Go With the Flo

Book author Jake Bussolini, right, from North Carolina with his Grosse Savanne Guide and a red fish the angler caught during a media saltwater fishing trip at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual conference in Lake Charles last weekend.

By JOHN K. FLORES

Outdoor Columnist

“If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, we have a festival to salute it and throw it in a gumbo and eat it,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said to a laughing crowd of Southeastern Outdoor Press Association members he greeted to Louisiana this past week at their annual conference in Lake Charles.
The luncheon, sponsored by Realtree Camouflage and Plano Molding, was just one of many activities SEOPA members would be treated to during the four-day event along with a number of pre and post conference media excursions across the state. Organizer and lead host for the conference was the Lake Charles Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Besides salt and freshwater fishing from St. Bernard Parish to Cameron Parish on up to the town of Many near Toledo Bend, SEOPA members had the opportunity to participate in tours. Among those were Faulk’s Game Calls in Lake Charles, the Duck Commander Store and Warehouse featured on A&E’s hit television show “Duck Dynasty” in West Monroe, a soft adventure trip to Mandeville’s Northshore, and Grosse Savanne’s Marshland Educational Eco Tour.
And those members who were interested in Cajun cuisine could make 30 stops to sample boudin in various locations by choosing to experience the “Cajun Flavor Sensations & Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail” tour.
Essentially, all of the outings that members of SEOPA participated in were designed to showcase and stress the remarkable diverse culture, cuisine and natural resources available to those willing to partake in Louisiana’s spicy heritage and friendly atmosphere, where no one is a stranger once they eat gumbo and see their first alligator.
But perhaps what SEOPA conference attendees felt most was Dardenne’s passion for the state when he cited an April 1930 issue of National Geographic dedicated to Louisiana, along with one of its articles titled, “Louisiana, Land of Perpetual Romance.”
Moreover, when he quoted a passage from the magazine that read, “One finds a variety of resources and an ugliness of climate, a tranquil scenic beauty and a hospitality that makes manifold claims of her citizens as to their state’s points of excellence seem a bare recital of obvious facts.”
With eloquent words from antiquity that few would even know about today had they not been at the welcome gathering, Dardenne feels not much has changed in the 83 years since that article was first printed.
Captivating the audience of outdoor communicators, Dardenne went on, saying, “That’s what National Geographic had to say about Louisiana — I think it still captures who we are as a people. We are truly a land of perpetual romances with many, many passions. And those passions fold right into what you write about on a regular basis.”
Louisiana may just be experiencing its golden years of tourism as the state set a record in 2012 with 26.3 million visitors who spent nearly $10.7 billion according to an annual study by the University of New Orleans’ Hospitality Research Center. Dardenne pointed out those numbers occurred post hurricanes Katrina and Rita and BP Oil Spill.
Dardenne also commented on a study conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund that was funded by the Walton Family Foundation in the wake of the BP oil spill to determine the significance of wildlife tourism on the four states directly impacted by the spill, saying, “That study, not surprising to us, found that wildlife tourism is big business for these states — wildlife tourism being defined as bird watching, alligator watching, hunting, recreational fishing and enjoyment of the outdoors. The impact on Louisiana speaks for itself with 82,000 people working in wildlife tourism, two million people visiting our state spending $2 billion dollars, just on this aspect of one of our passions that we have in Louisiana.”
Dardenne let SEOPA members know that he considers tourism a vital industry in Louisiana and one of the few areas of state government that actually produces revenue.
“It’s an investment,” Dardenne said. “It’s something we are continually trying to remind policy makers and leaders of this state that it’s right up there with any industry that you can name in terms of generating tax revenue for the state of Louisiana.”
SEOPA celebrates its 50 Year Golden Anniversary in 2014. And during the organization’s first half century of existence, it has held its annual conference in Louisiana five times, dating back to 1971. Lake Charles has been the host city four times. In 2005, Morgan City was slated as the host city, but due to hurricane Katrina, the conference was canceled for the first and only time in the organization’s history.
For SEOPA’s family of outdoor communicators, their responsibility now is to share with others Louisiana’s Land of Perpetual Romance. And, until next time, “si bon de te voir.”
If you have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share you can contact John K. Flores at 985-395-5586; gowiththeflo@cox.net or by visiting www.gowiththeflooutdoors.com.

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