It was a party on the Vermilion River all Sunday afternoon.
As is requisite in Lafayette, the party included live accordions and stringed instruments, a variety of food to match and cold beer.
But the Bayou Vermilion District’s annual Boat Parade was celebrated on more than 150 canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and other boats that launched from Vermilionville.
“It’s a pretty good turnout. We’ve still got people showing up,” said David Cheramie, CEO of the district, about two hours before the parade kicked off. “It’s a popular event. People look forward to it every year.”
This was the fifth iteration of the boat parade but the first one held in May. Cheramie said it was previously held in October, but its time proximity to the Blackpot Festival at Vermilionville added stress to its staff. The overcast 73-degree day combined with a light breeze proved inviting to participants and spectators Sunday.
Whole families took to the water . Some brought their dogs on board with them. Beach balls were ready for games along the way. A dragon boat team was among the leaders of the pack. Graduate student Erik Yando and Taylor Sloey earned the Spirit of the Bayou award for their Viking theme, complete with a dragon head on the prow, horned helmets and face paint.
Chris Clements, 52, embarked on his first boat parade Sunday. He said he’s spent the last year exploring the natural beauty of South Louisiana’s bayous. The fun, he said, was the surprise of wildlife to be seen on such trips.
“They were at Lake Martin the other day,” he said, gesturing to the rest of his party, “and they saw a bald eagle.”
Clements was born in Franklin but spent 30 years living in Alabama before returning to Youngsville last year. He said his family became big paddlers in his absence.
“When I got here, I had to get a kayak,” he said.
Paraders launched at Vermilionville and made their way to the Camellia Boulevard bridge where the food and music continued courtesy of Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole.
The boat parade began as a way to showcase the Vermilion River and how pollution and litter had affected the waterway. The district’s big message, Cheramie said, was that any trash in the streets affects the water, too.
“Anything you throw into the streets of Lafayette is going to end up in the Vermilion,” he said. “If we don’t catch it, it’s eventually going to end up in the Vermilion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”
The district routinely excavates trash from the Vermilion and maintains catch points for trash being drained into the river. There were examples of local artwork created from that trash on display Sunday — including skulls and other bones from livestock pulled from the river.
Cheramie said the district has been collecting more and more trash from the river as time passes.
“Hopefully, it’s because we’re getting better at it,” he said.
Jesse Guidry, 33, of Lafayette, who helped to form the event canoed with his family Sunday.
“We started this to try to get people on the river,” said Guidry, who formerly worked for the district. “The more people are aware of what’s going on, the more likely they’ll do something about it.”
He said there was a “power in numbers” effect from the event, and he had hope for the future of the Vermilion River.
“I’ve got a lot of love for this waterway,” he said. “Hopefully, they can keep adding to it and engaging other people.”
Lafayette’s Project Front Yard was grand marshal for the parade this year. Although free, the event asked for donations to benefit district operations.