Talking alligators and ghostly pirates give Lafitte’s new Barataria Museum and Wetland Trace a sense of the character and charm of the town itself. In a town named for the infamous pirate who once used its waterways as a backdoor to New Orleans, a museum certainly can’t be formal or tedious, and its grand opening wasn’t either.

Live Cajun music by Bruce Daigrepont was a perfect backdrop to the festive occasion with well over 300 in attendance. Visitors danced with skirts twirling, or simply sat back in their camp chairs to enjoy the traditional music. Guests also enjoyed exceptional Cajun cuisine such as alligator stuffed mushrooms, shrimp remoulade and stuffed crabs provided by local restaurants Des Familles, Boute’s and Voleo’s.

Jefferson Parish President John Young and Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner each took a few minutes to talk about the museum and its significance before the ribbon-cutting. “The exhibits bring to life the importance of community, and why it means so much to live down here in Crown Point, Lafitte and Barataria,” Young said.

Kerner agreed, and gave credit to the man he says was the catalyst for the idea behind the museum. “I can’t take credit for the idea, which we’ve been working on since before Katrina. That honor goes to Joe Baucum, who first came to me with the suggestion of a wetlands education center.”

With each successive disaster that has rocked Lafitte in recent years, this project has been pushed back, but it is finally here, and Kerner has been working with several other businesses and groups to promote it. Other area attractions such as various fishing charter companies and Airboat Adventures, LLC, and groups like Louisiana Seafood have teamed up with Kerner to promote the museum to their clientele. Brochures are being distributed to state welcome centers, and New Orleans area hotels will soon have information to display as well. Not only will the museum be an added attraction for those planning a visit, but it makes an exceptional and affordable field trip destination for local schools.

Following the ribbon-cutting, guests were invited to tour the attraction, after which they could stroll along the raised boardwalk nature trail and take a boat tour aboard the Little Cajun pontoon tour boat.

Guests enter the 6,000-square-foot facility and are immediately immersed in the charm of Jean Lafitte and its colorful history. Exhibits include an impressive collection of taxidermy of local wildlife, artifacts and information on the pirate Jean Lafitte, scale models of shrimp boats, pirogues hand-made by local talent, fishing artifacts and photography, local artwork, and even Civil War weapons and ammunition. A state-of-the-art animatronic alligator entertains guests as they tour the exhibits.

The museum also features a small theater capable of seating about 80, with a 20-minute multi-media presentation. Told in an anecdotal fashion, a narrator takes viewers on a journey through the sometimes spooky past and into the future. From the life of pirate Jean Lafitte, to the personal stories of locals and folk traditions, the narrator gives a new perspective on the history of, and life in Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria. Key factors about coastal erosion and how it has affected this area through seven disasters in seven years are related in easily understood terms, and a surprise visitor pops in to keep guests on the edge of their seats.

Finally, visitors can walk along a 1 1/2-mile cypress swamp trail through bayou and marsh to view alligators, snakes, spiders and exotic birds. The lush green environment is also home to beautiful plants, such as native hibiscus, irises and several types of lilies. From March to June, an egret rookery can be observed from the raised walkway as well. Photography enthusiasts will appreciate the ample opportunity for close shots that place them in the middle of the wetlands.

Soon, the museum will not be the only new attraction. A seafood pavilion is in the works as well. Located conveniently near Rosethorne Park, the pavilion will feature booths selling seafood of all types, fresh from the nets, and free live entertainment on the weekends.

Lara L Arceneaux Lafitte Lagniappe Columnist By Lara L Arceneaux Lafitte Lagniappe Columniston April 15, 2013