Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cold weather puts a chill on attendance at Louisiana Hiking Club's 2013 Campfest

Clair Anne Johnson, 14, of Ponchatoula, LA gets ready to savor a s'more she just made at the Louisiana Hiking Club's Campfest held at Chicot State Park, March 2-3, 2013.
     When making the decision to go or not go to the Louisiana Hiking Club's Campfest at Chicot State Park just north of Ville Platte, LA, March 2-3, some prospective campers apparently got cold feet after hearing the weather forecast for the park included night time temps below freezing and daytime temps struggling to reach 50 degrees.
     The blustery weather may have been the reason only 65 people attended this year, down from the usual of about 100, said LHC acting president, Nancy Hall.  The event is held annually the first weekend in March. 
     "I thought the weather was fine.  I had a great time at this year's fest," said the veteran backpacker and hiker referring to the partly cloudy and breezy weekend.  Temperatures in nearby Ville Platte for the weekend were: Friday 60H-40L; Saturday 49H-34L; Sunday 57H-30L, according to  There was no rain but there was frost Sunday morning.
     No records are kept of who plans to attend and who actually does--people just show up, said Hall, so there is no way to poll members to ask why they did not attend this year.  The LHC provides the meat grilled Saturday night to serve as the entree for the potluck supper and the Sunday morning pancake breakfast but because the number of attendees is about the same every year, the same amount is food is purchased every year--no RSVP needed.
     Attendees tent camp on the grounds of a conference center on the eastern side of Chicot Lake.  There are no hookups there for R.V.s.  Saturday, during the day, participants join groups to learn about map reading, how to pack a backpack and emergency medicine among other topics.  Also speciality outdoor shops from Baton Rouge and Lafayette set up tables featuring the latest and greatest outdoor gear. 
     Members pay $5 for the event and two nights camping.  LHC membership is $10 and the process can be completed online.
     The highlight of the fest, not counting renewing old friendships, is the potluck supper and raffle Saturday night.   Perhaps because of the smaller turn-out this year, everyone won something at the raffle.   The pile of swag included gift certificates, freeze-dried entrees, gift boxes of jerky, packs and other stuff, donated by outdoor merchants from across south Louisiana.  Later a film was shown about three young men hiking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail (four started the hike) and the personal challenges each faced in completing the journey.
     Sunday morning began with an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, prepared by a team of cooks under the supervision of the crusty but kind "Larry the Pancake King."  (Larry hung up his spatula after this year saying that after nine or ten years it's time.)  Many of the group left after breakfast but some stayed and hiked a portion of the scenic 22-mile "Buckeye Trail" surrounding the the lake.  Volunteer work crews from the LHC help maintain the trail.
     After Sunday breakfast this year, some atendees got a prize--free food.  Because of the reduced attendance plenty of grilled chicken and sausage were left over.  It was quickly distributed to members who wanted it, the free protein destined to become a succulent addition to many a delicious gumbo and jambalaya.

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