Biking Beach Boulevard
This month, ride along with local wildlife photographer Chris Christofferson as she bikes Hancock County's 12 mile beach road, starting at Cedar Point and ending at Bayou Caddy - story and photos by P. Chris Christofferson
Cedar Point boat launch at the end of North Beach Blvd is public and leased by Hancock County from the Hollywood Casino, which sits with its golf course across from the launch inlet. It has two launch ramps, a covered bench area, two port-o-lets (but no water spigots), lights on from dusk to dawn, a small fishing deck and a surrounding bay wall. It's the perfect place for fishing the bay, since it has a generous parking area. A peaceful place to sit and observe beauty of the north bay and mouth of the Jordan river and be expectantly watched by a few egrets and laughing gulls, waiting on treats.
From the boat launch to the intersection of North Beach Blvd and Hwy 90 at 2.9 miles, there is only street biking, but the bay wall supports walkers and fishermen to the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club at 2.5 miles. Speed restriction is 25 mph which seemed well regarded by the locals.
Wetlands from the boat launch to the first group of homes, several of these being rentals with private piers. As I leaned on my handlebars for a few minutes, absorbing its pristine, serene beauty, many birds flitted through singing and calling. I recognized a laughing gull, Brewer’s blackbirds, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, Carolina chickadees and a red-headed woodpecker, amid other bird songs I couldn’t identify. What a satisfying beginning for this adventure!
1.5 - 2.3 Miles
I had never noticed before, but there are several ladders into the water for easy climbing back onto the wall. Given no beach from the boat launch until Bay Waveland Yacht Club, it’s convenient.
Bay Waveland Yacht Club. A private yacht club, started in 1896 and beautifully rebuilt.
2.5 - 2.8 Miles
The only beach front on this section of North Beach Blvd is between the yacht club and Hwy 90, but it is all privately owned by the residents across the street.
North Beach Blvd crosses Hwy 90 at the St. Louis Bay Bridge. The fabulously rebuilt bridge’s lit biking and walking lane provides a spectacular view of the bay with parking available across the street at its foot.
From the bridge to this point, which is .4 mile, the beautifully manicured white sand beach behind the privately owned fenced gazebo is directly accessible. But, then, at the beginning of the tiered flood wall there is cable running the length of the walkway at the top preventing one from going down the stairs to the beach all the way into Bay St. Louis behind The Blind Tiger. This morning, the first flock of birds I saw were about 20 laughing gulls. Strange to me, that only a very few great blue herons and egrets were seen to this point and no pelicans; but lots of songbirds on the wetland and house side of the road.
Jimmy Rutherford Pier in the Bay St. Louis marina is the longest of the five public piers on the beach road and is brand new, with overhead lights. It is very conveniently connected to a ramp for short-term boat tie ups. It has two covered sections with benches, but doesn’t allow bait-cutting or net fishing and has no water spigots. The marina dock offers restrooms.
The newly opened Bay St. Louis Harbor has permanent, as well as transient docking available with full amenities and a huge parking lot, usable for festivals as well. Interestingly, here is no boat launch. Here on North Beach Blvd, the Bay Town Inn tree (which saved three lives during Hurricane Katrina) sculpted into angels, is a delightful spot to lounge on the bench at its base and watch the bustling street and bay action.
From Cedar Point boat launch to Main Street Bay St. Louis. The bay side has restaurants and private businesses furiously being erected. Bay St. Louis was recently reported as the fastest growing town on the coast. If you’re still with me, and want to use Main Street as mile marker zero, instead of Cedar Point, obviously just subtract 3.6 from the following distances.
3.7 - 3.9 Miles
Our Lady Academy, Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church and St. Stanislaus College. The name of the beach road changes from North Beach Blvd to South Beach Blvd at the intersection of Main Street. A tiered floodwall with sidewalk runs from the railroad tracks to the newly rebuilt Washington Street Pier and pavilion.
Washington St. Pier and Pavilion is a very popular recreation center of Hancock County which supports a double boat launch and fishing pier as well as a pavilion (available for rentals), generous parking, 200 feet white pure sand beach and bathrooms. Friday morning, a van was in the parking lot offering kayaks for rent.
The rebuilt Washington Street Pier seems to be the most basic of all five public piers along the beach road, with no coverings and no water spigots. However, there are rail lights on dusk to dawn and handicap accessibility.
I saw about 20 laughing gulls, one great blue heron, two egrets and on the rocks at the beach about 60 pigeons, lolling in the sun. In the marsh grass, there was a red-winged blackbird and, I think, an Eastern kingbird.
From Washington Street in Bay St. Louis into Waveland for 4.5 miles , there is a remarkably fabulous, approximately 200 feet wide, stretch of a man-made white sand beach with protective sand dunes and the first biking path as well as a walking path, well-groomed by the county. Garbage cans are intermittently placed, which, aggravatingly, seem too often ignored by day-beachers. Car parking, on the land side is intermittently available (with care to not get stuck if the sand is too deep or wet). This is a gorgeous stretch which we can be so very proud of its rebuilding even better 10 years out!
At the Waveland/Bay St. Louis city line, the name of the road changes BACK to South Beach Blvd. Both cities have a South Beach and North Beach Boulevard - even though it's all the same road.
What struck me was that in the area of Ballantine to St Charles, the sand dunes are higher than the bike path so there is always, but particularly with a stiff breeze, build up over the path. I had to be careful my bike tires didn’t slide, with me landing on my tusch.
