In some ways, traveling through Evangeline Parish feels like taking a step back into my childhood. I grew up in a small town nestled in the wooded hills of western Kentucky. As my companion, Tillman Hardy of Core USA, and I approached the town of Mamou, LA, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the area is. Farms, woodlands, and friendly people – Evangeline Parish has all of these.
Throughout the trip, I was reminded of my French Canadian grandmother. Evangeline Parish is steeped in Cajun and Creole history, and the French language is still very much alive there. In fact, the parish recently became home to two of Louisiana’s most recent French immersion elementary school programs. Several times, I found myself regretting that I hadn’t put more effort into learning the language.
But beyond the nostalgia for family and the area I once called home, the similarities ended. Throughout my stay at the Hotel Cazan in Mamou, I was continually delighted to see a town and a parish that has its eye on moving forward. Our reason for visiting was to attend the hotel’s first Conclave on Economic Development and Tourism. In addition to Wander No More and Core USA from New Orleans, also in attendance were politicians and business owners from around Evangeline Parish, including the manufacturers of Jack Miller Barbecue Sauce, and from as far away as St. Mary Parish along the Gulf Coast, including the makers of D.a.T. Sauce. The idea behind the conclave was to discuss methods of improving economic development through tourism and other initiatives across Louisiana. Reciprocal trade delegations were formed to visit each other, see the sights, and experience what each parish has to offer, and in the process, develop closer relationships.
Once the business was done, Tillman and I were shown the variety of things that Evangeline Parish has to offer visitors. Natural beauty certainly was in abundance, particularly at the Chicot State Park, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that the area is nothing but a boring backwood. The Hotel Cazan sits smack in the middle of Mamou’s “Entertainment Zone,” a full block of bars and restaurants that include the world’s famous Fred’s Lounge. Music is a living culture in this area. After a morning listening to live French Cajun music, we were off to Floyd’s Record Shop, where many famous Cajun and Creole musicians found great success. Next, we visited the Swamp Pop museum to learn more about this unique musical style. Finally, at Lakeview Park & Beach, we were able to stop and listen to a lively and talented band playing after a long day, while enjoying the beauty of the lake and the woods beyond.
Food, too, is its own culture in the area. A tour of the Jack Miller Barbecue Sauce bottling facility followed by a visit to Paul’s Meat Market – where they smoke the whole hog, from nose to tail and create boudin from scratch – left us hungry for more.
Throughout this special edition of Wander No More, I hope to share with you a little more of this area’s history, their culture, and the unique experiences that they offer. A visit here is well worth the three-hour drive from New Orleans, and a weekend trip all its own, and I personally can’t wait for my next visit.
-Jenn Bentley, Publisher, Wander No More