I can still hear it; the late night labored chug-chug of the old steam locomotive as it attempted to gain speed to make the grade of Oshkosh hill.
The railroad track lay like a ribbon atop the raised dump that served as foundation for the Louisiana and Arkansas (L and A) spur of the KCS railroad that cut a swath through the pines and hardwoods a quarter mile behind our country home.
My brother, Tom and our cousins, Doug and Sam as a way of seeking adventure, would save our pennies to lay on the track, gathering the copper circles after the train passed. The result was pennies the size of half-dollars. Obviously, we were easily entertained.
By the time I left home, the old railroad line had been discontinued with the rails and cross-ties removed. Over the years, saplings and briars grew on the old road bed. Even the old tank pond that furnished water for the locomotive and where the four of us learned to swim, had been reduced to a trickle and choked with brush.
Decades later, my cousin Doug and another Goldonna product, John Tarver, had a dream. Tarver had learned of a federal Rails to Trails program that provided grant money to convert old abandoned railroad lines to open trails that could be used for outdoors recreation. Today, the 62 miles of what was the L and A rail line still sees lots of traffic. Trains no long run there, but joggers do along with hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
Doug Harris provided some insight recently on the project that has been in operation for several years.
“Dr. John Tarver bought the right-of-way from the railroad for the sole purpose of converting the old road bed to a recreation trail. The trail stretches from Winnfield to Sibley just south of Minden for 62 miles. The entire length of the trail is open to hikers and bikers while 18 miles of the trail are available for use for horseback riding,” Harris said.
“The main funding source for this project has come from grant monies from the federal Rails to Trails program. In addition, a small annual membership fee of $25 is charged for trail users age 16 and older. This money generates enough funds for incidental expenses such as utilities, telephone, mail-outs, postage and such,” he added.
The trail sees quite a bit of utilization, especially in spring. Harris said that membership numbers have grown to 1400 to 1500 as word of this popular venture spreads.
“We have members from all over the state as well as quite a few from out-of-state who have heard of what we have to offer here,” said Harris.
Incidentally, while talking with Ruston City Marshall Mike Hilton recently, he mentioned he holds a membership and enjoys use of the trail.
A web site that addresses this particular Rails to Trails program has this to say about what travelers along the trail may experience.
“Louisiana trails present a spectacular path through majestic hardwood and pine forests towering overhead as you pass through part of the Kisatchie National Forest. The multi-use corridor is popular with families, equestrians, hikers, mountain bikers, joggers, ATV users and bird watchers.”
Interested in joining or just want to know more about Louisiana Rails and Trails? Call Doug Harris at 318/727-8860, or visit www.louisianatrails.org" www.louisianatrails.org and download an application. Complete it, send it in with your $25 check and you’ll be mailed a membership card, giving you access seven days a week to this wonderful piece of rural north Louisiana.