Clair Coco looked happy, if busy, at Friday’s Flashlight Night at BREC’s Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. Coco, who directs the center, worked the registration table taking admissions payments for a line of visitors that stretched the length of the building.
Flashlight Night allows patrons into the park after dark to see the area’s nocturnal wildlife, Coco said.
Though after-hours programs have been among the most requested, the center rarely got much of a turnout, so for this run, Coco decided to try something a little different.
Rather than a set time for a group walk through the woods or a nocturnal animal educational program, the staff decided to just extend hours, ask patrons to bring their own flashlights and let them wander the mile or so of gravel trails and boardwalks through forest and swamp, after dark.
The strategy worked, Coco said, and the length of the line confirmed that. No matter how long she stood there, the line never seemed to dwindle. The exhibits were packed with patrons, as were the trails, with groups of flashlights bobbing through the dark woods.
One set of those flashlights belonged to three generations of a Denham Springs family, who had never been to the park before Flashlight Night.
“It’s something we wanted to do for the little one,” said Amy Jacques, grandmother to 2-year-old Brantley Weaver. “He loves flashlights,” she laughed, as the bespectacled toddler trotted down the trail, stomping so that he activated the pressure sensitive lights on the soles of his boots. Grandma got him the boots, too, said Jacques, with her husband Maurice, nodding in agreement.
“I can’t resist,” she said. He loves using them when the family visits their camp in East Baton Rouge Parish. On this night, the family was pretty sure they heard an owl, and toward the end of their hike, heard the rustling of leaves that ended up being an armadillo digging for food along the forest floor.
Brantley split his time along the trail on his mother or grandmother’s hip, on his father’s shoulders, or stomping along the trail, shining his beloved flashlight into the woods, and pointing.
“He got a pack of flashlights for Christmas,” said his mother, Lacey Weaver, while dad, Chris Cox, stood behind. Soon after, Brantley would hurl the flashlight off the side of the boardwalk, leaving Cox to fish it out of the grass.
“Good job, dad,” said Amy Jacque, as they made their way to the crossroads, consulting the trail guide they picked up at the center.
It’s seeing families use the park more often, or come to the park when they otherwise wouldn’t have, that keeps the staff at the nature center looking for more ways to bring the public in. The next Flashlight Night is planned for May 20.
Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center is a 103-acre facility dedicated to conservation, education, recreation and tourism in the heart of Baton Rouge, according to the center’s website.
For more information on the center or other BREC parks and activities, visit www.brec.org.