Monday, August 31, 2015

Bayou Sara Kayak Rental

Bayou Sara Kayak Rental revives access to St. Francisville creek
By Anne Butler
Photos from Ava Barrett
            Bayou Sara Flatboaters in the late 1700s used to pull into the still waters of Bayou Sara creek where it emptied into the Mississippi River to get out of the river’s strong current and spend a peaceful night on the way to New Orleans. Often these same boatmen also stopped there on their walk back up the river to wherever they started their journey; their boats, with no engine power, could hardly travel upriver against the current, so the flatboats were broken up and sold for lumber, setting the crew afoot as they headed for home.
            And so a little shantytown sprang up and took its name from the creek, and it soon grew into one of the most significant ports along the Lower Mississippi, with extensive commercial and residential districts, its wharves crowded with steamboats and packets. The creek Bayou Sara was navigable for several miles to the north of St. Francisville, allowing plantation owners along the waterway the luxury of shipping their produce to the river from their own docks, at least through most of the 19th century.
            Alas, the port of Bayou Sara was situated right on the river’s banks below St. Francisville, which had the sense to develop on a high ridge. Washed by floodwaters most springs, devastated by fires that destroyed dozens of woodframe structures in the business district, shelled during the Civil War, by 1909 the port city had seen better days. A newspaper report of that year gives an amusing account of a scheduled visit by the battleship Mississippi. The chairman of the local Bayou Sara reception committee, chagrined at accounts of elaborate banquets and balls given the ship’s officers and crew at New Orleans and Baton Rouge, wired its captain, “This is a hell of a place to receive anybody, but we will do the best we can.” And when a newspaper correspondent, tongue in cheek, wired back inquiring whether civilians should dress in high silk hats and frock coats during Bayou Sara’s welcome ceremony, the response was a hospitable “Not necessary to wear anything at all. Come ahead!”
            Fishing Bayou SaraBut by the late 1920s, particularly after the devastating flood of 1927 that displaced millions of people along the Mississippi River corridor, most of Bayou Sara port city’s occupants had moved their residences and businesses up the hill to St. Francisville, and what was left was abandoned to the river’s current. Even the creek called Bayou Sara declined, silt filling its deep swimming holes, no longer navigable by most boats except during flood times when river waters backed up into it.
            Now, nearly a century later, the beautiful creek called Bayou Sara is once again coming into its own, thanks to a new business called Bayou Sara Kayak Rental, brainchild of avid fisherman Andy Green and his fiancĂ©e Ava Barrett (who admitted to preferring to pass the time on the water with a good book until she too caught the fishing bug). Since they started last fall, they have had enthusiastic support from not only tourists, who revel in the unspoiled bayou scenery and unusual wildlife, but also from locals who gain a whole different perspective from water level, not to mention a good physical workout.
            Clear swift-running waters at its upper end near its mouth pass sandy beaches and clay bluffs, while the creek widens as it approaches the river and its turbid waters fill with alligators, otters, beavers and plenty of waterbirds—egrets and herons, roseate spoonbills, woodpeckers and the occasional eagle. The fishing is fine and Andy always manages a good catch for customers, whether fishing the fall run of white and striped bass, reeling in enormous catfish, or simply enjoying birdwatching and exploring flooded forested wetlands. Cat Island is accessible through the ditch when water levels are right and Andy also offers guided fishing trips to the Gulf Coast.
            Reasonable rates are $35 for two-hour guided kayak trips, $50 for four hours. All day non-guided rate is $35 per single kayak, $50 per tandem (two-person) kayak. The Pelican kayaks (sit on, not in) are built for stability; no experience is required, and the two-person tandem kayaks are perfect for trips with children. Guided Gulf fishing trips are $75, with full service provision—rods, lures, life vests, dry storage for valuables. Andy and Ava plan on expanding by adding more kayaks, sponsoring a Bayou Sara Cleanup community project and maybe a catfish rodeo, coordinating youth kayak lessons with the parish sports park and possibly even a summer camp.
            “Bayou Sara is such a pretty waterway and it’s not fully appreciated locally. It’s one of only two tributaries that enter the Mississippi River in Louisiana from the east, and kayaking Bayou Sara provides a glimpse of the state’s natural beauty that you will never forget,” says Andy Green. Give him a ring at 225-202-8822 to schedule a trip.
