Arabia Alliance Goes To Atchafalaya NHA

A group of men and women dance on a gravel lot in front of a building in the evening.
The Arabia Alliance spent the week of April 15 at the Atchafalaya NHA in Louisiana for the bi-annual Alliance of National Heritage Areas Conference.

Each fall and spring, the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA), a coalition of 60+ heritage areas across the United States, gathers together at a host NHA to do business, bounce ideas and get to know each other more personally, as well as celebrate and appreciate each other’s work. The Spring 2024 conference was graciously hosted by Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, headquartered in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Although most of the Heritage Area is based around the Lafayette area and its surrounding communities, Atchafalaya NHA spans a whopping 14 parishes (Louisiana’s version of counties) and represents a wide range of swamps and wilderness areas, historic towns and communities, and works to amplify Cajun and Creole cultures across the state.

Enjoy this assortment of photos from the Arabia Alliance’s experience at Atchafalaya National Heritage Area:

A large group of kayakers in life jackets gather their kayaks around a tour guide in a large, open water swamp. Some cypress trees are seen in the background, under a cloudy blue sky.

On Day 1, Alliance of NHA members received a tour of the Henderson Swamp near Breaux Bridge, LA. Half of the participants took a boat tour led by McGee’s Louisiana Swamp & Airboat Tours, and the other half took a paddle through the swamp. Participants saw cypress trees, alligators and an array of swamp birds!

A bald cypress tree draped in Spanish moss grows from water in a swamp.

Bald cypress tree harvesting was the Henderson Swamp’s largest industry. A picturesque icon of the South, the trees are commonly draped in Spanish moss, which is not actually a moss but an epiphytic plant (a plant that grows on or from another plant as opposed to in the ground).

A man and a woman in separate kayaks converse in the middle of a swamp. Some trees are seen ahead of them.

Arabia Alliance members Jeff Dingler and Jennifer Dickie take a break in the middle of the Henderson Swamp!

A man in a lanyard sitting at a table scoops up a sauce with a spoon next to a plate of fried alligator bites. The setting is inside of a diner and other people are seen sitting beside him.

Following the swamp tour, Arabia Alliance member Jeff Dingler *temporarily* breaks his vegetarian vow to taste a bite of fried alligator during lunch at Crawfish Town USA in Henderson.

A man in a hat wearing a lanyard holds a baby alligator and smiles at the camera inside of a building. An art exhibit is seen behind him.

Arabia Alliance member Aleksandr (Sasha) Johnson poses with a baby alligator during an evening of food and music at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette.

A group of people sit in a theater and listen to speakers talk on stage. A mural on the stage reads, "RENDEZ VOUS des CAJUN - Eunice, Louisiana".

Mayor of Eunice Scott Fontenot welcomed the Alliance of NHAs in the historic Liberty Theater. Eunice is known as a hub of Cajun music!

A collage of three separate photos: A woman stands in a theater with a frottoir (a rubboard Cajun instrument), a woman with an accordion smiling at the camera,  a man with a single stringed harp smiling at the camera.

An instrument demonstration workshop followed our welcome in the Liberty Theater: Left – Revonda Cosby with a vest frottoir or rub board, center – Brigette Jones with a Cajun accordion, right – Jeff Dingler with a washtub bass.

Enjoy a brief interview of Arabia Alliance Communications Manager Jeff Dingler, who agreed to an interview on air during a tour of the KBON 101.1 FM station in Eunice, LA.

A large group of people sit on chairs in a museum, with several people standing adjacent to the walls surrounding them, and listen to a woman speaking in front of them. Several photos are seen on the surrounding walls, with more exhibits in the background.

The tour bus made stops at several unique museums and galleries, including Arnaudville’s NUNU Arts and Culture Collective, which specialized in keeping the arts and the French language alive in rural Louisiana.

Collage of two photos: Left - a man dumps a bucket of boiled crawfish onto a table, right - a closeup of a pile of boiled crawfish on a table with several people gathered around it in the background.

A crawfish boil, a signature Louisiana delicacy, at Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville. The boil is frequently served with potatoes and corn on the cob.

Wide shot of a dirt road spanning the side of a field flooded by water, a rice and crawfish farm.

Across the street lay a field doubling as a rice and crawfish farm. After harvest, flooded rice fields are great environments for crawfish who feed on what’s left of the grain. The field was also full of crawfish traps in the form of buoys floating in the water.

A woman dances right in front of a stage of musicians with various instruments in an outdoor setting, surrounded by trees.

Shauntee Daniels, Executive Director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, gets up close and personal with a local Zydeco group at Bayou Teche Brewing.

Three women and a man stand on a stage in front of a projected screen and hold small, unidentifiable objects in their fingers. Another woman holds a microphone and speaks to them. A heading on a page on the projector reads "Antebellum South: What if You Were Born in 1815?"

Arabia Alliance Assistant Executive Director Brigette Jones was joined by several other NHA folks as volunteers in an activity at a J.E.D.I (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) workshop at a venue in downtown Lafayette.

A collage of two photos: Left - a group of people wait in line in front of a building with a sign that reads, "Tabasco Museum," right - Closeup of a sign that reads, "Tabasco Whole Barrel $200.00 - Tabasco Half Barrel $100.00"

The morning of the final day of the conference brought us to the Tabasco Museum and factory on Avery Island, which included a Tabasco-themed gift shop and walking tour of the operations!

Barrels upon barrels of Tabasco sauce, which ages for three years before being bottled.

Collage of two photos: Left - A sign with a picture of a bottle of Tabasco sauce with text that reads, "Tabasco Pepper Sauce bottles produced today" with a digital counter below it reading "114720." Right - A factory interior and assembly line full of Tabasco bottles, with several workers attending it.

The Tabasco Museum tour wound through the actual factory, which makes all of the world’s Tabasco products. The area included a real-time counter of daily Tabasco bottle production—this was only around 9am!

A collage of two photos: Left - two men stand outside of a car on a lawn beneath a southern live oak draped in Spanish moss, right - an American alligator basks on a green lawn on the side of a murky body of water.

Edmund McIlhenny, founder of Tabasco, was also a conservationist, so much so that he turned the wilderness area adjacent to the Tabasco Museum into a protected park known as Jungle Gardens. Following the museum and factory tour, birder and Executive Director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway NHA Jon Hoekstra took several Arabia Alliance members on a birding detour. The group witnessed many birds, alligators and a massive egret rookery!

Collage of two photos: Left - A great egret sits on a tree branch. The background is covered with greenery directly behind the bird, right - A shrine sits at the top of a small hill. The silhouette of a Buddha statue is visible through the windows. Some Spanish moss hangs at the top in the foreground.

The egret rookery was surrounded by a marshland home to many birds, like other great egrets (pictured), snowy egrets, night herons, spoonbills, as well as baby alligators, anoles and turtles. There was also a shrine housing an old statue of Buddha, which was discovered in a warehouse in New York City and later donated to the park.

A man with a mic sings to a group of people sitting on chairs in a parking lot.

In the evening of the final day, the group had dinner in downtown New Iberia and enjoyed music from a local blues band.

Wide shot from the side of Bayou Teche, a river-like body of water flowing through a park. It is surrounded by green trees and some lily pads float in the middle of it.

Louisiana is known as the “Bayou State” for its great abundance of bayous, slow-moving, river-like bodies of water frequently connected to faster moving rivers or creeks. These bayous serve as vast habitats for many species of plants and animals. Bayou Teche (pictured) was encountered several times through the tour route, like here in New Iberia on the final evening of the conference.

Learn more about the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area: