JENNINGS, La. (AP) — A new outdoor adventure is being created in Jeff Davis Parish.
Visitors and residents can now enjoy the Flyway Byway — a more than 55-mile scenic driving route surrounded by swamps, farmland, waterways and other unique terrain. Future expansion of the byway calls for designated bike paths and waterway trails.
"The Flyway Byway provides a great opportunity to experience Jeff Davis Parish and its unique history, natural resources and culture by vehicle," byway consultant David Dahlquist said. "Community pathways, designated bikeways and blueways (water trails) will offer additional opportunities to extend and expand the byway experience for residents and visitors alike."
The byway ties together a network of scenic roads and waterways with proposed bicycle paths, many of which have been in place for years, but are now being developed as a collection of scenic routes with things to do and see along the way, according to tourism officials.
"We want to make our parish a designation for people to come to canoe, kayak and watch birds," said Jeff Davis Parish Economic Development and Tourism Director Marion "Butch" Fox. "Once they are here, they will eat in our restaurants, buy gas, stay in our hotels and shop in our retail stores. It will also be a great catalyst to bring in more hotels and businesses."
The result will be more tax dollars, which will used to build and maintain local infrastructure, she said.
"It will also mean additional jobs," she said. "Every time you increase visitors, restaurants, hotels and retail jobs increase to serve the additional people coming in. It will also allow our young people and entrepreneurs a chance to stay in the place they love and do something they really love to do."
The route forms an enclosed loop linking Jennings, Welsh, Lake Arthur, Roanoke and Thornwell along U.S. 90 — including parts of the Old Spanish Trail between Welsh and Jennings — Louisiana Highways 99, 14, 3056 and 26, and part of Illinois Plant Road. Two short spurs connect the byway with Interstate 10 to the north, and two spurs extend the byway to the Cameron Parish line and Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.
"Jeff Davis Parish has a very different venue than any other parish because we are surrounded by water with the Lacassine Bayou and Mermentau River and we are home to more than 160 different species of birds," Fox said. "The Flyway Byway is a way of getting visitors off the interstate to see the birds and everything else we have to offer."
Most people think of Jeff Davis Parish as an agriculture parish, but it is much more with its scenic beauty and nature, she said.
Thornwell is also the newly dubbed Yellow Rail Capitol of the World, drawing hundreds of birdwatchers from throughout the world to see the elusive birds during rice harvests.
"Other parishes have crawfish and alligators, but we are the only place where you can see the yellow rail," Fox said. "That's an experience we can share with the rest of the world."
The proposed water trails will include fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking trips on Lacassine Bayou, Bayou Chene, Lake Arthur, the Mermentau River and Bayou Nezpique.
"Because we are surrounded by water we wanted to include the blueway trails so that people can come and not only see the birds, but also enjoy canoeing and kayaking while seeing the birds, alligators and all the other animals on our waterways," Fox said.
Officials are working with the state Department of Transportation and Development to create the proposed bike paths, including safety lanes and pull-out points.
A six-mile extreme bike trail from the Lorraine Bridge and Lacassine Bayou to West Niblett Road off Louisiana Highway 99 is already in place and being used by bicyclists, Fox said.
Community leaders and tourism officials have been working for four years to develop the proposed routes and devise a marketing plan to target the area to visitors.
"We are hoping to attract over 20,000 people to the byway over the next three years," Fox said.
The routes will be identified by roadside theme signs directing visitors along the Flyway Byway. Officials hope to have the signs in place by the end of the year.
"The signs will be a huge draw and help us get the people off the highways," Fox said.
Doug Bourgeois, director of the Louisiana Byways Collection, said a website and app with links and information on the area is being created to direct visitors to the route.
The local Flyway Byway is among 17 byways in various stages of development across the state, each with a unique theme, Bourgeois said.
"The byway tells a story about the community and the state," Dahlquist said. "Each individual community has its own story to tell which is part of an even bigger story."
The Flyway Byway will feature local museums, parks and boat launches as well as the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, the Lorraine Bridge, Myers Landing and the Lake Arthur Boardwalk. The byway will also incorporate birding, rice fields, crawfish ponds and community events to help attract tourists and promote the area.
Information from: American Press, http://www.americanpress.com