            Along the BayouOne location along Bayou Sara is featured on the popular annual Hummingbird Celebration on Saturday, September 12, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hummingbird biologists Nancy Newfield and Linda Beale capture, study and band these amazing little birds, giving onlookers a chance to get up-close-and-personal. Admission is free to the two banding locations: artist Murrell Butler’s property along Bayou Sara at 9485 Oak Hill Road just north of St. Francisville, and Carlisle Rogillio’s Wild Bird Sanctuary at 15736 Tunica Trace (LA 66) near Angola.
            Sunday, September 13, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Hemingbough, A Celebration of Literature and Art presents an afternoon of words and song called Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music. Frye Gaillard, journalist and author, will read from his classic book on country music, Watermelon Wine, and rising country music star Anne DeChant performs her favorite tunes, including some composed in collaboration with Gaillard. The performers will converse with the audience prior to the event, from 1 to 2:30. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com; CLA members $10, non-members $20 for both events.
            Another September event attracting visitors to St. Francisville is the LAVetsFest at the West Feliciana Sports Park on September 27, promising all sorts of sporting events, live music (big names like the Lost Bayou Ramblers), runs and bike races, fishing tournament and rodeo, car show, auction and jambalaya cook-off, all in tribute to veterans of all military branches.  Proceeds from concessions benefit the Veterans Foundation.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
kayaking West FelicianaNatchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park
By Anne Butler
Parker Park HomeFew of the folks who enjoy community festivals and get-togethers on the landscaped grounds of beautiful Parker Park in historic downtown St. Francisville stop to think of the history of that particular property, but if these oaks could talk!
In 1870 Sara Mulholland Flower sold her 40-arpent property called Magnolia Glen, located right in the heart of town where the well-travelled roads leading from Woodville, Baton Rouge and Bayou Sara converged. The buyer was a young dentist from New York, Dennison Stocking, who had moved to Pointe Coupee as a 22-year-old, served four years in the Confederate army, then moved across the river to St. Francisville. There he set up his dental chair in one room of the old Magnolia Glen house and advertised that he would attend all calls on the coast (meaning the Mississippi River) from New Orleans to Natchez, as well as “the back country when accessible with a buggy.”
St. Francisville InnAs he prospered, his family grew to include a wife and three daughters named Eliska, Eugenie and Mehitable, the latter known as Hetty. In 1876 plans for a suitable estate were drawn, including a handsome grove and circular drive, plus stables in the back and 6 ½ acres labeled as “park.” The enormous Victorian Gothic house he built had a broad front gallery and three steep pointed gables across the front. By the 1880s the Wolf brothers, who took over Julius Freyhan’s huge dry-goods emporium and cotton gin just across the street, would build matching homes of similar style next door, one still standing as the St. Francisville Inn.
Dr. Stocking died in 1887, and the house burned in 1937. Two of the daughters, Eugenie and Mehitable, demolished the old Royal Hotel and used the bricks to erect cottages on the old house site for travelling tourists of the new automobile age, calling it Stocking Court.
During the Depression, Eugenie’s talented daughter Eloise hit the road for Hollywood in a Model-T Ford and used her musical skills to build a successful business empire that included a klieg lighting business and a fancy hostelry patronized by the rich and famous. During World War II she delighted in entertaining the “local” boys stationed in California, showing them a real good time, and she scandalized the local ladies when she made periodic trips back home to St. Francisville in a big pink Cadillac chauffeured by muscle-bound California beachboys, accompanied by a foul-mouthed minah bird.
Gazebo in Parker parkIn the 1990s the widow of her son, James Munroe Parker, graduate of Annapolis and great-grandson of Dr. Dennison Stocking, donated the property to the Town of St. Francisville, and it now contains a veteran’s memorial, Victorian bandstand, paved walkways and well-maintained shaded grounds. Parker Park is the site of the popular fall Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, community market days, movies in the park, and numerous other activities, and advance scheduling of activities must be done through town officials.
