Quirky Places: Jeanerette to Calumet

Thanks to a committee of knowledgeable locals and the National Park Service, you can now experience some of the best scenery in South Louisiana and a healthy dose of history – all from an alligator’s-eye view.

The Bayou Teche Paddling Trail comprises 37 miles of slow, flat bayou between Jeanerette and near Calumet, outside of Morgan City.

The NPS lent its planning expertise, and local paddlers took to the bayou to scope out the best paddling spots.

“We had a local committee who paddled the area, and they recommended several trails, places they enjoyed paddling,” says Carrie Stansbury, executive director of the Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau. From there, her office printed brochures with a map of boat launches on the route, nearby roads and driving directions.

It’s a “trail” in the sense that a specific section of the bayou has been mapped out to encourage paddling, but there are no markers or other designators along the waterway.

Those who engineered the trail hope to capitalize on its popularity as the site of the annual Tour du Teche, a three-day, 135-mile race held each October. As the trail draws in paddlers who are interested in shorter, less intense paddle trips, the trail-builders hope to build awareness of the area’s natural beauty and help out the economies of nearby towns.

The paddling trail offers an opportunity to enjoy the bayou, with its moss-draped oaks and cypress trees and abundance of native fauna: bald eagles, turtles, snakes, alligators and egrets. Stansbury also points to the cultural history of the area.

“Bayou Teche is a great cultural tour,” she says. “There is so much history and culture in the area, from Native Americans to sugar cane plantations.”

Bayou Teche has historically been used for transportation – beginning with the Chitimacha Indians – to ship imports and exports. Fine furniture brought in from around the world by way of the bayou still remains in many of the area’s historic homes. The town of Franklin, near the trail’s halfway mark, was a busy port when the nearby sugar cane plantations were active. There are more than 400 homes in the town on the National Register of Historic Homes.

The nearby Chitimacha Museum, Charenton Heritage Museum, Young-Sanders Center and Grevemberg House Museum fill visitors in on the local history of the bayou and the surrounding area.
Paddlers who prefer to stay on the water can enjoy some historic properties from the bayou, including Albania Plantation, Oaklawn Manor, historic downtown Franklin and several palatial homes lining the water.

Stansbury recommends hitting the trail in spring or fall, when the weather is at its most inviting. Her best advice for those interested in paddling any section of the trail is: “Be aware that it is a utilized waterway. There may be recreational and commercial vessels, such as sugar cane barges, sharing the water with you. You should respect the rules of the waterway.” There are two working sugar mills on the route, and in the fall, sugar cane is harvested, processed and shipped down the bayou on barges. “Be aware that you don’t want to get near the sugar cane barges,” she says.

Because the entire trail would take about 18 hours to paddle, most paddlers choose just one section to complete. Although it’s physically possible to paddle the entire trail in a weekend, there are currently no campgrounds along the route. That may soon change, as Stansbury says the Visitors Bureau is looking into adding campgrounds and restroom facilities for paddlers.
Stansbury recommends the trail for paddlers of any experience level, from beginners to experts.

“It’s enjoyable for everybody,” she says.

For more information and a map, visit www.cajuncoastpaddle.com.