By: Joan Davis, AN17.com
The school year has come to a close, and families with small vacation budgets looking for entertainment or over-night getaways within driving distance have many diverse options in Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes.
"Staycations" typically include day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues or museums.
In Tangipahoa and Livingston, the helpful folks at the Convention and Visitors Bureaus consider each customer unique and offer inspiration and direction in how a family can spend their free time without spending too much money.
Emily McKneely, director of sales for TPCVB, said this time of year parents and grandparents are looking for ways to entertain the kids within their own backyard.
"In the last couple years, all of us in tourism have been promoting staycations, going to an attraction they've never been to before or planning a whole little secret weekend," she said.
For example, the grandchildren are coming in from Wisconsin a visit, she said. She might suggest a themed weekend that would include outdoor activities or cultural venues. A lot depends on weather.
"An outdoor adventure might include Kliebert's Alligator Farm, Global Wildlife and Tickfaw State Park," she said.
Kids from outside the area might love touring local strawberry or vegetable farms, like Liuzza's in Independence.
"Kids who have never seen a farm before might think it's amazing to see vegetables grow," McKneely said.
Parents and grandparents have a valuable resource in The Summer Fun Guide, published by the local newspaper, McKneely said. The TPCVB has copies and distributes them until they run out. The publication includes a complete list of kids camps that include everything from sports to art and robotics and everything in between.
On rainy days, there's the AMC Palace Theater, the bowling alley and the Louisiana Children's Discovery Center, McKneely said. The Big Red Barn in Ponchatoula offers kids an opportunity to be creative.
"It's like Painting With a Twist for kids," she said.
Adults interested in art can find galleries on the Southeastern campus and in downtown Hammond and Ponchatoula, McKneely said.
Many businesses and individuals are getting involved in a unique art opportunity, the Quilt Trail. Quilt trails honor the quilt tradition by displaying artistic blocks on the exteriors of businesses, homes, civic buildings. Ponchatoula's own Kim Zabbia, owner of The Art Station, is chairman of the Louisiana Northshore Quilt Trail.
The blocks have some personal meaning to the person displaying them, McKneely said. For example, Frances Chauvin, known locally for her homemade pies, is displaying a block that is a pie with seven slices representing her seven children. The tourism bureau's block features strawberries and railroad tracks with different elements representing the parish's municipalities. SLU's has a lion's face and paw prints. Folks can find maps of the quilt trail online and search them out.
Locals and visitors interested in local culture and ancestry can visit the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum, located in Hammond, the Italian Cultural Museum in Independence, the Collinswood Museum in Ponchatoula or Louisiana Treasures in Springfield, she said. The latter, especially, is a unique look at Tangipahoa sites. Wayne Norwood is the owner. A diver and collector, he has many collectibles from the hurricanes of the early 1900s.
"Just talk to Wayne and let him tell you stories," she said. "You could stay there for hours, hearing the history of Manchac and Ruddock. That's one of the best examples of people not knowing what's in your back yard."
Another source of local history is the Camp Moore Confederate Museum, located in the Village of Tangipahoa, McKneely said. Camp Moore is the location of the largest Confederate training camp in Louisiana and the only one in the United States still open to the public. It is the site of a large re-enactment each November.
With all such sites, McKneely said the main point is to call her office or the location to find out hours of operation. Like retailers, they're not open every day.
"Anytime you're planning a trip, do your homework, research and make a game plan," she said.
Another new catchword in the tourism industry is "voluntourism," and McKneely said it's catching on. Voluntourism is travel that includes volunteering for a charitable cause. Her own parents are good examples. Margaret and Sonny Joiner work with animal rescue organizations.
"They might be delivering an animal to be adopted or getting them out of a kill shelter to a rescue organization," she said. "While there they stay overnight in a hotel, visit a museum, eat at a restaurant."
McKneely said the Joiners have traveled almost as far as Texas transporting animals and have toured Lake Charles and Benton while there.
Folks coming into Tangipahoa Parish who have an avid interest in volunteering can call her office or the different entities for information on donating their time, she said.
Check out other attractions at http://www.tangi-cvb.org/site.php
Eric Edwards, executive director for the Livingston Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau, said South Livingston is best known for its beautiful waterways and places to visit or stay over night, like Tickfaw State Park in Springfield.
"There are canoe rentals, a boardwalk a quarter-mile long to the Tickfaw River, a huge stocked pond for fishing and a small water park for kids to jump and play," he said.
Sleeping accommodations range from tents to cabins and group homes that sleep up to 50 people, he said. There are also larger cabins that sleep unto 16. Families book the park for birthday parties, anniversaries and family reunions, especially during the summer. Reservations can be made online.
"Families have found it's easier than getting people together at somebody's house," he said.
Boaters have their choice of Livingston's waterways, including the Tickfaw, Blood, Natalbany, Amite, Petite Amite and Blind rivers.
Each municipality has something special, Edwards said. For example, historic Springfield has museums and world-class golfing at Carter Plantaiton, which offers villas for over-night stays.
Three miles north of the town of Livingston, researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) study black holes and blue stars at the science and education facility that allows tours and holds Family Day every third Saturday, he said.
In Denham Springs, families can find a lot to love at Parks and Recreation of Denham Springs (PARDS), Edwards said. The park recently opened Aqua PARDS, which is a water-themed area for kids which has all the splash park features including cannons and slides.
North of Denham Springs is Tiki Tubing and Zipline, and Cajun Lagoon, also north of Denham Springs, just opened, he said. The latter is similar to the TV show "Wipeout".
"It's the same principle," Edwards said. "There are huge things to jump on, an obstacle course. I just went Saturday and brought the kids. It's pretty neat. A great day in the sun."
Of course, the old district of Denham Springs is best known for its antique shops, and south of the downtown is Bass Pro, where developments around it are creating a retail shopping and restaurant destination.
Walker is best known for the Old South Jamboree, which is historic and still offers country music concerts.
RVers will also discover in Walker Lakeside RV, which offers a lake for fishing, cabins to rent and eateries nearby, he said.
At the Satsuma exit, folks can check out the Suma Theater, where Grand Country Junction puts on a Branson-type show every third Saturday.
And for those just taking an afternoon drive, Edwards recommends Highway 22, known as the Great Southern Swamp Byway, which runs from Springfield to French Settlement
"It's a scenic byway with lots of mom and pop restaurants and watering holes along the way," he said.
Folks can check out these attractions and many more online at http://www.visitlivingstonparish.com/attractions.php
Photos (courtesy of Tangipahoa Parish CVB and Livingston Parish CVB)