First Phase Of Wetlands Center May Be Ready By Rougarou Fest

HOUMA, La. (AP) — The first phase of Houma’s South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center is close to being complete.

The center, on 2.4 acres near the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center, broke ground in January 2021. At the time, officials had hoped to finish the first phase by the end of May. Hurricane Ida slowed progress.

Executive Director Jonathan Foret said it was supposed to be completed by April, but setbacks such as weather stalled the project.

The first phase, which costs $1.7 million, includes a half-acre of man-made wetlands and a one-story educational pavilion with restrooms.

“It’s an outdoor education center so it’s an open-air pavilion and storage area,” Foret explained. “It’s an area where we can bring students to do things like water-quality testing in the pond, discuss the native species of plants that are growing around the pond, things like that.”

The space will be used to increase awareness of the local ecology and provide programs like school field trips, classroom visits and summer camps for kids.

Combined, the four-phase project will cost about $8 million.

Once the first phase is complete, Foret said the center will have to secure more money, perhaps from the state Legislature, to begin Phase 2. The catch is, to secure state construction money requires a 25% cash match.

“It’s all sort of dependent on our ability to raise money,” he said.

The organization’s main fundraiser is the annual Rougarou Fest, scheduled this year for Oct. 21-23. Organizers hope to move the coming festival to the center site instead of its traditional location in downtown Houma.

Beignet the nutria, so named because Foret said he is as sweet as powdered sugar, will be in attendance at 3 p.m. Oct. 22 for the annual pardoning of the nutria. Foret said Beignet rode out Hurricane Ida in his home and is excited to see everyone.

“He’s doing great, he’s doing really well, I actually brought him in my house during Hurricane Ida and so he was probably the best protected nutria in Terrebonne Parish,” Foret said. “He’ll be there to receive his pardon so he can keep his tail.”

The center now has its offices and exhibits inside the Terrebonne Waterlife Museum in downtown Houma.