The eagles have landed along the Kincaid Loop Trail bordering Kincaid Lake, and it’s where they’ll stay until their chicks are raised.
For now, the fledglings are daring to look over the nest’s edge. There are two in all — two more to add to the nation’s once endangered bald eagle population.
“They are really impressive to see,” Steve Shively said. “And they make some magnificent aerial runs over the lake when they’re hunting for food.”
Shively is a biologist for the Calcasieu District of the Kisatchie National Forest. He keeps an eye on the eagles, noting that they leave during the summer and return to the same spot in the same tree in November to ready their nest for new offspring.
Material at a kiosk at the trail head tells the eagles’ story, then notes that the nest can be found 1.7 miles along the trail which begins at the edge of the day use area, where picnic tables are sheltered by individual roofs and there is a white, sandy beach swimming area whose restrooms are equipped with showers. The recreation complex also offers modern camping facilities in two areas, along with primitive camping in a third. A primitive campground has no electricity or running water, and its restrooms offer only vault toilets. That’s a modern-day outhouse in case anyone is wondering.
And all of this comes together in a backyard getaway of sorts. Because all of this is part of the Kisatchie National Forest near Alexandria. It’s here, and the drive to the Kincaid Lake Recreation Area is almost three hours from Baton Rouge, relatively short in this day of high gas prices. The destination is one that offers sights that many travelers might think can be found only in other states: hiking trails, green forest land, sandstone springs, scenic overlooks reminiscent of those found in mountainous national parks and bald eagles nesting in viewing distance. It’s all here.
“National Geographic chose Alexandria as one of the top 10 adventure towns in January 2012, and that was because of Kisatchie,” Amy Robertson said. Robertson is a public information officer for the Kisatchie National Forest. She works in the supervisor’s office in Pineville, which serves as forest headquarters.
It’s interesting to note at this point that the headquarters neighbors the site where stood Louisiana Seminary of Learning, which was established in 1853 with William Tecumseh Sherman as its president. The school’s name was changed to Louisiana State University when it was moved to Baton Rouge after the war.
Sherman, of course, was no longer president, nor is his name found on any building on campus.
Still, the original LSU site is in Pineville and is owned and maintained by the National Forest Service. A walking trail winds through the site, around bases for the towers that once fronted the school’s main buildings. The walking trail is open to visitors, and a marker provides a written history for the site.
As for Kisatchie, it is the state’s only national forest. It is named for the Kichai tribe of the Caddoan Indian Confederacy and covers more than 604,000 acres in the state’s old growth piney hills and hardwood bottoms in Grant, Natchitoches, Winn, Rapides, Vernon, Claiborne and Webster parishes. The forest was designated in 1930 during President Herbert Hoover’s first administration through the efforts of the Louisiana Forestry Department and its botanist and preservationist Caroline Dormon.
The forest now operates five ranger districts in the north-central part of the state: Calcasieu, Caney, Catahoula, Kisatchie and Winn.
These districts combine to offer more than 40 developed recreation sites and more than 100 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, all-terrain vehicle use and horseback riding. Fishing and hunting also are allowed.
The Kincaid Lake Recreation Area is located in the Evangeline Unit of the Calcasieu Ranger District. It stands next-door to the Valentine Lake Recreation Area, both of which are located 12 miles west of Alexandria. Kincaid Lake’s picnic and swimming areas opened in early May and will remain open through Labor Day. Its campgrounds remain open throughout the year. Also, the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail begins at this complex and stretches 25 miles around the lake to end in the town of Woodworth.
Valentine Lake Recreation Area, meantime, offers primitive camping, picnicking and non-motorized fishing on its 46-acre lake.
The scenery drastically changes when traveling about 45 minutes north into the Kisatchie Ranger District. Really, who knew streams with sandstone rapids flowed through Louisiana? And who would ever have guessed that even the flattest of states would have breathtaking scenic overlooks? Such sights can only be found by traveling to, say, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway, right? Admittedly, the Kisatchie National Forest’s versions are somewhat scaled down in comparison, but the fact remains that such sights are in the state, and all can be found along the Longleaf Vista Trail Scenic Byway.
This 17-mile road provides access to trails, recreation areas and picnic areas. “It was designated one of the first national scenic byways in the 1980s,” Mike Dawson said. Dawson is the district ranger. He points out places of interest while driving along the byway, stopping at a popular scenic overlook that offers a view of the Kisatchie Wilderness Area.
“The wilderness area used to stretch from Texas to Sicily Island,” he said. “I’ll come here and watch as people come here and picnic. Some just drive up and look out at the overlook and leave. And we have a 1-mile trail that circles through the wilderness area below. This place is well-used.”
The overlook is one of three along the byway with the third venturing through a stand of moss-covered trees and ending at a distant view of where the Creole Catholic church of St. Augustine stands along the Cane River.
This is the view that is like no other in Louisiana, because it’s here where visitors will realize the byway runs along a ridge that borders the wilderness area, which creates an illusion of standing in the mountains.
Breezes are even cool here in Louisiana’s dead summer heat.
“There are always breezes up here,” Dawson said.
The district also offers the 36-mile Sandstone Trail for all terrain vehicles and hikers, the Caroline Dormon Trail for horseback riding and primitive camping opportunities. But probably the most popular spot for summer fun in this district is the Kisatchie Bayou Recreational Area. It’s found by turning left on Forest Service Road 321 and driving about seven miles into what feels like the unknown. That is, until a small camping area comes into view.
“The first thing you sense is water running over rocks,” Dawson said. “Some people call it ‘white water light.’A lot of people go rafting or tubing here.”
The rapids continue in the distance.
“But the closer the creek gets to the Red River, the more it becomes a bayou,” Dawson said.
Meaning, the water smooths out and flows more slowly. Bear in mind that though Kisatchie Bayou is a developed area with camping pads and steps down to the small sandy beach and water, there is no running water here. Well, except for the creek.
“You have to remember to bring your drinking water if you want to camp here,” Dawson said. “We have camp sites up and down the creek, and you can hear the water at every site. You can sleep well to that sound.”
And speaking of sleeping, Dawson can’t help laughing at a sudden thought. His grandchildren recently were lulled to sleep by the water, but not its sound.
“I brought them here, and they played all day,” he said. “They piled up rocks to dam up the creek, to make the water deeper, then broke the dam, and by the time they crawled into the car, they were exhausted. They slept all the way home.”
That’s how Dawson likes to end his day — quietly. Not like a few weeks ago when a heavy rain raised the creek above bank level and completely washed away the steps leading to the water.
“We’re going to start rebuilding the steps soon,” Dawson said.
There’s no use in fretting over it. Nature is nature, whether it’s high water or bald eagles returning to the same tree each year to build a six-foot nest.
And it’s all found in the Kisatchie National Forest.
The Evangeline Unit features the Kincaid Lake Recreation Area, Valentine Lake Recreation Area and the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail. The unit also includes the remains of Camp Claiborne, a U.S. Army post during World War II.
The Vernon Unit features Fullerton Lake, Enduro Trailhead Camp and Hunter’s Camp. Wildlife in the area include the Red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the few birds endemic to the United States. Many colonies are in the Vernon Unit.
The Caney Lakes Unit features the Beaver Dam Campground and the Turtle Slide Campground.
The Middle Fork Unit offers the primitive Bucktail Camp and Turkey Trot Camp.
The Corney Lake Unit features the south shore campground, the north shore camp, and Sugar Creek hunter’s camp.
Kisatchie National Forest
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