
Those principles will be explored during a Food for Thought program on Oct. 5 at the Robinson Film Center in downtown Shreveport. The event will include a viewing of Polyfaces, a documentary on an Shenandoah Valley Virginia farm that has inspired Mahaffey Farms. Food from Mahaffey will be served at dinner, followed by the film and then a post screening discussion led by McCommon.
The family farm dates back to the 1920s. McCommon’s great uncle developed a large farming and timber operation that flourished there until the 1950s. McCommon began taking steps to revitalize farming there about five years ago. Visit Mahaffey Farms website to read, watch and listen as McCommon tells about the evolution of the farm.
The farm store is a modest converted garage but the freezers are well-stocked with grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and chicken products. Fresh produce is slim this time of year, but at other seasons you may find heirloom tomatoes, pinto beans, collard greens, etc. And there’s lard — cooking lard and soap. Lard is, after all, fat rendered from pork, and Mahaffey Farms doesn’t waste much of the pigs it raises.
I came away with some pork chops, pork tenderloin, andouille, bratwurst and eggs. I also came away with a greater resolve to eat more local food. (Pork tenderloin has already been prepared in a farmer’s market pepper jelly glaze and declared a hit at our house).
Getting There: From Louisiana Downs, drive five miles east on Highway 80 and turn left at East 80 Paint & Body. You’ll actually be on Mahaffey Road. Drive about a half mile down, and the road will bend left toward the farm. You’ll know you’re there when you see a rusty heirloom tractor with the simple stenciled Mahaffey Farms sign.
Saturday hours are 8 am to 1 pm until the Shreveport Farmers Market opens again on Oct. 22. Weekdays, it’s open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday. (You may want to call 318-949-6249 to make sure someone is available to give a free tour). McCommon’s mother, Sandra Evans, has a bed and breakfast at the farmhouse, which can be booked on airbnb.com. Reviews are great for the farm fresh breakfast!
Hubby and I were new to bicycling when one of the first trips we made was to Little Rock, Arkansas.
I had read that the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians was the Big Dam Bridge (name explanation to come later). So we loaded up our bikes and headed to Arkansas to check it out.
We made a day trip of it then and just piddled around riding along the Arkansas River Trail on both sides of the Big Dam Bridge. But we’ve been back since for a weekend and will go back again to this bicycling jewel just three hours away from our home in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Big Dam Bridge, which celebrates its 10th birthday today, spans 4,226 linear feet across the Arkansas River seven miles west of downtown. As for the name: The story goes that when funding was an issue, a county judge said “we are going to build the dam bridge” and declared he was talking about its location over the Murray Lock and Dam. Others took it another away.
Whatever the name origin, the Big Dam Bridge has been a beacon of health and fitness activities in a southern state better known for rice and gravy.
Big Dam Bridge is a climax of the 16-mile Arkansas River Trail that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock. Most, but not all, of the trail is a dedicated path with no car traffic. There’s two other downtown Little Rock bridges where you can bicycle over the Arkansas River, including one right by the Clinton Presidential Library. Yet another bridge, west of Big Dam Bridge, is at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle rivers and takes you to the 1,000-acre Two Rivers Park. More on the four bridges here.
Riding over the bridges may be entertainment enough, but we discovered there’s lots to see within a stone’s throw of the bicycle trail. The trail connects to 38 parks and six museums. On the south bank of the river (or Little Rock side), you have the state capitol, River Market (farmers market, shops and restaurants) and the Clinton Presidential Library. On the North Little Rock side, you pass the USS Razorback WWII-era submarine and get a glimpse of the scenery that earns Arkansas the nickname “the Natural State.”
One North Little Rock natural spot is an area known as Big Rock, where the river Delta meets Ouachita (pronounced Wash-i- taw)Mountains just a bit off the trail. There once was a quarry there that made railway ballast for 100 years. A smaller rock outcropping on the south side was named “Le Petit Rocher” or “the Little Rock” by a French explorer.
What impressed me on my visits was the mix of people using the trail — overweight individuals struggling a bit but pushing forward on the Big Dam Bridge incline; families with children in bicycles with training wheels and one or even two in baby strollers; old folks, couples and singles walking dogs (and availing themselves of the dog waste bags provided); and serious cyclists/runners in mesh jerseys or no shirt at all.
The Big Dam Bridge 100, the largest bicycling event in Arkansas, will draw crowds to Little Rock Sept. 24. (There are shorter distances in addition to a century ride). I’m not participating that day, but I look forward to enjoying bicycling in Little Rock again soon.
Arkansas River Trail website. If you want more than 16 miles, you’ll find extended rides that go out to scenic Pinnacle Mountain State Park or the 88.5-mile Grand Loop traversing several Arkansas counties on a mix of paved paths, on-road bicycle lanes and rural roads.
