Just nine miles from the heart of New Orleans, you’ll find the town of Chalmette, the seat of St. Bernard Parish and home to one of the state’s most anticipated sports complexes, Val Reiss Park. Chalmette isn’t a big place – about 16,000 inhabitants – and it was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. But the residents pulled together, cleaned up their neighborhood, and presented the state with a new place to play.
Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish bill themselves as New Orleans Most Historic Neighborhood, and it has the antiquity to back up that claim. Starting with Jean Lafitte National Historic Park, Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery, tour groups can learn about the Battle of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish’s pivotal role in the War of 1812. Chalmette continues to celebrate and commemorate its history; visitors will find that Italian, French, Spanish and Irish heritages are all honored, and Chalmette has its own Mardi Gras.
Val Riess Park Sports Complex
Val Riess Park has a history nearly as tumultuous as the rest of St Bernard Parish. The area that the facility now occupies was flooded when Hurricane Katrina overcame the levees; the original baseball fields, football-soccer field, gazebo, and other items sat under about 10 feet of water. Thanks to a $20- million budget, Val Reiss Park is building towards glory, in four construction phases. The plan is to make this the premier recreational facility in the region.
Currently, Val Reiss Park sits on 33 acres. It offers a total of eight fields, with outdoor facilities for softball and baseball, complete with batting cages, and shaded, fan-cooled bleacher seating. Amenities include concessions and ample parking. Indoors, there are four basketball and volleyball courts, a press room and a lounge.
St. Bernard State Park
If your travel group prefers to camp but doesn’t want to shut out civilization completely, St. Bernard State Park is the answer. Only 18 miles from New Orleans’ French Quarter, the 51 sites on this combination of campground and wilderness area come complete with access to a swimming pool with a bathhouse, barbeque grills and a large covered pavilion. If nature is your goal, you’ll find it among the lagoons, woods, wetlands and Mississippi River. The park’s 358 acres give birders a prime chance to see their feathered friends; St. Bernard State Park is an official stop along the America’s Wetlands Birding Trail.
Attractions and Accommodations
Say New Orleans and most people immediately think of eye-popping parades and food to make your mouth water. In Chalmette, you do have the festivals – it seems like there’s a festival each month in this town. And you certainly have the food. While St. Bernard Parish does offer a diverse bunch of restaurants, it’s an essential for visitors to try some real Cajun cooking. And what better way to do that than during Chalmette’s famous Louisiana Crawfish Festival?
Held in March, the festival celebrates eating the freshwater crustacean known as crawfish, crayfish, crawdad, or mudbug. If none of the 20 different ways of eating crawfish appeal to your group, the festival also offers tastes of the exotic (alligator) and the mundane (pizza, chicken, ribs). Live music, arts and crafts, and a midway of carnival games complete the atmosphere.
If your group prefers actual fish to crawfish, St. Bernard Parish offers some of the best onshore fishing in the area. Check out Hopedale, Delacroix, and Shell beaches for a chance to lure in some redfish, speckled trout, flounder and other fish. Local guides are available.
Chalmette doesn’t have a huge number of chain hotels, but it does offer a nice mix of guesthouses, bed-and-breakfasts and, yes, the occasional well-known national hotel. With New Orleans close by, however, finding suitable lodging is unlikely to pose a problem.
Getting Here and Getting Around
Chalmette is set along the east bank of the very southern tip of the Mississippi River, about midway between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. Breton Sound is a scant 30 miles away. Next door to New Orleans, Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish are also about 90 miles southeast of Baton Rouge and 190 miles south of Jackson, Mississippi. To the east, you’ll find Mobile, Alabama (140 miles) and to the west, Lafayette (142 miles.) You can reach Chalmette by car from Interstate 10, via a few exits, or by bus from the French Quarter.
Flying into New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport may represent the fastest way for many travelers to get to Chalmette. It’s only 20 miles away, in Kenner, and is served by American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Frontier, AirTran, United, US Airways and Southwest. You also can reach St. Bernard Parish by train if you go by way of New Orleans first. Amtrak offers three trains to the Big Easy: the Crescent, which travels to New York; the City of New Orleans, which goes to Chicago; and Sunset Limited, which meanders west to Los Angeles.
For assistance in planning your trip, contact the St. Bernard Parish Office of Tourism or the Department of Recreation directly. Exclusive group tours are available, as are welcome kits and a general helping hand.
No matter if your sport is volleyball, baseball or something in between, you can find excellent facilities in St. Bernard Parish. Once the game is done, linger awhile and enjoy the unique food and culture of New Orleans’ Most Historic Neighborhood.