FORT POLK, La. — Marion Bonner Trail is a 10-mile, two-way, path that meanders through the woods in the center of Fort Polk. The trail is open to walkers and runners and winds through the forested hills — filled with towering hardwoods and pines that shade much of the path — from South to North Fort Polk.
There are two entrances to Marion Bonner Trail. The first is located next to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital where the track begins.
The other is a dirt-packed parking area located along Chaffee Road as you head to North Fort Polk. This entrance marks the entry to the twin ponds of Marion Bonner Recreation Area.
The recreation entrance is also the start of a nature trail system, which features signs marking plant species indigenous to much of Louisiana. Plants featured on trail signs may range from small wildflowers to towering oaks.
Most people would agree that keeping the trails along Marion Bonner looking their best is a major undertaking, but worth the effort.
In support of the quality of life efforts taking place on Fort Polk, that’s just what Jon West, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental and Natural Resource Management Division, Conservation Branch chief, and his team has begun to tackle. West said his team has made, and continues to make, several improvements to the Marion Bonner trail.
Some of the completed renovations include clearing fallen logs and vines from nature pathways around the trail, having a botanist verify the signs display accurate plant identifications and marking the correct plant — as seen in the picture on the sign — with a small orange flag.
West said future projects to enhance Marion Bonner include repairing the sign posts that have dislodged or fallen over, replacing missing signs with new ones and using a geospatial information system to create large, detailed maps to place at kiosks at the two trail entrance points.
“The current maps are weathered and need to be replaced. The geospatial informtion system is a wonderful tool that will help us make great, new maps. The intent is to put added information, showing people walking Marion Bonner where the signs and native plants are located along the nature trail,” he said.
West said these projects are important as they enhance the trails by providing outdoor recreational and environmental educational opportunities for Soldiers, Family members and the Fort Polk community.
“Louisiana is known as ‘The Sportsman’s Paradise,’ and these projects showcase the natural environment that Fort Polk has to offer,” said West.
Once done, the improvements will probably make the overall experience on the paved pathways and trails through the woods better for those that utilize Marion Bonner for its beauty, recreational benefits and exercise opportunities.
Amy Jackman, an Army spouse, said before the stay-at-home order took effect, she used the Marion Bonner trail occasionally, but now she uses it every day.
“I usually exercise by walking about five miles on the trail. I love the sounds of nature that surround me on my walks, like birds chirping and the breeze blowing through the trees. It’s a great place for a peaceful walk,” she said.
Jackman said peace can be hard to find and is more important than ever as people have to find a way to live through these uncertain times.
“It’s important to disconnect from all the noise and news for just a little while. I think I get just as much benefit using the walking path to improve my mental health as I do to enhance my physical fitness and wellbeing,” she said.
First Lt. Thomas Robichaud, a 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment platoon leader, said he and his fellow Soldiers use the Marion Bonner Trail to train.
“We use it at least twice a week. I like the fact that you can choose your own distance and there’s no limit to how many miles you can jog. You can just keep going,” he said.
Sgt. Thomas Sawyer, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said he and his friend, Sgt. 1st Class John Matteson, also from the battalion, use the trail to train.
Sawyer said they got tired of training in their neighborhood or using the track at Leesville High School.
“It’s great to have a place with this kind of distance. Instead of doing 100 laps around the track with the same scenery, we can use the trails through Marion Bonner almost daily to train and never get tired of what we see. The beauty of the natural environment makes the training go by faster. We probably walk with ruck sacks or run 30 or more miles per week,” he said.