Keeping Louisiana Clean With Bayou T.E.C.H.E.
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Renee Wright
Bringing Louisiana Back to Life: Bayou T.E.C.H.E.
Founded In 2009 With The Goal Of Making The Bayou Healthy Enough For Recreational Uses
Dane Thibodeaux was born on the banks of Louisiana’s Bayou Teche and has lived there his entire life. “I’m Cajun on both sides,” he tells The Buzz. “As pure as they come, directly descended from the original Acadians.” These days, Dane is spending his time directing the cleanup of the bayou that runs through the heart of Cajun Country as operations coordinator of the Bayou T.E.C.H.E. Project.
Since the Teche Ecology, Culture and History Education (T.E.C.H.E.) Project began in 2009, Thibodeaux says, he and volunteers have pulled more than 53 tons of garbage from the muddy brown waters. “We found lots of household appliances down there, but no bodies as yet,” he says. “People have been dumping junk in the bayou for generations. It’ll take some time to get it fully clean, but I’d like to work myself out of a job.”
Sometime the job has unexpected benefits. “Someone threw a refrigerator in, all duct-taped closed,” Dane recalls. “I opened it up and found a nice Magnalite pot in perfect condition. So now I’ve got a pot for my crawfish etoufee.”
A major goal of the T.E.C.H.E. Project is to make the bayou healthy enough for recreational uses. Council member Patti Holland and other volunteers worked with the National Park Service to establish a paddle trail running 135 miles from Port Barre in the north to Berwick on the Atchafalaya River in the south.
“We received the paddle trail designation from the NPS in 2013, then applied for National Water Trail status from the Dept. of the Interior,” Patti says. “We were accepted in 2015, making us one of just 20 some trails across the country. And it’s the only one in Louisiana.”
Holland says the paddle trail runs through four Louisiana parishes and 13 towns along its 135 miles, as well as a variety of habitats. “In the north we have more hardwoods,” she says. “They give way to cypresses farther south, and toward the end you are paddling through marsh.”
Patti explains that because the state pumps water into the bayou at the upper end, you don’t actually need to do much paddling, but can just drift along. “I love the stretch between Port Barre and Leonville,” she says. “It’s narrower and less developed and the oak branches hang low over the water. You can just float down the bayou, enjoying the quiet and watching the birds.”
“The changes as you go from north to south are really magical,” Dane Thibodeaux says. “Up north in St. Landry Parish you have old houses with allies of oaks along the water. In St. Martin Parish you get into the cane fields. Iberia Parish is more agricultural, then you get down into St. Mary’s Parish where the Teche is a massive waterway 100 yards wide, with boat yards and ships. It's a full experience of what Louisiana has to offer in 135 miles.”
The Teche, which is said to take its name from a local Native American word for snake, meanders across the map of southern Louisiana in long sinuous curves. During the mid 1700s, Dane says, the waterway was used by the refugee Acadians, who traversed the bayou in their flat-bottomed pirogues.
“On the bayou, you can experience the region the way our ancestors did,” he says. “We hope people will turn their eyes back to the water.”
The Acadians and their forced exodus from Nova Scotia to Louisiana during the French and Indian War were made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie” published in 1847. The real-life heroine that inspired Longfellow’s poem is believed to have lived in St. Martinsville, a town along the Teche. The Longfellow Evangeline State Park there tells the story of early Acadian settlers and their evolution into today’s Cajuns.
“The Evangeline Oak is right on the bank of the bayou in St. Martinsville,” Dane Thibodeaux says. “Right now we’re putting in a floating dock next to it for canoes and kayaks.”
While all 13 towns along the paddle trail have boat ramps, the
volunteers of the Bayou T.E.C.H.E. Project plan to install floating
docks in every town as well, and are working on primitive campsites.
“Each town has something different to offer,” Patti Holland says. “All
up and down the bayou, towns are embracing this opportunity.”
The Bayou Teche towns include some of the most storied destinations for discovering Cajun food, music and culture. “Breaux Bridge is really our hub,” Holland says. “It has antique stores, Cajun music halls, and great restaurants. Patterson is putting in a new park by the bayou. New Iberia has a great main street and Shadows on the Teche along the bayou. And St. Martinsville is so historical.”
The Bayou T.E.C.H.E. Project derives a big portion of its operating funds from the annual Shake Your Trail Feather festival held every October in Breaux Bridge. “It’s right at the beginning of the festival season around here,” Dane Thibodeaux says. “From early October right through July there’s some kind of festival going on along the Teche every weekend.”
Dane says that in addition to hauling trash out of the bayou, he and his volunteers conduct regular water testing and engage in all kinds of educational activities to support the health of the environment. Sometimes, inevitably, their actions aren’t entirely appreciated by other residents.
“We hauled a ‘57 Buick Roadmaster out of the Teche up near Leonville,” he recalls. “Turns out it was some sort of local landmark, and some folks complained. So we cut the doors off and are having an artist decorate them, then we’re giving them back to the town. We’re turning trash into art.”
The Bayou Teche Water Trail offers a unique opportunity to discover Louisiana’s Cajun Country the way early settlers saw it. Several outfitters offer boat rentals and tours along the bayou, or you can bring your own craft to explore all or part of this unique waterway.
A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked
as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel
guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.
Make Sure To Stay At:
Cajun Palms RV Resort, a full service campground resort located in Henderson, Louisiana (St.
Martin Parish), just 1/4 mile north of I-10. The campground features a
large selection of traditional as well as high tech amenities to make ones stay more enjoyable.