Fall in the Felicianas—As Colorful As It Gets In South Louisiana
By Anne Butler
The first cool breezes of autumn bring folks flocking to the Felicianas, where the hardwood forests provide as close as South Louisiana gets to fall color. Hikers and other nature lovers find that falling leaves reveal vistas not visible in summer’s tangled overgrowth, and the mosquitoes, poison ivy and snakes are no longer nuisances. The public wilderness areas of the Tunica Hills and the waterfalls of nearby Clark Creek Natural Area are especially popular destinations for outdoor recreation enthusiasts based in St. Francisville. Ranging northwest along the Mississippi River, the Tunica Hills are rare land formations found only in a narrow strip from West Feliciana Parish north into Tennessee, where cool, deep shady glades and steep forested hills harbor rarities like wild ginseng, Eastern chipmunks and other flora and fauna found nowhere else in Louisiana. Good news is that the parish road into Cat Island is in the process of being restored after washing out in the 2016 floods, so visitors may soon have access to the national champion bald cypress tree and other scenic areas in this popular national wildlife refuge.
Every Sunday in October the Louisiana State Penitentiary on LA 66 at Angola puts on “The Wildest Show in the South,” with a huge variety of prisoner hobbycraft sales, tons of food, inmate bands, and hair-raising rodeo events unique to this prison setting. Other than the ladies’ barrel racing, all rodeo participants are inmates in this enormous maximum-security penitentiary, and they keep the crowds on the edge of their seats from the moment the black-clad Angola Rough Riders charge into the ring at full gallop, flags flying. The covered arena seats over 10,000 and fills up every Sunday. Grounds open at 9 a.m. for the arts and crafts, and the fascinating state museum at the entrance gate is also open, allowing visitors to make a full day of it. The rodeo starts at 2, and advance tickets are a must. Crowd favorites include the “Bust Out” when six bucking bulls and inmate riders enter the arena simultaneously, and “Guts & Glory” with inmates on foot scrambling to detach a $100 ticket from between the horns of an enraged Brahma bull. Prison website at www.angolarodeo.com provides information and spells out regulations which must be observed on penitentiary grounds; there are a few new rules this year, no cellphones or tablets, only clear bags no larger than 12/6/12, and of course all weapons, ammo, alcohol and drugs must be deposited at the front gate. For information, see www.angolarodeo.com or telephone 225-655-2607.
The annual Southern Garden Symposium in St. Francisville offers a change of pace, celebrating the area’s great gardening tradition and fostering its continuation by convening horticulture enthusiasts for a weekend of demonstrations, lectures and tours through the area’s glorious antebellum gardens. This year’s 30th annual event, combining prestigious speakers, historic surroundings and engaging social events, takes place Friday, October 19, and Saturday, October 20. Proceeds fund beautification projects, scholarships to LSU’s School of Landscape Architecture, and garden enhancements at state historic sites. For information, visit www.southerngardensymposium.org. This year’s participants receive a coveted Murrell Butler limited edition print of colorful orioles on tulip poplar.
This being the season of witches and goblins, the spooky Myrtles Plantation Mystery Tour scares the pants off visitors every weekend evening throughout October and on Halloween night as they experience what is billed as one of the most haunted homes in the country. For information, www.myrtlesplantation.com, 800-809-0565 or 225-635-6277. Other local observances of the holiday include Trunk or Treat at the parish sports park, and trick or treating in St. Francisville.
In what was an important agricultural area through the 19th century, Luckett Farms is channeling that era by leasing acreage from the state on Rosedown Plantation for what promises to be not only productive but educational as well. Kacie and Derek Luckett, veterans of Red Stick Farmers Market and CSA programs, saw an opportunity to cultivate the fertile plantation lands and preserve the area’s agricultural history by growing more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables where they ultimately hope to “grow a few young farmers, too.” Open mid-September through November during Rosedown’s normal visiting hours of 9 to 5 daily, Luckett Farms offers roadside produce stand, educational agricultural experiences, fun games and activities for children, hayrides, covered picnic area, and packages designed for different age groups. The 12-acre Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch add to the excitement, with participants selecting their very own pumpkin to take home. Party and photo packages, school tours, church groups and social events may be scheduled by contacting the Lucketts online at www.luckettfarmstours.com .
The last weekend in October, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival draws crowds of art-lovers to oak-shaded Parker Park with its bandstand right in the middle of St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District. A festival called “authentic, genuine and full of small-town charm,” Yellow Leaf from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. showcases the works and talents of more than 50 artists and crafters who offer paintings and pottery, metal and woodwork, fabric art, books, sculpture, glass art, jewelry, carvings and lots more. Featured in the covered gazebo this year is John Lawson, English poet/artist especially noted for his collages and bead works. This outdoor celebration of all things creative also includes art activities for children and local farmers with home-grown sweet potatoes and plenty of barbecue. The Yellow Leaf Festival, they say, really is all about the art---no mass productions, no noisy generators, no train rides, although there are usually a few local kiddies hawking refreshments from little red wagons. There’s also a new “Make and Do” tent and great live music both Saturday and Sunday. For information, telephone 800-715-0510 or access online http://westfelicianaarts.com.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).