Ecotourism project leads to 3 canoeing trails

Canoeists explore a huge cypress tree on Bayou Bartholomew near Chemin-A-Haut State Park in Louisiana. The Bayou Bartholomew paddling trail is one of three trails in northeast Louisiana established by the LSU AgCenter with a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. (Photo by John Ruskey.)

A privately funded ecotourism project administered by the LSU AgCenter has led to development of three canoeing trails in northeast Louisiana to lure adventurers to experience its bayous lined with majestic cypress trees.

The project was funded with a $115,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, said LSU agritourism coordinator Dora Ann Hatch. The foundation has funded projects from Memphis, Tenn., to Concordia Parish to showcase outdoor tourism opportunities.

The ecotourism initiative will continue, with word that the Walton Family Foundation will fund another grant to the LSU AgCenter for the next two years, Hatch said.

“An advisory committee was formed with participants from northeast Louisiana to provide input on potential trails and what paddlers seek when they are looking for new places to explore,” she said. “Paddling is one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports.”

The trails were established at Poverty Point State Park north of Rayville, Tensas Wildlife Refuge near Tallulah and on Bayou Bartholomew near Bastrop.

“Brochures have been printed, and they will be distributed at tourism centers,” Hatch said.

The brochures have detailed information with GPS locations for access points, along with descriptions of trip difficulty levels, trail length and water levels.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have provided assistance, she said. “We have developed some great partnerships with government agencies.”

The trail on Bayou Macon at Poverty Point lacked an access point, she said, but state park officials became involved and plan to purchase 10 acres along the bayou to provide access. “The Walton Family Foundation thought this was the most significant outcome because it showed that state and local people recognized the potential of nature-based tourism as an asset,” Hatch said.

The trail gives visitors another reason to stay at the park longer, said assistant secretary of state parks Stuart Johnson. “The paddling trails developed from the historic site to the Poverty Point Reservoir State Park will demonstrate the potential for economic development and tourism in the area.”

The state Office of Culture Recreation and Tourism is nominating Poverty Point Historic Site as a World Heritage Site, Johnson said.

The project has led to several events.

The U.S. Department of Interior contacted Hatch and asked to participate in developing future trails inside the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. The department would provide signage and marketing for the trail.

A Facebook page, “Wanna Go Paddle,” has been established for kayak and canoe enthusiasts in Louisiana.

The website www.explorelouisiananorth.org has listed the brochures under its boating category.

A two-day paddling workshop held in September 2011 at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge near Monroe drew 58 people, including a family that started a new company based in Breaux Bridge offering excursions on the Bayou Teche and nearby waters.

On one exploratory outing while developing the paddling trails, Joe Rolfe and river guide John Ruskey came upon a turn-of-the-century ferry landing, Vester’s Crossing on Bayou Bartholomew in Morehouse Parish.

“Joe Rolfe is on our ecotourism advisory and the find was made when we were exploring Bayou Bartholomew to create a trail,” Hatch said. The find was highlighted in a recent issue of Archeology magazine.

Bruce Schultz