The colorful Eloise Parker will be one of the local characters resurrected for a new fundraising event called Night At The Museum the second Saturday in August. This benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Monday, June 29, 2015

Come Smooch-A-Pooch in St. Francisville

Come Smooch-A-Pooch in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
Photos by Darlene Reeves
           Kissing Booth 2015 Gala “All you need is love” say the promotional posters, but you’d better bring your credit cards too, because the popular WAGS AND WHISKERS GALA Saturday, August 1, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville, is the major fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the “Bo” Bryant Animal Shelter.
It’s also the hottest ticket in town, with live and silent auctions, crazy fun carnival-type activities like the “Fetch and Run” dash to doggie dishes filled with gift cards, Wine Toss, cash bar, fabulous food, live music by the popular Delta Drifters, a smooch-a-pooch kissing booth, photography booth, and appealing shelter animals in colorful costumes longing for a home. Live auction specialty offerings include guided fishing trip, theater tickets, Monteleone Hotel overnight, and sailboat cruises. And oh yeah, as if that were not enough, this year’s special guest is Marine Corporal Jared Heine and the bomb dog Spike who patrolled with him in Afghanistan, then was reunited with him back home thanks to his determined mother’s efforts, a story of love and bravery and recovery.
Cat and TailTickets to the gala are $25 and may be purchased at the Bank of St. Francisville, from shelter volunteers, or online through www.brownpapertickets.com (search Wags and Whiskers). Cut-off capacity is 500 guests, and those interested should purchase their tickets early, because this is one event that is supported by everyone in town. The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville, opened in August 2012. Prior to this, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.
Now the low-kill shelter has a remarkable success rate (into the 90% range, more than 300 animals adopted last year) with reasonable rates for adopting to permanent or foster homes its rescued animals---dogs, cats, even horses---some are homeless strays, some simply lost and able to quickly reunite with owners (58 dogs returned to owners this year), but others have been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. This success rate is all thanks to the volunteers who groom, tame, exercise, socialize, medicate, and transport animals in irresistible “Adopt Me” vests to public gatherings and events, as well as to generous local veterinarians who ensure that the animals are vetted, vaccinated and spayed at cut-rate cost.
Welcome DogInmates from the nearby parish work-release facility voluntarily help, and a new grant pays for part-time employment of a couple of older staff members, but with the springtime explosion of kittens and puppies, there’s always a need, especially for more volunteers to augment the core group keeping the shelter open, caring for animals, overseeing adoptions, cleaning and handling the multitude of requisite chores, plus related efforts in grant writing, fundraising, supply purchasing, carpentry, you name it. More foster homes for animals, especially those too young or injured to stay in the shelter, are needed, too, plus more donations of cash and supplies like collars and leashes, pet carriers, cat litter, old towels, pet food; and of course there’s always the need for more families willing to adopt.
Besides its stated mission to provide a safe, healthy, caring environment for animals under shelter care while searching for original owners or approved adoptive homes, the humane society also works to reduce pet animal over-population and has aTNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program that, thanks to donations and local vets, has neutered or spayed dozens of feral cats.
Located in St. Francisville at 9946 West Feliciana Parkway going toward the sports park, the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter has a large metal shed with spacious kennels and cages, exercise yards, holding pens and corrals, and a nice new separate cat house constructed almost entirely with volunteer labor. The humane society has a wonderful website and Facebook page full of heartwarming images and videos thanks to its creative and talented volunteers.
Close up catThe shelter is open to the public Sunday through Friday 9 to 12, Fridays until 2, and every day 4 to 5:30, but volunteers are there every day of the week, twice a day, providing the medical care, grooming, maintenance and love. Some of the volunteers are children, who provide plenty of loving attention for animals often starved for affection. For shelter or humane society information, telephone 225-299-6787, 225-635-5801, or online http://wfahs.felicianalocal.com.
 Tickets to the gala are available online (www.brownpapertickets.com and search for Wags and Whiskers), or locally from Bank of St. Francisville or shelter volunteers. The West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter are particularly grateful for corporate and individual financial donors (Dare and Belton Didier, Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling, Joe and Pam Malara, Peggy Lucky and John Rose, Red Stick Armature), as well as those donating auction items; the shelter is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Dog FaceAnother fundraising event, called Night At The Museum, benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Happy FamilyNatchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).