Atchafalaya National Heritage Area- 2021 Grant Application – Supplemental Information
BPHA Heritage Hall Project Executive Summary
1A. In 2017, the Diocese of Baton Rouge announced the closure of St. Joan of Arc Church Parish at Bayou Pigeon. A. Wilbert Son’s owned the land but did not want the structures. As per the lease agreement, the structures would need to be demolished and the land returned to green space, destroying a major gathering place for the Bayou Pigeon Community.
1B. In 2019, community members gathered and created the Bayou Pigeon Heritage Association, a non-profit 501(c)3 committed to preserving, and promoting awareness and appreciation for the Cajun, French-speaking community of Bayou Pigeon. The BPHA stepped in, and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge donated all structures, and a new lease was struck for $1 through 2028.
1C. The former church became the main Heritage Hall, and the land / complex is conveniently located between Morgan City and Baton Rouge on a route often taken by I-10 and LA-1 travelers looking to avoid traffic.
1D. The current Heritage Hall features exhibits on the history and lifeways of the people who grew up in the Atchafalaya Basin. Expansion plans include renovation and addition of first-class restroom facilities. A place where the Bayou Pigeon community can then host meetings and events to raise funds for preserving of the Atchafalaya swamp culture and folklife. Where visitors can learn more about this once-isolated Cajun community.
1E. Other Expansion plans include renovating an existing activity center with a research library to preserve written and oral histories (specifically the Cajun French language), smaller meeting spaces and a museum with folklife examples of Atchafalaya Basin boats, fishing equipment and folklife.
2 Projected Future Impact
2A. With these updated facilities, the location can serve as an ecotourism-based enterprise for enhancing the local economy. Providing a venue to host visitors, tourist, and other NGO’s with a facility with actual visuals of cultural preservation of the Atchafalaya Heritage area.
2B. The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge essentially abandoned the St. Joan of Arc Church Parish at Bayou Pigeon, which had been the single most recognizable landmark and cultural center in the community for over 70 years. The Bayou Pigeon Heritage Association aims to save this community cultural center and expand it to share our story with other Atchafalaya communities.
2C. The main impact is community revitalization. Efforts of the BPHA will help preserve the Louisiana French language still spoken in the community and share the Bayou Pigeon story with visitors and residents alike.
2D. Expanding our existing activity center with a research library and oral histories (specifically the Cajun French language), smaller meeting spaces and a museum with folklife examples eg., Atchafalaya Basin boats, fishing equipment and folklife. Will provide children of South west Iberville Parish "Down The bayou", a cultural enrichment program, focusing on local culture that is familiar to both students and their families. Special programs, guest speakers, and presentations related to the Atchafalya Basin will interest students and get them excited about school and learning.
2e. The area will also serve as an economic driver for this rural community, as area business and restaurants may have the opportunity to promote their businesses through fliers or brochures stationed at the Heritage Hall for visitors to look at and take. They may also be able to participate as vendors at events held at the Heritage Hall.
2F. Additionally, as the Hall is situated right on the bayou, it may serve as a great location for Phase II of Atchafalaya NHA’s Water Heritage Trail.
2G. BPHA is also partnering with the Iberville Parish Recreation Department to renovate the park on-site for visitor and community children to use. The complex is also used by the community for baseball practices.
2H. The BPHA is already impacting the community positively – In 2020 community members use our Heritage Hall for private events and community activities, such as kids movie night, Halloween "Boo on the Bayou", Christmas Santa Claus pictures, funeral and wakes and wedding receptions. Activities that would be enhanced with larger bathroom facilities
2I. Civil Defense site: Used by Parish Government for medi-vac site. In April / May 2021 the Iberville parish government used the sight for flood sandbagging / disaster relief activities. The BPHA hosted private companies cooking and distributing meals for Flood Victims and relief workers.
3. Strategic Planning
3A. For 2021, BPHA is working toward a fully-functional Heritage Hall as a driver rest stop and community event space.
3B. To become a fully-functional upscale venue would require a project that would entail renovation to expand our one bathroom in our Heritage Hall to expand to be able to accommodate events of greater than 250 people.
3C. The improvements and upgrade will expand our existing activity center with facilities for humanities focus that will feature the Atchafalaya Basin culture of the south Iberville area. This will allow our young people to explore the many aspects of the unique culture and way of life in the Atchafalaya region.
3D. The improvements and upgrades will make the facility fully-functional and attractive for users and visitors.
3E. Likewise, I 10 travelers, East & West stopping at Iberville Parish welcome center at Grosse Tete LA would be enticed to experience real authentic Cajun Swamp community and adventure.The BPHA center complex is exactly halfway between and would become a natural stopping point for people looking for a break and clean restrooms.
Stopping at the BPHA complex with exhibits would be a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to learn more about the ANHA and establish a sense of place.
3F - Eastern Gateway to Atchafalaya Basin
The Northbound traffic to Baton Rouge from Morgan city via LA. HWY 1 is often bottle necked at several locations going north. For that reason, many travelers from St. Mary Parish and lower St. Martin to LSU, use the route through Stephenville and Belle River, Bayou Pigeon to I – 10 at Grosse Tete.