Nicholson Ave is a main road to the beach from the Hwy 603 and 607 intersection. At the corner of Nicholson on the hill of a private, Katrina empty lot is a swing which withstood Katrina and is often the site for wedding photos or just folks relaxing, since they're able to gaze all the way to the ship channels in the bay. Unfortunately for beachers, for a couple of hundred yards on either side of Nicholson, the sand is full of broken oyster shells which make it so very uncomfortable to sit, painful to walk without shoes, and very unsightly, compared to the pristine sand to this point and after the drainage canal at Sarah’s Lane at 6.4 miles.
According to Lisa Cowand, president of the Hancock Board of Supervisors, they are aware of this problem and want it cleaned. But, that area of the beach (being a corp of engineer initial project) poses difficult logistics, which she says is taking time to rectify. The reddish-brown color of the water flowing into the bay at the Sarah’s Lane drainage canal is from iron ore deposits in the soil, and not a dangerous discharge to beach walkers, again, according to Lisa Cowand.
Garfield Ladner Memorial Pier. I hope its revival will be the gem needed to jump-start Waveland development. It recently reopened in June. To me, it has it all. A long, wide pier with overhead lights on from dusk to dawn, six covered stations with benches, lights directed into the water for night fishing, plenty of parking and porto-o-lets planned.
This is the only public pier on the beach road to have water spigots interspersed on the pier,which I think is a huge amenity. Before it closed because of Hurricane Isaac damage, it required a fee, but none is to be required at present. There are even six sand volleyball courts and a wide beach. Even early afternoon Friday there were a lot of beachers. A snowball truck was there and very popular that hot afternoon.
The City of Waveland Veterans Memorial park is as poignant and beautiful as any I’ve ever seen. At the water’s edge by the volleyball courts, I saw four peeps and a sanderling, for the first time, with a few laughing gulls.Destination America-Red White and You is sponsoring a spectacular celebration at the pier for the 4th of July with rides, food and awesome fireworks. It couldn’t be a better introduction to the community of the newly renovated pier!
Coleman Ave is Waveland’s main street, all new construction post-Katrina. North Beach Blvd becomes South Beach Blvd at this intersection. By the time I reached here, about 2:30 PM, my suntan lotion was sweated off and, out of bottled water, I was really thirsty. Port-of-Call General Store on Coleman is the perfect beach general store. Soft drinks, beer, ice, beach food, fresh fruit, t-shirts, first aid including suntan lotion, beach toys, towels and lots more. It is invaluable as the only general store close to the beach the entire 11.7 of beach road. It even rents bicycles. Refreshed, I was back on my bike to finish this survey of the beach road’s delectable offerings.
St. Clare Catholic Church at the intersection of South Beach Blvd with Vacation Lane is the 3rd and last church on the beach road, all 3 having been rebuilt after Katrina with current robust congregations.
This ends the man-made, extensive sandy beach at a private pier with the beginning of a bay wall, satisfactory for fishing and walking, but bike riding is relegated to the road the rest of the way to Silver Slipper Casino at the 11.7 mile mark. Touring RVs of all sizes on their way to Buccaneer State Park and Silver Slipper crowd other bicyclists with few honoring the 25mph speed limit. Encounters can get tense.
Buccaneer State Park. Camping, water slides and pools and recreation pavilions with full bathrooms, all for a fee, make this a well-maintained, deservedly praised and very popular summer family destination.
Waveland City limits and beginning of Clermont Harbor. The wetlands with teeming songbirds, egrets and the occasional great blue heron are unspoiled and magical. From here to the Clermont Harbor fishing pier at 10.4 mile, there’s a couple of outcropping, small, untended beaches and very intermittent roadside parking.
Clermont Harbor Pier, just past Bordage street, is public with 14 covered units and benches, side rail lighting on from dusk to dawn, but no water spigots or port-o-lets and limited roadside parking. However, with Buccaneer State Park and the Silver Slipper Casino nearby, it seemed a very popular and congenial place on Friday afternoon.
This begins the man-made and beautifully maintained white sand beach to the Silver Slipper at 11.7 miles. This stretch also supports a casino RV park in between stretches of gorgeous, untouched wetlands. Road traffic is heavy on weekend afternoons, so bikers need to be attentive, stick close to the side of the road and beware of vehicles exceeding the 26 MPH speed limit.
Silver Slipper Casino - the end! A lovely hotel has just been added to the casino and first-class restaurant as a confident investment in the future of Hancock county. I ducked into the air-conditioned casino lobby (shock) at 4:15PM, weary, dirty, sunburned and sweaty, to be met by the cacophonous sounds of scores of slot machines and a collage of bright color. The juxtaposition was intense after a leisurely day of pedaling to the rhythm of soft breeze whispers, song birds, cricket chirps, frog calls, and lapping waves and visions of picture-perfect beach beauty, shore birds foraging, shrimpers on the horizon, fishermen on piers and walls and a clear blue sky. Obviously, the Bay/Waveland beach road attracts all personalities, exactly as it should!
The intrepid community investment in the beach road, both in conservation and development, is a resounding success ten years after disaster ferociously struck.
We should be proud, my neighbors, as we stay diligent protecting this little piece of heaven. Lisa Cowand informs me upgrades are in the future, but I can only hope none of the rustic charm is lost in the process and it is only enhanced.