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Best Reason to Go to the Northshore

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What? Leave the city? Go to McMansionville? Aw, get over yourself.

New Orleans is working on putting in bike paths, and the lakefront is always a pleasant pedal on a nice day, but the metro area's best place for a bike ride is on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain: the Tammany Trace, St. Tammany's 'rails-to-trails" project, and " sorry, urban folks who can't imagine crossing the Causeway " it's something that just can't be duplicated on the south shore.

The best news on the Trace is the opening this week of the new Bayou Lacombe bridge, which is another link in the bike trail between Covington and Slidell. It replaces a decrepit 100-year-old railroad bridge that was an impediment in the otherwise unimpeded 31-mile stretch between the two cities.

You can start riding anywhere on the trail, of course, but a good place is downtown Covington, where the trailhead recently was remodeled with a new little pavilion (and a big statue of President Ronald Reagan). From there, it's a 2.7-mile ride across the Bogue Falaya River into downtown Abita Springs, a popular stop because of the Abita Brew Pub that beckons bikers to take a break (and a brew). Don't miss John Preble's U-C-M Museum, a roadside attraction world-famous among fans of the freaky.

From Abita, the next trailhead is 4.5 miles away and is marked with a green caboose and a ranger station. There's more to do at the next stop, the Mandeville Trailhead (4.3 miles), which offers a big pavilion, springtime concerts and a Saturday farmers' market that's open all year round, as well as a splash fountain that's full of kids on hot days. (This is also the place to rent bikes by the day or half-day.)

The next attraction is Fontainebleau State Park, a 2,800-acre green space on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. Katrina chewed it up pretty badly, but the reconstruction has been steady. There are campsites of various levels of rusticity, as well as cabins, RV pads and plenty of areas for barbecues and picnics.

I'm fond of the next stop, the Bayou Lacombe Trailhead, just because Lacombe is the most isolated and atmospheric town on the lakefront, with cemeteries to explore, ancient live oaks and pines to admire, and a feel unlike any other city on the Northshore.

I've never made the 5.3-mile trek from Lacombe Harbor to the trail's terminus at the Slidell-Carollo Trailhead, but now that the bridge is in, I think I'll take it one day and check out Slidell's 9/11 Memorial in Heritage Park, which contains steel from the Trade Towers and a hunk of limestone from the Pentagon. That is, if I don't get stuck at the Abita Brew Pub.

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