Day Tripping - September 2016
Our new column explores fun destinations within a two-hour drive of Bay-Waveland. This month, Lisa Monti takes us to Madisonville, Louisiana - home of the annual Wooden Boat Festival (October 8 - 9, 2016). After this preview, you'll be making plans to day-trip on over!
“It’s really a few block radius around the river,” Marcus said of the town’s compact layout. “Mostly everything is right on the river.”
The historic Tchefuncte winds its way into some intricately curvy patterns throughout St. Tammany Parish, Hancock County’s next-door neighbor. Madisonville is perched on the west bank of the river and lays claim to being the oldest permanent settlement in the parish. The Choctaws named the river after the chinquapin, a small oak. The town’s first settlers were Spanish from Mobile.
There are shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes — old and new — in the heart of town, overlooking the river, with pleasure boats moored out front. “The majority of residents are retired, and a lot their families grew up there in family homes,” Marcus said.
Along Water Street, there are restaurants including Morton’s Seafood, Abita Roasting Co., and the River Food Mart — owned by Marcus, who is also an insurance agent in town. Parking at many places is across Water Street, facing the river.
During lunch at the sprawling Friends Coastal Restaurant (407 St. Tammany Street), the second story dining room made the most of the sweeping views of the river below and more boats of all sizes.
It seems there are equal numbers of cars and boats in Madisonville, and looking in almost any direction you see boats moored in marinas and docked in front of homes. With access to the Tchefuncte and Lake Pontchartrain two miles south, boating is a natural part of life here. “We are a boating community,” Marcus noted.
Madisonville has a long history of shipbuilding and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum pays tribute to the town’s iconic lighthouse and its seafood, timber, and shipbuilding traditions. The museum’s ship models include the white-winged Biloxi Schooners.
“The lighthouse is the beacon of Madisonville,” Marcus said. The town, the chamber of commerce, the museum and others worked to restore the lighthouse and continuously raise funds to make sure the land around it doesn’t erode. One museum exhibit pays homage to nearby lighthouses, many of which have been lost to the elements.
It’s clear visiting Madisonville and talking to residents that history and heritage are important.This is a place where there are celebrations year round (it is south Louisiana, after all) including a Mardi Gras boat parade and boat races. But the biggest community event of all is the annual Wooden Boat Festival, set this year for Oct. 8-9. “We have other events but it is our biggest one,” said Marcus. “It’s what the town is known for.”
The Wooden Boat Festival, in its 27th year, pays tribute to the Gulf Coast’s handcrafted wooden boats and is the major fundraiser for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum. The weekend is filled with boats of all kinds, food, art, music, and fun activities for kids and adults.
Volunteer Lynn Haase was blocking out spaces for the various vendors on a map recently in his museum office. Festival shoppers can buy all-original art, nautical-themed products such as leather belts and dog leashes plus fishing lures and other marine merchandise. Food vendors cater to local tastes and will serve up portions of roasted nuts, seafood pasta, and crawfish pie, among many other dishes. The tents are lined up along the scenic riverfront with the Tchefuncte serving as the backdrop. “The booths are all on four blocks on the river along Water Street,” Haase said.
The wooden boats, about 100 in all, are the stars of the show, and they’re all on display for visitors to see and admire up close. Some of the boats are open to the public by appointment. “The owners love to show off their boats and they love to talk about them,” Haase said.
The lineup includes cruisers, work boats, luggers, runabouts, trawlers, sailboats and other types of wooden boats. Biloxi’s own Glenn L. Swetman schooner, named last year’s Best in Show entry, will be back this year representing the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum.
For those looking for the fun side of boat building, there’s the Quick ’n’ Dirty contest, which gives crews 14 hours to build a boat with only the most basic materials they are provided by fest organizers. The boats are decorated with humorous themes and then two costumed crew members from each team compete for prizes by sailing a 100-yard river course. Think “Lords of the Tchefuncte” and you’ll have a feel for the race, which is reminiscent of Mardi Gras fun.
The festival also has a kid’s boat shop, a classic car and motorcycle cruise-in, a beer garden, carnival rides, and bands performing each evening.
In addition to the festival's website, the event makes full use of social media. Follow announcements on Twitter (#WoodenBoatFest) and Facebook (WoodenBoatFestival).
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and free for kids under 12 and active duty military. Parking is available nearby and shuttle service is provided.
For more information, contact the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum at (985) 845-9200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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