Take Up A Hobby
01/20/2015 07:52AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
Gallery: South Louisiana’s Favorite Pastimes [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Gretchen M. Decuir
Louisiana has always been known as Sportsman’s Paradise. This title comes with a bevy of hobbies and pastimes that are indicative of our culture. Closer to home, in southwest Louisiana, there is no shortage of hobbies to immerse yourself in.
Just down Highway 14 and off of LA-329 lies Bird City at Jungle Gardens in Avery Island. Edmond Avery McIlhenny founded Bird City in the 1920s. This wildlife sanctuary is open to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; it features hundreds of snowy egrets and other water birds that use Avery Island as a base to nest in the early spring. Snowy egrets are recognized by their black beaks and golden slippers and are the main birds that frequent the island, though the great egret and the great blue heron have also been spotted here.
Eight dollars and several right hand turns will get you a “bird’s eye view” of these seasonal fowl. “February is the best time to view the birds,” Marketing Manager Katie Stanford says. She suggests weaving through the gravel drive and pulling over to view the birds. Guests can observe the egrets in their natural habitat from the wooden platforms conveniently placed on the grounds. Those passionate about these magnificent birds will surely be in their element at the Bird City.
If photography is your passion of choice, Acadiana’s landscape can serve as a muse for any skilled or amateur photographer. Devils Pond at City Park in New Iberia is a picturesque scene with cypress trees surrounded by bumpy knees and Spanish moss hanging from grand oak trees. The city park has long served as a popular setting for senior, engagement and wedding pictures, family photo shoots or casual landscape shots.
Before laying eyes on the stunning gardens, the majestic oaks that line the road before the entrance of Rip Van Winkle Gardens may just have you pulling your vehicle over for a ‘pre-photo shoot’. As you inch up to the gate, more oak trees can be seen along the stretch of road. Rip Van Winkle Gardens is a visual playground for photographers. These gardens are situated on 25 acres that surround the Joseph Jefferson Mansion. As you exit the gift shop, gravel walkways lead the way to the 22-room home that is available for touring. On the path, you’ll walk among a tangle of bamboo shoots, magnolia trees and gigantic southern oaks. Colorful flowers and statues, the beautifully manicured grounds and the haunting Lake Peigneur are all here to be captured at a small cost – $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $6 for children ages 8-18. The fee includes a tour of the Joseph Jefferson Mansion, the beautiful grounds and a film showing all you need to know regarding this historical beauty.
For those into fresh flavor, head to the many farmers markets this area has to offer. There are markets in Abbeville, Eunice, Gueydan, Lafayette, New Iberia, Opelousas and St. Martinville. Most of these markets are open on Saturday mornings and some, including the Delcambre market, are open seasonally. In each of these cities there is at least one market bursting with fresh produce, farm-raised meats and poultry and homemade crafts. Patrons can peruse whatever plaza, square or strip to find fare straight from their own communities. Greens like kale or Swiss chard, butternut and spaghetti squash, fresh eggs, local honey and much
more – whatever it is you’re looking for, stop in at a farmers market nearest you.
If you are into any type of water sport or leisure, Louisiana has many bodies of water to take advantage of: meandering rivers, fresh and saltwater lakes and ponds. For those who love outdoor water hobbies, there are many businesses that can equip you for your canoeing, kayaking or paddling needs.
Gear up and head out to Bayou Teche, which runs from Arnaudville to Breaux Bridge, or make Bayou Vermilion, a 9.5-mile expanse in Lafayette, your watery raceway. Lake Fausse Point State Park is located at the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin, and is also perfect for the outdoorsman interested in kayaking, canoeing or paddling. The entrance fee into the park is $2 and entrance times are Sunday -Thursday from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. and Fridays-Saturdays from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Paddleboats and canoes can be rented here for hours at a time or for an entire day of solitude. Canoes are $5 per hour or $20 per day. Kayaks can be used at $5 an hour or $30 a day. The rental prices include life vests and paddles. Lake Martin, seven miles from Lafayette in St. Martin parish, is another location for kayaking and canoeing. Lake Martin is free to the public and opens at 6:30 a.m. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at Champagne’s Swamp Tours and are $10 an hour, including life vest and paddle rentals. If you opt for a more relaxing day, 12x14 floating docks are available to rent.
Walking into Vermilionville is like stepping back in time. Located at 300 Fisher Road in Lafayette, this Acadian-style village depicts what life was like in Louisiana during 1765-1890s for French and Creole settlers. Wood carving has been practiced around the world for centuries, and those in Acadiana have followed suit in pursuing this pastime. Vermilionville has an on-site wood carver who offers classes and lessons for those interested.
Local wood carver Cliff Mire can be seen four days a week carving various pieces at Maison Mouton. Mire has been honing his practice for 40 years and for 15 of those he has been whittling away at this quaint Cajun village. Vermilionville schedules various classes throughout the year and offers a woodcarving class to the public. Mire supplies the blank, untouched wood and Vermilionville lends both sandpaper and the carving knife. Mire uses cypress wood for his carvings or a mix of assorted woods glued together. He notes that the mix–cypress, pecan, Brazilian mahogany, oak, hackberry, wendge and paduk (two African woods), “usually carve a lot easier.” Mire also teaches private classes. “People can come here for a class or meet me one-on-one. It’s a free lesson.” He recommends the minimum age for boys as 14 and girls as 12, because “girls usually have more dexterity in their hands.” He also adds that if someone were to take up carving as a full-time hobby, he can recommend places to order knives and supplies. Mr. Mire’s love for woodcarving can be seen through his genial smile and willingness to sit and talk about this beloved hobby.
If Cajun dancing is your passion, and for many here in Louisiana it is, look no further than La Poussiere dance hall in Breaux Bridge. La Poussiere is located at 1215 Grand Pointe Ave. The original building was established in 1955 by the late Ovey J. Patin and Mary L. Patin and served as a bar and country store. La Poussiere means ‘the dust’ in French and aptly so. Dancers and patrons spent many a night stomping and dancing around the dirt floor that was covered only by wooden planks. By the end of the night, dust had settled on the floors and tables. In 1975 a major reconstruction demolished the original building, but the nickname stuck. The present building is a deep red brick down Grand Pointe Highway. La Poussiere’s days and hours of operation vary; though most can expect to hear toe-tappin’ music on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.
Today La Poussiere still offers various entertainments highlighting our Cajun and Creole heritage. It plays a significant role in preserving Cajun music and language. For this, La Poussiere has been branded as “La Petite Cathedrale de Musique Cajien” (The Little Cathedral of Cajun Music). Well known acts like Geno Delafose, Steve Riley, and Chubby Carrier are just a few bands who have graced the stage while patrons dance the night away.
There are a slew of hobbies and pastimes native to Louisiana and many of them are hidden just around the bend. Whether it’s kayaking, wood carving, dancing or another passion you have, Acadiana is the perfect place to laissez les bon temps rouler!