The Inclusive and Inviting Culture of Southern Louisiana
The Allen Parish Tourist Commission helps to develop the local economy in three municipalities and two villages: Elizabeth, Oakdale, Oberlin, Kinder and Reeves. The tourist commission came into being in 1996, and through hurricanes and economic recessions, it has survived and motivated Allen Parish to grow in various ways.
When people are looking for assistance with finding land or information about the area, the Allen Parish Tourist Commission warmly welcomes them to this part of southwest Louisiana. “Our mission is to put heads in beds to help with the local economy, so we also dabble in some economic development,” says Adagria Haddock, executive director of the Allen Parish Tourist Commission.
Allen Parish is in a convenient location that is forty-five miles from Interstate 49 and thirty miles from Interstate 10. The large municipalities of Alexandria, Lake Charles and Lafayette are close to the parish, and it is only a three-hour drive from Houston, Texas. “We’re a prime location for anybody coming in wanting to do business,” says Adagria. “We also have a railroad that comes through our area. We have two major lumber companies in our parish as well: Martco and Boise Cascade.”
For many, the first stop is the Allen Parish Welcome Center where visitors can learn about the area’s culture and traditions and find information about camping, visiting the casino, hunting, fishing, boating, golfing, tubing, canoeing, watching wildlife and finding historical points of interest. The commission in Allen Parish is working on many new exhibits and projects at the center to improve tourism in the area.
The expansion of the Allen Parish Welcome Center will include a music museum featuring zydeco and swamp pop music. The expansion will feature Beau Jacques, Jojo Reed, Keith Frank and Bernie Alan – some of the big musical names in Allen Parish and Louisiana.
Also new to the welcome center will be a Louisiana Native Wildlife Swamp Exhibit of donated taxidermied animals and the Coushatta heritage room that highlights heritage information and cultural artifacts of the Coushatta Tribe. All three of its expansions are moving along very nicely.
The center also houses the Wall of Honor for area veterans. This growing exhibit currently contains 168 graphite portraits drawn by a local artist and a Vietnam Veteran and honors the men and women from Allen Parish who fought for and served their country dating back to the Civil War.
The tourist commission is continuing its search for bus tour operators for the Myths and Legends Byway. The 181-mile-long route takes visitors on a tour featuring the area’s history as well as its tall tales and legends. Tourists can see fragments of Civil War breastworks, the New Llano Museum (from the New Llano Socialist Colony) in Vernon Parish, the first permanent settlement in the area, orchards, rodeos, the early timber industry and more. The tour also passes Beauregard Parish Museum with its collection of more than three thousand dolls gathered by a woman who had none growing up. Another tour stop is the grave of Charles ‘Leather Britches’ Smith, who was gunned down in 1912 following the conflict between unionized and non-unionized workers at a lumber mill. The Gothic Jail (called Hanging Jail by locals) is a must stop. There are many types of tours to experience.
Recently, in March of 2018, the commission attended the annual Travel South USA Showcase in Biloxi, Mississippi to market the byway for new bus tours. It discovered that the byway had gained a great deal of popularity since the previous year.
“Last year, when we went to Travel South, we only had one request to see us, and we had requested to see most of them, but this year, we had more requests to see us than us requesting them,” says Adagria.
Many bus tour operators these days are seeking something new and different from the usual tours of greater New Orleans and plantation tours, and so the back roads have become more popular. “They [bus tour operators] are looking to come to the back roads now and travel the Myths and Legends Byway over to the west side of the state,” says Adagria. The long byway runs through three unique parishes in Louisiana: Allen, Beauregard and Vernon. Bus tour companies have the convenient option to stay at the Coushatta Casino and take day trips along the byway before returning to the casino to spend the night.
Canoeing, tubing and kayaking are all popular outdoor activities that attract tourists to Allen Parish. The Ouiska Chitto Creek, also known as Whiskey Chitto Creek, is over eighty-five miles of spring fed water. The white sandy beaches beckon you to sit and soak in the sun and nature.
As the largest land-based casino resort in all of Louisiana, the Coushatta Casino Resorts attracts many tourists to the 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, wonderful restaurants, luxurious hotel rooms, Dreampool, RV resort and live entertainment. The Koasati Pines golf course at the Coushatta Casino Resort is a great bonus; the course was specifically designed to be a relaxing and challenging adventure.
The Courir de Mardi Gras is a traditional Mardi Gras event held in many Cajun communities in southern Louisiana. Since Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – is the day before Ash Wednesday, Louisianans eat, drink and celebrate heavily before the forty days of Lent that end with the Easter holiday. Participants wear masks and costumes, and breaking the social norms is completely accepted.
“We had more people attending our Courir de Mardi Gras this year than we’ve ever had in the past; the word is getting around about our Mardi Gras,” says Adagria. In Allen Parish, the Mardi Gras riders dress up and ride fifteen miles on horseback to various farmhouses where the Captain requests food for the community gumbo in the evening. Once the donation is received, the Mari Gras riders are waved in to the property to entertain the owners with dancing, frolicking and sometimes playing pranks before moving on to the next house to collect more gumbo ingredients.
In the evening, the Mardi Gras riders go back to town to put on a parade; they dance down Oberlin’s main street entertaining the onlookers. Then comes the community gumbo where everyone is invited to join the fun and feast on a fantastic gumbo before Ash Wednesday begins at 12:00 a.m.
Allen Parish has recently experienced significant business growth. For example, the Canal Coffee Company has opened three stores in the parish in the last year. This coffee, sandwich and soup shop serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Pulling Mule Grill is a popular new restaurant in the parish that offers steak and seafood, and the area will also soon welcome a new arcade giving the youth a fun, indoor recreational activity. Another new attraction is the large skeet shoot range which will be opening soon.
“We have good schools, caring people, and we welcome new people to come in, set up housing and come join in the fun,” says Adagria. Allen Parish has an extremely friendly and hospitable atmosphere. It is well known for its blend of languages and cultures, and the residents have a very welcoming nature. “We have the Coushatta people who are keeping their language alive, and of course we have the Cajun French as well.”
The future of the parish is bright, and there has been talk about turning the area into a developing housing zone and a retirement community, though no decisions have yet been made. The main industry in Allen Parish will continue to be agriculture and food production, as it is the perfect location for rice fields and crawfish. “Our new tagline is ‘Step Into Cajun Country,’ so come on, and step in!” invites Adagria.