Nearly 10 years after St. Tammany Parish negotiated the deal to purchase Camp Salmen to preserve the 106-acre site for public use, the former Boy Scouts bivouac will welcome its first visitors Saturday afternoon at a grand opening celebration.
The event will begin with guided walks on Camp Salmen Nature Park's interpretive trails at 1:30 and 2 p.m., followed by a presentation and flag-raising by Parish President Kevin Davis at 2:30 p.m. The 1944 Big Band will perform from 3 to 5 p.m.
The parish is encouraging visitors to bring ice chests and chairs for picnic-style seating at Camp Salmen, which is located on U.S. 190, less than a mile east of Northshore Boulevard. Temporary signs on U.S. 190 will lead visitors down a new road leading to the park, as the parish had not yet decided Tuesday on a name for the road, said Tom Beale, a parish spokesman.
Originally donated by Fritz Salmen of the Salmen Brick and Lumber Company to the Boy Scouts in 1924, the site served as the primary regional Boy Scouts camp in Southeast Louisiana until 1983, when the organization left St. Tammany Parish for a larger, more rural site in nearby Kiln, Miss. The parish worked with the Trust for Public Land to purchase the property in 2001 and secured federal grants to fully acquire the property in 2004.
The interpretive trails include paths and a raised boardwalk along Bayou Liberty that is expected to measure more than five miles by year's end. In addition, families can gather at the park's 5,000 square-foot, open-air pavilion -- the site of the former Scout dining hall.
The new Order of the Arrow Garden, which contains the nearly 200-year-old Camp Salmen Live Oak and is surrounded by new plantings and brick ruins, pays tribute to the ritual of honoring top Scouts at the end of each summer.
Officials hope in later years to further transform the site, building a welcome center at the park's entrance, an administrative building, additional pavilions and an amphitheater at the bayou's edge with a dock leading to the old Salmen Lodge, which is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The plan is to convert the lodge, which likely served as the first trading post in the Bayou Liberty region and later as the camp director's residence, into a museum to teach school children about the history of the building and the area, officials have said. Teachers would be able to bring their students to the "outdoor classroom" that the park will provide, while another building would house a museum showcasing Scout culture.
Officials also want to restore the flag pole area and a monument to Fritz Salmen, who with his family donated all 106 acres that comprise the site. The parish purchased an additional 30 acres to build the new road leading into the park from U.S. 190.
Further, the parish plans to build a bike path through the park, with the idea of connecting it to the Tammany Trace in the future. The Trace now stops at Neslo Road, not far from the park.
For more information, call 985.898.5243 or visit Camp Salmen Nature Park's website at www.campsalmennaturepark.org.