Little Rock’s Arkansas River Trail is one of the bicycling spots featured in a new 45-page glossy Arkansas Road Cycle Guide. It’s a wonderful publication with routes segmented by easy, moderate and difficult. You can download it here or have it mailed to you.(There’s a separate guide for mountain cycling enthusiasts).
Magnolia, Arkansas, 75 miles north of Shreveport, is an appealing town of 12,000 with retail still going on around the courthouse square.
Today when many downtowns have turned to payday loan centers and junk stores to fill space, it’s refreshing to see clothing stores, local pharmacies, a jewelry store, bakery and even a boutique hotel on the square.
I spent a few hours bicycling around town last Saturday, and I’ll just go ahead and say that part did not go well. Hubby David accompanied me but decided it was too hot and better to enjoy the shade of the magnolia trees around the courthouse and the lush pine grove at Southern Arkansas University. A wise choice that day.
I wrecked and tumbled over the handlebars while riding my bicycle on the path on the campus of Southern Arkansas University. The path was very smooth and well-maintained, an asset to the campus and town. Purely cyclist error on my part.
My thoughts vacillate between “everybody falls now and then, I just need to be more careful next time” to “no, that attitude is too flippant. I could have really hurt myself. I need to find a safer activity to enjoy.”
Before the fall, I cruised around the side streets of downtown Magnolia.
Magnolia is known for its murals painted on the sides of corner buildings. They are charming and colorful and depict Magnolia’s agricultural and oil and gas roots. One of the murals pays tribute to the cinema. It’s painted on the side of what was once the Macco Theater, one of six local theaters plus two drive-ins that once were in Magnolia. Sadly, there are none today since The Cameo closed in 2012.
I enjoyed popping into the Magnolia Bake Shop, which has been in operation since 1928. The building looked bland, but there was a line inside, which I figured was a good sign. The pig and blanket and strawberry cupcake that I got were both delicious. I liked the small town prices–$1.19 for the cupcake!
Next door was Stephens Olde Tyme Country Store in the former Macco Theater building. Only the painted palm trees on the front window gave a clue to the store’s bread and butter business–swimming pool maintenance and supplies. I had a nice chat with owners Leesa & Eddie Stephens, who are doing their part in making downtown interesting by adding a large selection of unique toys that you won’t find at the local Wal-Mart, their own brand of jellies and store displays that are worth stepping inside to see–including a large refinished card catalog, a 100-year-old pea thrasher (Emerson, Arksansas just l4 miles away is home to the annual Purplehull Pea Festival)
I didn’t make it to Lois Gean’s, the store that Magnolia is best known for. The shop carries lines from leading women’s fashion designers and has been written up in Women’s Wear Dailyand other publications. I didn’t figure the store’s owners would appreciate a sweaty cyclist mingling with the haute couture.
Earlier in the summer, there’s a farmer’s market, Le Marche des Lois Gean’s right in the Lois Gean’s parking lot. I’ll come back for that! David and I did wander over to the Fred’s parking lot, where a man was peddling watermelons. We bought one because we have had some good ones from southwest Arkansas before, but this one was a bust.
Magnolia wasn’t its liveliest on a Saturday in late August, although just days before downtown was abuzz with activity when Blue and Gold Day, a new tradition, brought SAU’s 4,000 or so students to a square for a good time of school spirit and community pride building.
Another busy time downtown is the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival each May with a steak cook-off that is so competitive that it has been on the Food Network.
Magnolia is proud of its small university as it should be. The campus is shaded by a lovely pine grove. There’s the aforementioned pedestrian/bike path, a duck pond, outdoor Greek style amphitheater, spacious rodeo arena and new buildings in a day when many strapped small colleges show no construction going on at all. SAU was recently named by BestValueSchools.com as the 6th most affordable small college in the country. And its mascot, the Mulerider, is unique, right up there with TCU’s Horned Frogs and Penn State’s Nittany Lions.
The downtown area and side streets are really not conducive to cycling so the best bet is the path and farm road (a little over a two-mile loop) around SAU. You can extend the ride by cycling through the residential neighborhoods on the east side of campus and wind up behind the Flyer Burger Restaurant, which has good reviews on Yelp for its burgers and seafood.
Also, going north from SAU is Columbia County Road 13 to McNeil. It’s part of a 65-mile “Tour of Columbia County” loop around Magnolia included in the Arkansas Road Cycling Guide recently published by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. You can view it here.
I’d have to be in a large group and fully recovered from my fall to try that. The route, which extends to Highway 98 east of Magnolia, is a bit hilly and curvy in places, and I’m not sure too many rural Arkansans are used to seeing bicycles on the road.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way