Paddlers get taste of bayou hospitality

Regina Oubre waved as Anna Gros, of Ohio, paddled by Oubre’s house on the first leg of the four-day, 52-mile Paddle Lafourche.

Oubre and a group of friends stood in Oubre’s backyard along the banks of Bayou Lafourche and watched on April 4 as more than 70 canoes and kayaks floated by.

Oubre, who has lived on the bayou for 19 years, said she enjoys seeing the occasional boat go by and is “just thrilled” each year when the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program starts its annual event near her home.

While Oubre has been watching the paddlers for several years as they make their way down the bayou, this was the first year she was joined by friends.

Friend Anita Young said she wanted to experience the history of the bayou and the event.

“You can almost feel the history,” she said.

Despite a slight drizzle, Carol Rodriguez said she was happy to get the invitation.

Rodriguez, who lives near Crescent Park in Donaldsonville, said she had taken part in a Paddle Lafourche welcome party a few years ago in the park.

“There were people from all over in the park that year getting ready for the trip,” she said.

The night before this year’s event, several Donaldsonville residents served a meal in Crescent Park for some of the paddlers.

It’s that sense of history and connection to the bayou that Kristy Monier, BTNEP media relations and event coordinator, was hoping for, she said.

“We want people to get a look at the river from the inside out,” she said.

On the night of April 4, at a campsite near the river, BTNEP representatives talked to the paddlers about the history of the river, which was once the main channel of the Mississippi River until settlement along its banks necessitated the damming of the bayou to prevent annual floodwaters. Today the bayou is the source of drinking water for more than 300,000 residents and oilfield workers, as well as a hub of economic activity for the boat-building industry, the port and fishermen alike, BTNEP’s website says.

In its 12th year, Paddle Lafourche draws paddlers from across the country.

Paddlers from Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia came to experience “the culture, food and fellowship that this region has to offer,” Monier said.

Gros, who originally lived in Thibodaux, her husband, oldest granddaughter from Boston and a friend from Switzerland were getting that firsthand look at the bayou.

Gros tied a stuffed lion to her vessel “so we can find our canoe.”

Gros’ canoe sat along the banks of the bayou in Donaldsonville at 8:30 a.m. on the first day of the adventure waiting for the rest of the paddlers to arrive.

After a few minutes, Gros had to change her socks.

“They’re already wet from the morning rain,” she said.

The chilly temperatures didn’t bother Gros, 73, who said her town, Fairborn, Ohio, had fives inches of snow just a few days earlier.

Gros, who said she hadn’t canoed in 20 years, said her brother-in-law has been “begging us to come for years and now we’re here.”

Back at Oubre’s patio, the friends took photographs of the paddlers and yelled greetings to the paddlers.

“I’d love to be able to do that one year,” Young said. “Maybe one day.”