Wild Things a hoot for young and old

So how big of a deal is the annual Wild Things festival to the Canulette Family?

So how big of a deal is the annual Wild Things festival to the Canulette Family?

Consider the car conversation I had with my daughter a few weeks ago when presenting her entertainment options for the month of October. One of the choices was a trip to visit “The Mouse” down in central Florida for a few days. As you might expect, she was ecstatic.

But then it dawned on her that the suggested timing of the visit might conflict with her favorite outdoors festival. Through my rearview mirror, I could see her cut me a sideways glance.

And then this.

“Disney would be great, dad, but only if we’re back in time for Wild Things.”

So back to the drawing board I went, and gladly.

Wild Things will be held Oct. 14 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bayou Lacombe Center. It’s a free event held each October, and trust me when I say that if you like the outdoors half as much as our family, then Wild Things is for you.

Consider this sampling: boat tours, canoe rides, archery and air-rifle shoots, several dozen interactive and educational booths, live retiles, birds and mammals, child-specific programming, hayrides, face painting, food, live music and more. It will all take place from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on what without fail has been a postcard-perfect autumn afternoon in recent years.

“I sound like a commercial, but there really is something for everyone at Wild Things,” said USFWS park ranger Diane Barth.

She’s right, and she’s one of several local USFWS agents who have been around since the early days of the celebration, which now enters its 20th year. Wild Things is held in conjunction with National Wildlife Refuge Week, and it’s a big deal to more than just my family. It’s believed that with more than 6,000 visitors last year, Wild Things is the largest outreach event held in the entire nationwide USFWS system each year.

“It’s grown so much,” said Pon Dixson, deputy project leader with Southeast Louisiana Refuges. “We already were having an event kind of like it (Gator Fest) at Bayou Sauvage (NWR in eastern New Orleans) when we acquired this property in the 1990s. …We thought we’d try an outreach event over here on the north shore. That first year, we had probably 500 or 600 people come. I was surprised at the big response we got then, but I had no idea it would become as popular as it did.”

Dixson and Barth recalled those early days before the celebration was even called Wild Things. The festival picked up its name after a USFWS ad campaign suggested people could experience "Wild Things!” at U.S. refuges.

So that’s what local staff gave them at the festival. In addition to a plethora of animals to see (and many to touch), there were duck-calling contests and a dunking booth that both were extremely popular in the '90s. Those are no longer part of the festival, but many more exciting activities have taken their place.

One such highlight is the Wild Things Youth Art Contest, which Barth coordinates each year. In the 1990s, a couple dozen etchings from one local school got the ball rolling. This year, as many as 400 entries from throughout the parish are expected in numerous categories and age groups.

Every piece of art, whether it wins or not, will hang in the Bayou Lacombe Center Conservation Room. Barth said nearly all of those children and their families turn out to see the work.

“I could tell when I got here that the staff and the public both were having fun with this festival,” she said. “I still find it very rewarding.”

As the new Southeast Louisiana Refuges supervisory park ranger, Becky Larkins is getting her first taste of staging a festival in south Louisiana. She attended one of the first National Wildlife Refuge Week celebrations in Virginia when she was in high school back in the 1990s, and she excited about her role here.

“This is definitely in my wheelhouse, but this is the largest one I’ve ever been involved with,” said Larkins, who began work with the service locally in February. “There’s a lot of different things going on, but it’s all really good fun.”

The public, including the Canulette family, certainly agrees.

Wild Things is made possible by the nonprofit Friends of the Louisiana Wildlife Refuges LLC, which is the fundraising arm for the local refuge system.

Volunteers are needed in various capacities to assist at the festival.

For more information on Wild Things, go online to www.fws.gov/southeastlouisiana/ or call (985) 882-2000. To volunteer, email Larkins at Rebecca_larkins@fws.gov or call (985) 882-2025.

Share on
Article Wild Things a hoot for young and old compiled by www.theadvocate.com

You might also like