Bounty on the Bayou

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Bounty on the Bayou

“Duck Dynasty” boosts tourism in Northeast Louisiana

By Linda Miller

“Duck Dynasty,” a hit reality television series that focuses on guys who wear camouflage and beards, make duck calls, live to hunt and love their families, has made West Monroe and Monroe, La., a hot spot for tourists.

It’s not unusual for the Robertson family’s Duck Commander store and warehouse parking lot to be filled with cars from as far away as California and Idaho, especially during peak vacation times in the spring and summer.

While a visit to the store for souvenirs or a chance to see patriarch Phil, Uncle Si, son Willie or other Robertson family members around town may be the biggest draw to the area, the twin cities offer plenty of other attractions worthy of a road trip.

One of the most interesting, especially for those who’ve never seen a bayou, is Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can spend a lot of time or a little exploring the scenic backdrop – swamp, marsh and wetlands, nature trails, wooden wildlife pier, arboretum, observation deck and mammoth trees draped with moss. On an early morning visit, fog settled over the area creating a landscape that was peaceful and a bit eerie at the same time.

Be sure to stop at the visitor center, a restored 19th century planter’s house.
Monroe and West Monroe, situated on the Ouachita River, is a sportsman’s paradise, but the cities also boast several museums, including the Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum, Northeast Louisiana Delta African-American Museum and Masur Museum of Art.

Another is the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, a gem that’s filled from corner to corner with exhibits that not only preserve the history of the area but the world as well. Memorabilia from the Civil War to the Vietnam era are displayed, along with personal items and first-person accounts from locals.

Housed in one of the last remaining buildings from World War II Selman Field Army-Air Force Navigation School, the museum also pays tribute to its own aviation history. During the war, the navigation school in Monroe was the largest in the U.S. and offered the nation’s only complete navigation course.

One of the more prominent exhibits showcases Gen. Claire Lee Chennault and the Flying Tigers. Chennault grew up in Louisiana and made his home in Monroe after the war.

The area’s aviation history also includes Malcolm S. Biedenharn, who helped found Delta Air Service in 1928.

Biedenharn is a prominent name in the Monroe area, and Joseph’s story unfolds at the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens. Joseph Biendenharn, a candy confectioner in Vicksburg, Miss., was the first person to bottle Coca-Cola in 1894. He moved to Monroe in 1912, purchased a small bottling plant and became a key player in Coca-Cola history. The museum showcases the man and the drink.

A short walk from the museum is Biedenharn’s home, furnished much as it was when his daughter, Emy-Lou, an opera singer prior to WW II, resided there until her death in 1984. The gardens include dozens of flowers and plants, and a nearby building houses a Bible museum with rare books.

Landry Vineyards, another well-known attraction, owes part of its success to being featured on an episode of “Duck Dynasty” in 2012. It didn’t take long for out-of-town visitors to come in, often referencing the show.

Word is Phil Robertson’s wife, known as Miss Kay, favors the Blackberry Merlot while Willie prefers the barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon.

Landry Vineyards offers tours, a tasting room and outdoor concerts. A large front porch beckons visitors to sit for a spell and sip Landry wines.

If you’re interested, a Duck Commander Hometown Tour brochure features many of the local hangouts featured on the series.

Visitors also are flocking to new Robertson businesses. Willie, son of Phil and Miss Kay and chief executive officer of the multimillion dollar Duck Commander enterprise that inspired the reality show, recently opened Willie’s Duck Diner in West Monroe, just a few blocks from the warehouse.

His wife, Korie, and oldest daughter Rebecca opened Duck and Dressing, a boutique offering fashion, accessories and home décor, in downtown Monroe in November.

If you’re into shopping, check out Antique Alley in West Monroe. And, of course, there’s always the Duck Commander store. The Robertson empire includes more than 2,000 products from underwear to chia pets to recliners. You can even buy a baby onesie with Phil Robertson’s favorite saying — Happy, Happy, Happy.

A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” filmed in the West Monroe/Monroe area, debuted in spring 2012 and is touted as the most popular non-scripted series on television.

Immediately, the show started boosting tourism. Visitors come to the Duck Commander store, and then want to see more in the area, said Sheila Snow, communications director for the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The area saw an increase in tourism the first summer after the series debuted and then a huge swell during spring break 2013, she said. “It was phenomenal.”

Visitors have come from as far away as Canada and Australia making the show’s success and its impact on tourism far-reaching, Snow said.

So come to visit the Duck Commander store or in search of the beards, then discover what else West Monroe and Monroe have to offer.

For more information, go to the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.monroe-westmonroe.org.

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