Volunteers Expand Louisiana Festival
Strategy: Focus on Customer Potential, Serve Local Community
Type of attraction: Heritage Area/Scenic Byway/Heritage Trail
Summary: The success of Experience Atchafalaya Days, a popular event showcasing the Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana, is a testimony to the grass-roots power of a dedicated group of volunteers.
The success of Experience Atchafalaya Days, a popular event showcasing the culture and natural resources of the Atchafalaya Basin, the large swamp located within the confines of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (ANHA), is a testimony to the grass-roots power of a dedicated group of volunteers.
The event first began in 2002 with Louisiana’s governor designating October as “Atchafalaya Month.” Spearheaded by volunteer groups, the event continued for several years, but it was eventually discontinued.
In 2009, one of the original groups, Friends of Atchafalaya (FOA) offered organizational support and worked with ANHA to revive Experience Atchafalaya Days. FOA is a non-profit dedicated to promoting conservation and awareness of the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway. With a grant from the Louisiana Office of Tourism and support from several state agencies and nonprofit groups, Experience Atchafalaya Days kicked off on October 1, 2009, celebrating Atchafalaya Month. FOA promoted nearly two dozen events, each specifically created for Atchafalaya Month. FOA also promoted over 50 previously planned area events which supported the event’s goals and the missions of Atchafalaya National Heritage Area and FOA. October 2010 saw an enhanced, even more successful version of Experience Atchafalaya Days.
“Events and activities reach out to varied audiences to increase awareness about the environment, acquaint participants with the resources, culture and recreational opportunities in the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area and inform citizens about the activities of the state agencies operating in and around the Atchafalaya Basin,” says Debra Credeur, executive director of Atchafalaya National Heritage Area.
A variety of adventures, classes, presentations and recreational activities are offered by individuals and organizations for interested residents and visitors. “Many residents have expressed surprise that there is so much to do and to learn about “in their own backyard” – or swamp, as the case may be,” Credeur notes.
Among outdoor activities offered are swamp and bayou kayak expeditions, moonlight canoe trips, eagle and other birding trips, archaeology outings, hiking trips, litter pick-ups, old “putt-putt” boat rides and evening wildlife watching.
For those who are not outdoor adventurers, there are book signings, cemetery tours, traditional craft demonstrations, art and photography exhibits and classes, presentations and lectures covering intriguing topics such as native plant use, creating a backyard wildlife habitat , the coast and the Wetlands, art of kayak fishing, living in a swamp, and more. In addition, existing cultural and agricultural events occurring in October that reflect heritage area themes enjoy additional promotion through Experience Atchafalaya Days including Creole, Cajun, French Food, Sugar Cane, Gumbo and other festivals.
“The multitude of events allows a variety of audiences to be reached and enables us to spotlight the many resources in the heritage area, thereby giving a more accurate snapshot of what the heritage area is all about,” says Credeur. “The distribution of the events throughout the month allows for word-of-mouth marketing among the niche markets we serve. Equally important, however, it has provided the opportunity for Atchafalaya National Heritage Area to form a solid partnership with Friends of Atchafalaya, and this has built capacity in both organizations.”