“I never saw a square fish,” said Tony Latiolais, explaining why the traditional Cajun wooden boat he’d built and was proudly displaying featured exactly zero straight lines. Tony is a Smithsonian-certified Master Boatbuilder. He is doing his best to keep the Cajun boat-building traditions alive by practicing his craft so well, by talking about his process with anyone who will listen and by displaying his works in such celebrations as the Roots Heritage Festival, which annually caps off a week of events.
Officially called the Dewey Balfa Cajun & Creole Heritage Week, this event is a celebration of life in southern Louisiana that principally focuses on the state’s rich musical tradition, but also emphasizes its dance, food and outdoors culture. Campers staying in lush, amenity-rich Chicot State Park during last year’s festival, for example, could take Creole accordion lessons, learn how to do the old-style Cajun jitterbug, prepare shrimp etouffee over catfish using traditional methods, and take a workshop called Heritage Habitat.
The park itself, located seven miles north of Ville Platte, covers more than 6,400 acres. Dominated by the moss-covered coves and cypress-studded inlets of Lake Chicot, the park lures anglers in search of red-ear sunfish, bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass. Three boat launches allow RVers to ply the waters in their own crafts, and the south landing offers rental boats, in addition to 108 water-and-electric campsites, a swimming pool, two picnic areas, a lodge, a pier and cabins.
A scenic road through rolling hills thick with beech and magnolia trees connects the south landing with the north. Here campers can choose from among 100 water-and-electric hookups, then try their angling luck or take photos from the 400-foot pier.
The 2006 Dewey Balfa Cajun & Creole Heritage Week will take place April 21-27, with the Roots Heritage festival celebration April 22.