Traversing Our Watery Trails
● By Robert Frey
The Atchafalaya Water Heritage TrailBy Scott Brazda
“The Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail will be a great addition to our area and allow visitors to experience our outdoors in a unique way.” - Ben Berthelot, President & CEO, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser recently unveiled the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail, spanning 14 parishes in our state.
“We’ve gone to these places right in our very own backyards. But sadly, we often take them for granted. The Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail designation will bring more awareness, not only to visitors but to residents, and remind them what amazing things are right in front of them.”--- Wendell Verret, Port Director/Twin Parish Port District
Of the 1,031 square miles that make up Iberia Parish, 56 percent is water. It’s a resource that has molded and shaped the past, present and future of many communities across the region.
“Our waterways need to be used as a treasured commodity and treated as a wonderful asset. The Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail will make more people aware of the jewel that we have, not only here in Iberia Parish, but throughout south Louisiana.”—Larry Richard, Iberia Parish President
According the Water Heritage website (www.waterheritage.atchafalaya.org) “…The Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail Explains Our Water Story—How The Water, Land And People Of The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Connect…” But telling the story is one thing; getting people to read the story and want to be a part of the story is something different.
So Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and his team had a plan, one to expand what the U.S. Congress did with its 2006 designation of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area as region of national and historical significance. The goal, as travelers went through the area in their cars and trucks, was to give them more to think about; to highlight, to spotlight the hidden or often overlooked jewels in the Atchafalaya Water Heritage area. The tools? Technology in informational kiosks.
“What this does is give us the opportunity to let visitors know where they can go to learn about the Atchafalaya Basin,” explains Nungesser. “Not everybody can get out on a boat, but these kiosks at 50 sites will help showcase what I consider to be the richest ecological area in the United States.”
Fourteen parishes, each with reasons to sing the praises of their watery elements. Take Iberia Parish, for example.
“There’s Lake Dauterive, with its 1,000-year old cypress trees; Lake Peigneur and the history of Rip Van Winkle Gardens; Avery Island and all it has to offer,” explains Iberia Parish President Larry Richard. “The water we have here, we need to take advantage of it; great boating, great fishing and we love it. This heritage trail is huge, and the kiosks will allow us to show others how special Iberia Parish is.”
How does all of this work? At Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, for example, it begins with strategically-placed technology. “There are currently four kiosks located within Lake Fausse State Park,” says Sharon Broussard, Public Information Officer of Louisiana State Parks, “one in the campground, one near the boat rental building, one at the day-use comfort station and one at the trailhead. Each offers information about the Water Heritage Trail, and visitors to the park are directed to the kiosks’ location.”
Broussard says it’s an honor for Lake Fausse Pointe’s 6,000 acres to be included in the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail, particularly when one considers the role H20 has played in American history. “Waterways have always been an important aspect of settlements, dating back to prehistoric and Native American communities. When European settlers arrived, they also looked to the waterways for establishing towns and military installations. The change of the Atchafalaya waterways played a huge role in how the area was settled.”
“It’s like a museum, an outdoor museum, and those kiosks give a little history of a fascinating area.” That’s Wendell Verret, Port Director of the Twin Parish Port District in Delcambre. It’s nice of Verret to make such a comment, considering that Delcambre wasn’t on the preliminary list of Heritage Trail sites. “So I wrote a letter to Lt. Gov. Nungesser, and he came to visit shortly after that. He must have been impressed, because shortly thereafter we were notified that we would be on the list. I was ecstatic.”
Delcambre has been a fishing community for year and years, and newly expanded boat launch pavilion was deemed a necessity. “We knew we had to do more with our waterways; it’s where so many of our people work, play and gather together. It’s one of our primary assets.” Verret adds that he’s been very impressed by the efforts of the State—the kiosks, the signage, everything. “The State wants to make a difference. Hopefully, people will come and then tell others what this waterway means to our community, how it’s such a part of our culture. Just an excellent idea, and it’s first-class.”
Appreciating the historical perspective is one thing; pulling back the curtain on your ‘flying under the radar’ hidden secrets and all that is another; but an additional ‘hoped-for’ benefit from the kiosks and Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail designation is a potential boost to local economies. “I’m hoping more and more people will visit these kiosks, and then get off the roads and maybe out of their cars and then go see these places,” says Nungesser. “See the shops, eat at the restaurants, all because more and more people will get into the great outdoors.”
That’s right in line with what Richard is hoping for Iberia Parish. “To draw in more people, and to take advantage of what we have in the parish. Because of the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail, they’ll come, they’ll stay, and they’ll put more revenue in the area.” Richard says his community most definitely has the tools to make this happen. “This Heritage Trail is huge, and with the kiosks, it’s such a great opportunity to show them what we have: Great culture. Great parish.”
Ben Berthelot, President and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission concurs. “The Atchafalaya Basin is such a treasure for our area, and the more attention we can draw to it will result in more visitation to our area to experience our great outdoors.” And like Verret, Berthelot is complimentary of the efforts Nungesser and his team put forth in creating the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail. “I applaud Lt. Gov. Nungesser and his staff for their leadership in developing this initiative for our area.”
Broussard says increasing the number of visitors to Lake Fausse Pointe wasn’t the primary benefit (“…We were already one of the top five parks in terms of visitation…”), but instead, the Water Heritage Trail and its educating kiosks has added a bit of context and explanation to the park’s natural beauty. “This program will fill a need for interpretation of the area, both from an ecological standpoint and from a historical view of the area.”
“We have taken our waterways for granted for too long,” finishes Nungesser, “and we can’t change it with simple signage off our roads and highways. We’ve got to give travelers more reasons to get off the bridge.”
Billy Nungesser clearly loves the State of Louisiana and is proud of all it has to offer. That passion is one he wants to share with each and every visitor. “You go near Morgan City, and see the eagles and pelicans, which brings in bird watchers from all over the world, and the Atchafalaya Basin itself is something I encourage every Louisianian to see—the I-10 overpass doesn’t do it justice.”
Nungesser encourages every resident to ‘staycation’ and “truly see their home state.” In fact, a ride along the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail leads the lieutenant governor to one prediction: “I promise you won’t be disappointed.”