FORT POLK, La. — Curb your COVID-19 enhanced stress by enjoying the beauty found in nature along Fort Polk’s Marion Bonner Trail — a 10-mile, two-way path that curves and bends through woods filled with pine trees and hardwoods. The trail is open to walkers, runners and nature explorers. Much of the path is in the shade — a boon on hot, summer days.
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 that has been improved over the past few months for the enjoyment of the community and in support of quality of life efforts taking place on Fort Polk, said Jon West, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental and Natural Resource Management Division, Conservation Branch chief.
West and his team have tackled several improvements to the Marion Bonner trail including clearing fallen logs and vines from nature pathways, new signs along the nature trail, additional plant and tree markings, maps at kiosks and repair of interlocking bricks in a low area.
The team that completed this effort are: Sarah Pearce, wildlife biologist; Amy Brennan, conservation outreach coordinator; Abigail Arfman, biologist; Kyle McKee, biologist; Ewan Isherwood, botanist; Jody Patterson, biologist; Jason Jinks, biologist and Shaun Williams, geographic information system specialist.
West said the improvements began in May and are now complete.
One of the first renovations people will see as they enter the North Fort entrance parking area are new maps located at kiosks next to the beginning of the nature trail on each side of the dirt road.
West said previous maps were weathered and needed to be replaced.
“The geospatial information system is a wonderful tool that helped 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.
The experience of completing these improvements has been rewarding, said West, because the projects enhance the trails for Soldiers, Family members and the Fort Polk community by providing outdoor recreational and environmental educational opportunities, such as learning about plants and trees native to Louisiana.
West said the new signs were his favorite part of the improvements.
“Some were in bad shape. We refurbished 31 signs and added new pictures and information to each one,” he said. “We put signs in front of plants and trees that flower or change colors in spring and fall because we felt that would generate the most interest.”
West said improvements have made the nature trail more aesthetically pleasing.
“I hope the work will draw more people to Marion Bonner to explore and enjoy nature,” he said.
Jackie Woods, an Army spouse (retired), said she walks the Marion Bonner trail and likes the new signs.
“I brought my daughter out here to walk with me one day. We walked the nature trail to look at all the new signs and we loved them,” she said.
“I’ve also seen spouses out here reading the signs with their children and teaching them about local trees and plants.”
Woods said Marion Bonner is important to her.