Along the Natchez Trace

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What Am I Doing Here?

When we stopped by Cameron Prairie NWR last week to visit we weren't in a big hurry to head north as there's still cold weather up that way.  So we asked if they could use a couple of volunteers for a couple of weeks.  As it happened, the volunteers who had been living and working here since January were all scheduled to leave at the end of March.  A lot of refuges ask volunteers to stay 3 months - this helps personnel to schedule work and helps volunteers to plan their own itinerary.  I'm sure a big factor in our staying was that we'd volunteered here for 3 months in 2005 and were already familiar with things here.

So...  what do I do here?  Well, I walk the short distance from where our motorhome is parked beside the Maintenance Dept garage (they have a place for RV hook-ups here, but until Thursday, it was already being used) over to the Visitor Center.  That's where I'll be spending my volunteer hours while here.

There is a large parking lot in front of the building, but when you enter from the front, you have to walk past the informational kiosk and across a boardwalk that spans a rather large pond...
This is the headquarters and offices of the SW Louisiana Refuge Complex.  The complex consists of Lacassine, Cameron Prairie and Sabine NWRs.  Prior to Hurricane Rita, each refuge housed their own manager and personnel.  Since that devastating event, Lacassine and Sabine still have their own maintenance shops and some personnel, but Cameron Prairie rebuilt a much larger building that is now offices to most of the personnel of all 3 refuges.
You can see the pond in the photo above.  A fair amount of birds... mostly coots, moorhens, egrets and herons can be seen, and in the rear is a rookery where Roseate Spoonbills hang out and are very popular with visitors.  
Nearly everyday alligators sun themselves on the banks.  Right now the flags (iris) are blooming.   It's just a great welcome to the many visitors that stop by.

The refuge is right on the route of the Creole Nature Trail and the Lake Charles Convention Center makes sure that it's on the list for busloads of folks from all over the USA make this a stop.

Although there is an active "Friend's Group" here, there is no gift shop...  so what's a person to do while they're here?
As you enter, you'll see displays explaining the habitat here.  We're close to the edge of the Gulf, so while most of the water on this refuge is fresh water, Sabine is mostly salt water...  Plants and animals all have their specific needs.  
I sit in that chair you can see on the left...  but I'm up talking about the refuge or showing what we have here whenever visitors come in.
This room is everyone's favorite.  
Can you see T. Maurice on the left?  He's an animated full-size character who talks about the area...  
And on the right.... the 3rd panel that's out of sight here is...
 Tante Marie...
She comes paddling out in her pirogue (boat)...  talks in the Cajun dialect with the lively Cajun music in the background.  
These are truly the stars of the refuge!

Those displays each last about 10 minutes...  then folks usually head into the next room...
Lots of self-guided exhibits...  about birds, about water, about the environment....  all things that these refuges are concerned with.
Another view of the exhibits...

And there is an auditorium where you can watch a refuge movie...
More about the refuge system and this refuge in particular.
Do you see the alligator in the corner to the left of the movie screen?  He was part of the Lake Charles "Alligators on the Geaux".   Many organizations or businesses had these guys in their shops or along the streets...  each dressed in a theme.  This guy here has Federal Duck Stamps plastered all over him.  If you're a duck hunter you know all about these...  each year there is a contest where artists submit their work...  and the chosen one is portrayed on the Duck Stamp that year.

I worked 3 days last week and will work all this coming week...  Mon - Friday - 7 AM to 3:30 PM.  I'm not required to work 5 days a week, but we'll be here just a short time.  Bill is out in the field doing his thing,  and this is where they need the help.  

One day we had 3 busloads of tourists...  one from Wisconsin, one from Iowa, and the third from all-over.. this group was attending a Travel Writers Convention in Baton Rouge.  This week we had a busload of 36 kindergarteners...  but they had lots of parents along to help.  People come from everywhere and for all reasons...  everything from seeing the birds and alligators to asking where the places are to fish or where the boat ramps are.

Where I work is just the visitor center...  the refuge land is comprised of many thousands of acres of various habitats and uses. 

I'm sure glad we stopped by...  it's great to be volunteering at this refuge again.

That's All For Today! 


  1. Can you speak Cajun? I just love that accent they have.

  2. Looks like a great place to spend some time:)

  3. I don't remember Tante Marie when I visited there. Glad you found something to do., although you're more dedicated than I doing five days a week!

  4. Always fun getting involved in various things on the road, glad you enjoy it.

  5. What a neat way to explain all the history and activities at the refuge. I think Tante Marie would be so interesting to hear.
    Sounds like you are very busy with all those visitors.

  6. Sounds like you are having a great time. I am sure that they are thrilled to have you there in the "off season"!!

  7. I bet I'd enjoy visiting this one!!

  8. It's a beautiful visitors center. I can almost hear Tante Marie, but I wish I could really hear her, and see her on her boat. Do you get bored? I worked at a museum once and there were so few visitors, maybe two a week, that it was hard to keep busy and pass time. Fortunately the museum sold history books and if I was very careful to not damage the books, I was allowed to read them, while on duty.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. It's so far from my world in England. The photos and narrative make me geek I've just been on a day trip. What a fabulous way to spend your time there and belong to it for a while.