The idea of a state park south of Abbeville was a goal of some local residents for years, only to encounter roadblocks.
First, they needed to get the right land. Then, once the state committed to the project, hurricanes like Rita and Gustav pushed in high water, destroying what had been built. Finally, though, Palmetto Island State Park opened last October.
The opinion of park visitors? Worth the wait.
“We’re so proud of this facility,” said Danny Richard of Intracoastal City, who brought two grandsons to the “splash pad” water playground Aug. 13. “So many of our friends from the parish and family from the surrounding parishes come in and use the facility, and they’re so pleased with it.
“The taxpayers’ money is being put to good use.”
Louisiana’s newest state park features six cabins, 96 campsites, three fishing ponds and boat access to the Vermilion River. All of the bodies of water are connected by a “canoe trail” for paddlers who want a workout and access to secluded, scenic areas. A gravel hiking trail also connects the campground with one of the ponds and the water playground. The roads also are gravel, but there are plans to pave them, said park manager Marcelle Guidry.
Palmetto Island gets between 5,000 and 6,000 visitors a month, Guidry said.
“It has slowed down right now because of the heat, so our campground is not as crowded,” Guidry said. “From October to April we were packed every weekend. We were packed. Now, in the summer months, it’s the water park that’s really busy. The cabins are booked every weekend. We have fishing. People come out and fish. People come out and walk the trails.”
In hot weather - which has been in no short supply this summer - the splash pad is a beehive of activity. It has a variety of fountains shooting water up or down at revelers, and the devices are triggered by motion sensors, which means the water isn’t wasted when the area is empty, but guarantees fun for even small crowds.
“This one is really big,” Guidry said. “With a water park, there is no danger to anybody except maybe a skinned knee if they happen to fall down. That park doesn’t have to hire lifeguards, and certified lifeguards are very, very difficult to find these days.”
The splash pad’s popularity makes it the focal point for day-trippers, many of whom set up portable coverings to shade their picnic table or a grassy spot just a few feet away from the concrete. Nearby is a bath house that provides restrooms and changing areas, a meeting room that can be rented for birthday parties and family reunions, and a nature center. Also, there are larger picnic pavilions set back into the trees that also can be reserved by larger groups.
Richard and Nicole Dubois of Abbeville have visited Palmetto Island a half-dozen times this summer with their children, Caroline, 6, and Jacob, 3.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere around,” Richard Dubois said. “It’s a good thing for the kids. The campsites are nice. You can bring your own food and drinks and have fun. This is a good deal. This is a really good deal.”
Admission is $1 per person, and free for those age 3 and younger or 62 and older.
The campsites are far enough away from the splash pad that there is no noise problem, and most of them are separated from the others by at least some trees or palmettos, providing some privacy. The park’s namesake plant is in abundant supply in the surrounding woods and swamps.
Interpretive ranger Alyson Bordelon staffs the nature center, which currently has a display on a native iris species that will soon be planted near the boardwalk section of the hiking trail. By next spring, the bright red blooms should be evident, Bordelon said.
The center has a few small alligator heads, and although they did not come from the park property, there are live ones in the waterways. Bordelon reinforces a message posted on signs: Do not feed the alligators.
“We had two large ones they had to remove,” she said. “That’s what happens. People start feeding them and they become dependent, then they start bothering people .”