By Chase Berenson
Spring is always a great time to get out of Baton Rouge and take a trip to St. Francisville. The flowers are in bloom at Afton Villa Gardens, the historic houses downtown look great, and the plantations around town are open for tours.
With so many potential activities, people sometimes forget to include nature walks on their St. Francisville itinerary. The Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve, located just a few miles east of town, is a 110-acre preserve that features approximately two miles of hiking trails. Unlike most other trail networks in southeast Louisiana, this nature preserve actually features topography. There are hills and ravines, with benches conveniently positioned on overlooks so you can pause to enjoy the scenery.
The preserve is heavily wooded, and the trails pass through dense forest. The ambient temperature drops as you enter the forest and the foliage begins to block out the sun, and the trails are a welcome respite on a warm day.
The most fascinating section of trail is the portion that travels through the loblolly pine trees. Loblollies grow to a height of over 100 feet, while the trunks average three or four feet in diameter. The trees have no low branches, and the dense forest canopy prohibits the growth of underbrush, which means the forest feels very open and expansive on the ground despite the thick tree growth.
Whenever there is a breeze above the loblolly pines, the trees sound like they’re singing. The breeze causes the trees to sway and the branches to knock into each other, sending reverberations through the hundred feet of trunk down to the ground. The branches drum against each other above the trail, which the trunks moan as they vibrate around the hikers.
Mother Nature is playing a song, using the loblollies as musical instruments, and the concert tickets are free to any audience members who venture out into the woods.
The trail comes to an end at the Preserve’s pond, which features a picnic area and a scenic gazebo. It’s a great spot to bring your lunch and enjoy the sunshine again after being in the cool and dark forest.
The Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve is located on Highway 965. If you turned from Highway 61 onto 965, it will be on the left in approximately five and a half miles. There aren’t signs for it, and it can be difficult to find. I drove by it three times before finally getting it right on the fourth go-round.