Bear Festival, Boat Show get thumbs-up from guests

Participants take off from the starting line of the annual Running of the Bears 5K run-walk to kickoff Saturday’s activities during the Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival. Finishers included overall winner L.T. Hill, men’s division winner Josh Vilcan and women’s division winner Jerri St. Blanc. Below, the grounds of the St. Mary Peace Memorial provided the perfect spot for the Cajun horseshoe contest. Winners included the Fly Rites, Fly Adams and David Comeaux, in first place; Franklin Police Department, Tina Thibodeaux and Alphonse Burrell, in second place; and Hanagriff’s Machine, David Hanagriff and Randy Hanagriff, in third place.

Cajun Horseshoes contest

Classic Teche Craft boats at the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show

Wooden boats on the water and on the shore

Last weekend’s eleventh Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival opened to fine weather and an earlier venue.
Moved up a week because of Easter, the festival ran from Friday evening through Sunday.
“I had a lot of positive feedback, and some negative,” said Edgar Dugas III, a festival organizer. “But I expected the negatives, like no kid’s activities this year. Overall, though, we had lots of positive comments.”
Dugas said the music lineup for the weekend received accolades, and the crowd was well-behaved throughout the event. The fireworks show, which he said last week would be bigger and better, went off as Dugas predicted.
Vendors reported good sales, and boat tours into the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge were booked and utilized by visitors throughout the duration.
For the first time, the Blevins Building was open on Sunday as well, allowing 100 more youngsters the opportunity to experience entertaining and education activities inside, centered around the endangered Louisiana black bear.
“Our focus right now is getting better, not necessarily bigger,” Dugas said. “We’re making plans for next year even now.”
Dugas said a couple who had come to Franklin for the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show told him that the Bear Festival was “the best small town festival they’ve ever attended, and they’re coming back next year and bringing friends.”
An independent event held in cooperation with the Bear Festival, the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show held its fifth event on the opposite end of Parc sur la Teche.
Part of this year’s show was the inaugural Cajun Classique, an antique and classic boat cruise down Bayou Teche. Boaters left Breaux Bridge early in the week and toured Teche Country with stops along the entire route and finally ended up at the boat show Friday for the weekend.
“We are very pleased with our first Cajun Classique, a spectacular cruise of vintage wooden boats from Breaux Bridge to Franklin,” said cruise organizer Cory Werk. “We stopped in St. Martinville, New Iberia and Charenton. We arrived just in time for the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show. All participants were very happy with the organization and amazed about the beauty of Cajun Country. Oh, and the good food here.”
Including onboard guests, the cruise had 19 participants. David Hood with a 1954 Chris Craft came from Leeds, Alabama. Denny Cutler with his 1947 Chris Craft came from Paoli, Penn. Ellery Andrew traveled in his 1956 Century and came from Humble, Texas. Wayne Elliott, of El Dorado, Arkansas, the chief cruise adviser for on-water affairs came down the bayou in his 28½-foot Saint.
“A cruise down Bayou Teche in antique boats is quite a unique experience,” Werk said. “We are very proud that we stayed two nights each in St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary parishes because we thrive for equal opportunity. The boaters got a taste of the different attractions and received a warm welcome by the organizers and exhibitors of the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show. This was our finish line and we accomplished it. Soon we will start preparing for the second annual Cajun Classique. Stay tuned.”
The Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show brought in 34 boats over the weekend. “We were down about 12 from last year,” organizer Roger Stouff said. “The nearness of Easter and a conflict with another boat show to the east of us lowered our total count, but we’ve had three years of rock-solid growth and aren’t complaining about a little dip.”
Nevertheless boats lined Teche Drive and the bayou side ranging from Chris Crafts to “putt-putt” Cajun bateaus to Thompson hulls and home-built sailboats, pirogues, canoes and many other designs.
Stouff and co-organizers Gary Blum and Larry Couvillier welcomed wooden boat owners from across Louisiana and from Mississippi and Texas as well as other states among those who participated in the Cajun Classique.
Newcomers to the show promised to come back and bring more participants, Stouff said. One of the featured boats was a Cajun skiff recently constructed by Edward and Larry Couvillier for a documentary now in the works titled “In The Mind of the Maker.” There were also four Teche Craft model boats, manufactured by Fortier Boat Works in Iberia Parish during the hey-day of wooden boats in Louisiana.
Paddle-tour leader Donovan Garcia said 12 days of touring and 150 miles of water under the bow was covered, culminating in the weekend of the Bear Festival.
The first event was on Bayou Lafourche, which was four days from Donaldsonville to Lockport.
The first day, April 3, there were more than 80 paddlers some paddled for all four days and some less.
“I think we had over 150-plus paddlers over the four days,” Garcia said. “About 20 of the paddlers I had were directed to Bayou Lafourche because food, camping and shuttles were included in the event. After we left Lockport we traveled to Jeanerette to begin four more days of paddling in Louisiana. We only had up to five paddlers at a time but some left early and some came in later in the week to get some paddling time in before the Bear Festival trips. Not all the paddlers completed all the days but we had some die-hard paddlers that did.”
Garcia said there were participants from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Wisconsin and all paddlers have been to the area before and some here every year since 2004.
“We paddled Little Pass in the basin, Lake Fausse Point and Grand Avoille Cove, Lake Martin and all of the Bayou Teche Refuge,” Garcia said. “The longest paddle was on the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge which was about 20 miles of paddling on Friday. The plan was to paddle about 8-10 miles but we had some great paddlers and two of them were women that were older than me. My age is 59 and these ladies from Texas just did not want to stop paddling. By far their favorite place to paddle is in and around the Bayou Teche Refuge.”
Garcia said he had the honor to take a travel writer from Florida to the refuge to paddle Yellow Bayou. “Florida is one of the states I love to paddle in because of the clear water but my love for paddling is in the waters of Louisiana and around Franklin,” Garcia said. “So to have a travel writer from Florida is a big deal for me. I have paddled with about 20 travel writers and paddlers from 40 states and 15 countries and I am expecting two from New York on April 28. All the paddlers that I paddle with become friends and family and they all love my view of Louisiana.”

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