Festival benefits Alligator Bayou

Staff reports
Signs lining Hwy. 74 just outside of Ascension Parish reference the changes in Spanish Lake Swamp. The signs read: “A dry Spanish Lake Swamp means BR Loop will run thru Prairieville. Big land owners 1, Prairieville 0.”

Bluff Swamp Wildlife Refuge & Botanical Gardens, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Bluff Swamp in the Spanish Lake Basin of Ascension Parish, announced Tuesday it will hold “Sunrise Over the Wetlands: The Festival to Save Alligator Bayou.”

The two-day musical fundraiser will be Saturday, Sept. 26, from 5-10 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 27, from noon to 9 p.m. on the bayou-side property of Alligator Bayou Tours, 35019 Alligator Bayou Road, in Prairieville.

Saturday’s Cajun Night, from 5-10 p.m., serves up two Cajun bands – Tout Les Soir and Jambalaya – along with a jambalaya dinner and dance lessons by Les Danseurs Cajun de la Louisiane.

The admission price is $25 for adults, and $15 for seniors and children 12 and under.

On Sunday, Sept. 27 from noon-9 p.m., Louisiana musicians laissez les bon temps roulez with performances by Sprite & the Practical Madman, 3 Leg Dog, Ernest Scott & the Funk Children, and Lil' Hub & the Wheels. Headliner Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys will be followed by co-headliner New Orleans diva Leigh "Lil' Queenie" Harris, with special guest George Porter, Jr. The program closes with an all-star jam session.

Food, soft drinks and beer will be available for purchase. Admission to the Sunday festival is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and children 12 and under.

Children will also enjoy face painting, improvisational theater, Cajun and Celtic folkore, and hands-on crafts at this fun-in-the-swamp event.

Tickets for both days are $40 for adults and $30 for children and seniors. Advance tickets may be purchased through www.alligatorbayou.com.

While music is the main event of the weekend, “Sunrise Over the Wetlands” is also geared to family fun and education. Special events on Sunday include an art exhibit and auction of works by local artists, photographers and jewelers. Kleinpeter Photography will photograph people with swamp critters. Kids and adults will enjoy guided walking tours of native and medicinal plants, a 15-acre alligator ecohabitat, a bobcat habitat, and a sculptured alligator snapping turtle pond.

The emptying of the 13,000-acre Spanish Lake Basin in April caused environmental shock that devastated animals, the fragile ecosystem, and an award-winning eco-tour that educated school children on the value and function of the swamp. Sunrise Over the Wetlands hopes to draw public attention and support to the need to put water back into this ancient wetlands.

According to Frank Bonifay, owner of Alligator Bayou Tours and co-founder of Bluff Swamp Wildlife Refuge, “We were devastated when Iberville Parish forced Ascension Parish to drain the water out of this historic wetlands, which is thousands of years old and well documented as a wildlife refuge. Thousands of animals have either been forced out or have died as a result, including 30 gators that nuisance hunters were forced to kill. The fish kills are ongoing.

“While the situation seems hopeless, we still have hope because of the people supporting us,” Bonifay added. “Supporters have organized this festival entirely on their own. The bands are donating their performances, and dozens of volunteers have lined up to put on this 'gator-aid' event. So many people believe in the conservation work we’ve been doing for the past 15 years that they are giving us hope.

“We ask that people support our efforts for the sake of this precious ecosystem and its animals, and also for the sake of our children. By working together, we can save our magnificent swamps and wetlands – one bayou at a time.”

The festival is sponsored in support of Alligator Bayou Tours for its defense and restoration of Alligator Bayou and the Spanish Lake Basin.

For tickets and information, visit alligatorbayou.com or call 225-677-8297.