Donaldsonville's Historic Portal to the Past celebrated in unveiling ceremony

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and several local dignitaries assembled at the Ascension Parish Courthouse in Donaldsonville on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 19.

The occasion marked the unveiling of the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission's Historic Portal to the Past, a collection of informational panels installed throughout the city's historic district.

The portals mark seven distinctive locations in one of Louisiana's oldest cities. Visitors can utilize brochure maps to discover key points within the district: Historic Donaldsonville, the Mississippi River, Crescent Park, Fort Butler, Louisiana Square, African American Life, and Ascension of Our Lord Church.

Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan Sr., Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, Ascension Tourism Executive Director Tracy Browning, Interpretive Direction's David Guiney, and Nungesser served as speakers during the opening presentation.

"This team here, Tracy and crew, makes it easy for me," said Nungesser, who heads the Louisiana Office of Tourism. "I wish every community around the state had the same love and passion that you have here for your towns and cities. It's an honor to be here, and we're going to continue to work together."

In May, Nungesser announced record Louisiana tourism for 2018. The more than 51 million visitors to the state represented a nine percent increase over the previous year. Visitors spent $18.8 billion, an increase of seven percent over 2017.

Louisiana tourism is much more than strolls through the French Quarter, jazz bands, and the "Throw me something, mister" of Mardi Gras parades. Nungesser said the challenge is getting people off of the interstates and into the smaller cities and communities around the state.

"We had an unbelievable year last year," Nungesser said. "We had a nine percent increase, which was the largest since we've been keeping records. Over 51 million people visited little old Louisiana. We're hitting way above our weight in attracting tourists. What we've got to do now is focus on getting them out of the big cities to see all of these great historical sites. What you've done here today surely makes my job a lot easier in doing that. Thank you for your love and passion for Donaldsonville."

Browning shared photos of the panels and spoke about the historical significance of each.

"The goal was to have a professional product everyone could be proud of and to educate our visitors about our great city," Browning said. "It needed to be aesthetically-appealing additions to the charm of Donaldsonville."

Guiney said the exhibits are referred to as portals because of the unique content each panel provides to visitors.

Kylie Gravois, who handles graphic design and social media marketing for Tour Ascension, designed the brochure. It features a map of the roughly 2.5-mile walking/riding route.

With the brochure, visitors can create a unique experience at their own pace. Along the way, a tourist would be able to discover various points in between portals, opening themselves to a unique self-guided tour.

"We really need to emphasize how much help we received on this project," said Browning, who referenced a flyer that included an assortment of individuals and entities involved with the endeavor.

"We couldn't have done it without all of the help along the way," she said.

Guiney, who is the senior planner for Interpretive Direction, has experience serving an array of agencies, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Air Force and Navy.

Being from the Washington D.C. area, Guiney said he wanted visitors to see the winding nature of the river. A bird's eye view, provided by the drone photography of Matthew Noel, and a "You Are Here" marker, gives visitors a sense of perspective.

"It's very special to have a river walk here," Browning said. "Not every place has that. People from other places don't know what the Mississippi River looks like. They want to see it, and we're very excited that we have that in our parish to share."

The levee top is handicap accessible, has parking space, and includes many benches.

"It's a great place where people can get out of their cars and really take their time and see it. They can jog, walk, or spend as much time as they want there," Browning said.

She credited Lee Melancon, the city's Director of Community and Economic Development, for his assistance throughout the project.

Following the presentation inside the courthouse, the crowd moved outside, and gathered for the unveiling of the Louisiana Square portal.

Musician Anthony Marcello sang and played acoustic guitar as Eric Weil of Cafe Lafourche served gumbo and bread pudding for lunch.