Gateway: Iberville Parish Visitor’s Center hosts Third Annual Swamp Life Expo

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com
Wood carving demonstrations were just some of the exhibits celebrating the heritage of the Atchafalaya Basin at the Third Annual Swamp Life Expo at the Iberville Parish Visitor’s Center on Saturday in Grosse Tete. 
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

GROSSE TETE - The Iberville Parish Visitor’s Center hosted the Third Annual Swamp Life Expo on Saturday set in the shade of live oak trees on the banks of Bayou Grosse Tete. 

Iberville Parish, the eastern gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp, which encompasses almost one-million acres of America’s most significant bottomland hardwoods, swamps, bayous and backwater lakes, occupies more land in the basin than any other parish.

“This is what we call the gateway to Iberville Parish,” Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said of the Acadian-style building that hosted the event. “We built this center to welcome people to the parish and tell them about the other areas of our parish.

“There are so many more cars that pass through here than any other part of the parish because of the interstate but we didn’t have anybody stopping. Now people can stop, grab a cup of coffee and find out who we are. It has really been a good thing for our parish.”

Ourso said roughly 1,800 visitors stop at the center each month.

Net-making demonstrations, woodcarving and the work of local artists were just some of the Expo’s festivities along with the culturally rich musical accompaniment of Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band.

“It is a wonderful event,” said tourism coordinator Sissy Irwin. “We are hoping each year it will get bigger. The people love it.

“When they started finding out all we have to offer, they wanted to come and experience it.”

Irwin said the Expo is the brainchild of former parish environmental manager John Clark.

Iberville Parish has some six hundred miles of waterways and is defined by its rivers and swamps where people still live close to the land, a way of life passed down through generations.

Many homemade Cajun specialties made by local residents were available including crawfish etoufee, jambalaya, duck and andouille gumbo, deer sauce piquant, pecan pies and bread pudding.

A display on the Chitimacha Indian Tribe was just one of the many ecological and educational exhibits. There also was a book signing by the authors of Bayou Pigeon, Louisiana Spirit of the Atchafalaya, an award-winning “table top” book.

Irwin estimated nearly 1,000 people attended the event, which included the antique wooden boats of Ory Mendoza, who brings a variety of his collection each year.

“Just a sample,” Mendoza said. “It is a part of the history and we support the parish. I guess they enjoy them.”

The event is sponsored by the Iberville Parish Council and Tourism Department.

“It celebrates our heritage here in Iberville Parish,” Ourso said. “We have been blessed that the Atchafalaya Basin is a part of our parish.”