Thursday, October 11, 2012


Several months ago, a reader left a comment on my post about the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum in Opelousas informing me of another point of interest in St. Landry Parish:

The next time you're in the Opelousas area, please visit us at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center, exit 23 on I-49. We're the only "green" visitors center in Louisiana and one of the few in the United States.

Keep up the good work,
Herman Fuselier
St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission

I’ve been meaning to visit, and a recent spell of cool fall weather combined with my husband being out of town for a few days on his new job, made the perfect opportunity for my friend D, who grew up in Opelousas, and I to make a day of it. First a visit to the Visitor Information Center, followed by lunch at Back in Time, the restaurant with the Italian Iced Tea I have written about, and then another trip to the Orphan Train Museum and Le Petite Village, which D had never seen before sounded like the perfect way for two retired ladies to spend a fall day.

The Visitor Information Center was quite easy to find, with both the exit and the road to it being well marked. It is a modern looking building, but it nestles quite well into the landscape. People don’t think of Louisiana as a prairie state, but a good chunk of it is called the Cajun Prairie, and the prairie like character is most obvious in the fall, when the grasses by  the side of the road are tall and golden, sprigged with late autumn flowers in blues and golds. The grounds around the building, planted with native Louisiana plants, are watered by rainwater collected in a cistern and collected by rainchains off the porch.

If you click on the picture, you can read it better.

The cistern. D saw it and said, "My grandmother had one of those." Our guide added, "My mother had one of those."

Inside we were greeted by an enthusiastic staff member who was delighted to show off the building’s features, starting with the beautiful longleaf pine floor salvaged from nearby Washington, Louisiana. You don’t get floor boards that wide any more, probably because our ancestors cut them down with a little too much enthusiasm, but all the more reason to find and reuse them when possible. The floor showed up very well in the natural light streaming through the floor to ceiling windows, reducing the need for electric lighting in the daytime.

More recycling can be found in the artwork: collages and sculptures made from bits and pieces of leftover construction material.

We also got a peek at the insulation materials left visible through a section of the wall: 85% of it is recycled material, including newspaper.

The most obvious green feature as you drive up is the wind turbine on the roof. Alas, there wasn’t a wind when we were there, but power from the turbine is stored in batteries and runs the little kitchenette that serves the meeting room used mostly by the staff but available to the community.

Storing power from the turbine

Naturally, since it is a Visitor Information Center, the staff also let us know all that is going on in the region. It is a busy little parish. There is a Pork Cracklin’ Festival coming up in Port Barre in November, for instance, and we just missed a canoe event on the Bayou Teche. Once I mentioned that my husband loves little country festivals, I found myself with more brochures and flyers than I knew what to do with. The center gets around 300 visitors a month, more in tourist season, and does programs for schools and community groups.

I know that for most of my readers, Louisiana is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away and even the lure of the Pork Cracklin’ Festival may not be enough to bring you up I-49. But suppose you like music, say blues and jazz music. The New Orleans Jazz Festival runs from the last weekend in April through the first weekend in May. There is also the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette that last weekend in April, and it’s free. So if you were to plan a trip to Louisiana that took in both music events, you would have a few days free that week between when you could slip up I-49 to Opelousas, where there is a racetrack and casino, and the Visitor’s Center is just one more exit north. What could be a better way to pass a good time, cher?

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