The Louisiana Renaissance Festival is a fall tradition for Katie Waguespack. She’s been going to the event near Hammond, which celebrates medieval life and arts, for the past 10 years and even got married there last November.
Heavy rains flooded the area earlier this month, leaving the festival site buried in debris after the waters receded. Not wanting to see a place that means so much to her covered in river slime and trash any longer, Waguespack joined about 200 volunteers on Saturday to help clean up the grounds and wash mud from buildings. Another cleanup event will be held on April 2.
Six to eight feet of water flooded the festival site, pushing some structures off their bases, said Alvon Brumfield, entertainment director for the festival. Benches and trash cans drifted away, a set of bleachers was washed into the tree line, and a wheelchair ramp to a pirate ship floated across a pond and all the way to the front gate.
Most of the 50 permanent buildings on the site are still in good shape, though their floors and walls were caked with mud.
Brumfield said he’s not yet sure how big of an economic impact the flood damage will have on the festival.
“We’re trying to get everything fixed,” he said. “We haven’t stopped to try to calculate that at all.”
Taking a break from raking up pine straw, Waguespack and her friend Candy Billiot, both from the Thibodaux area, went to check on some of their favorite spots. People were pulling wet and damaged items out of buildings on both sides of the path.
“Ninety percent of the jewelry I wear is from a shop over there that I’m scared to go look at,” Waguespack said, referring to the Free Bird jewelry shop, where she and her husband bought their wedding rings.
A few steps later, the building came into view and appeared to have little damage.
“Still there,” Waguespack said with a sigh of relief.
“Most all the buildings here are wooden and it’s pressure-treated wood, so more often than not, the wood itself won’t really be damaged,” said Thomas Dargnet, who’s been an assistant to merchants Larry Rockwell and Arleen Dougherty for the past four years. “It’s mostly the electronics and the things we leave behind in the shops. We’ll leave the lighted display cases … and when the flood comes in, the outlets are just low enough that it can short out the display cases.”
Dargnet, who lives in Hammond, was working with volunteers late Saturday morning to clean out Enchanted Shire, where Rockwell and Dougherty sell jewelry and craft items. Earlier, he helped pick up logs that are used in an ax-throwing activity at the festival.
“We have these logs that are very tempting for ants when they get wet,” Dargnet said. “I discovered that the hard way.”
Merchants own the buildings where they sell their wares and conduct demonstrations. Many of them leave furnishings in their stalls year-round, so they spent Saturday deciding what to clean and what to throw away.
Ella Long and Tina Simoneaux already had moved out two refrigerators that were knocked over in the flood when they arrived Saturday to sort through muddied and rusted props they use at the festival, which is held in November and December each year.
Long and Simoneaux are members of the Renaissance Living History Center, a nonprofit organization that demonstrates historic methods of cooking, spinning cloth and candle-making.
Long and Simoneaux said they’d have to buy new refrigerators and possibly a hot water heater, which shifted off its base in one of the six buildings they use.
“We had all of these doors and windows shut, so it just tossed everything around. … You couldn’t even walk in here,” said Long, who lives in Hammond. An empty egg carton was wedged in the rafters of the kitchen area.
But at least everything was locked up and didn’t float away, she said.
For Waguespack, the cleanup event was a reminder of what she likes most about the festival. Being with people who share the same interests is special, she said, but she also admires how merchants and volunteers help one another.
“The people here are really, really great,” Waguespack said. “It’s like one big family.”