Louisiana is known world-wide as a Sportsman’s Paradise, and Central Louisiana is a key player in earning that reputation. As home to the state’s only national forest, four national wildlife refuges, the state’s longest hiking trail and the state’s only wild and scenic river, Central Louisiana has a wealth of fun, family-friendly activities to entertain residents and visitors.
But the opportunities are far more than just tourism – the great outdoors also poses a great opportunity for business developers and entrepreneurs as well. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, residents of the 4th and 5th Congressional districts, which cover the bulk of Central Louisiana, spend an average of $2.8 billion on outdoor recreation annually.
Looking to build on that base, Louisiana Central has developed an Outdoor Initiative. “As a rural region with amazing natural resources, we see the importance of this opportunity to spur economic recovery, grow jobs and support entrepreneurs with a program that aligns so closely with our local culture,” said Jim Clinton, Executive Director of Louisiana Central. “About half of the rural counties in the country have not recovered from the 2008 recession. Of those that have recovered, the dominant force driving their recovery is outdoor recreation. Locally, we have amazing resources, but not much development, so we are working to encourage people to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available locally to start new businesses and grow that field.”
Central Louisiana is currently home to two major outdoor manufacturing operations – Bill Lewis Lures, which manufactures the famous Rat-L-Trap fishing lure, and Nets & More the Fish Net Company in Jonesville. Clinton would like to see additional outdoors manufacturing companies locate in Central Louisiana.
Clinton also sees significant opportunity for businesses that serve the outdoor recreational needs of residents and tourists. “We don’t currently have a lot of developed hunting and fishing spots, hunting and fishing guide services, things of that nature,” Clinton said. “Creating more of those businesses in the area wouldn’t just be great for tourism, it would lead to new job creation and business creation.”
Sherry Ellington, Director of the Alexandria-Pineville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau agrees. “Outdoors is very important as we have something to offer that is very different from other areas in the state. Central Louisiana is a wonderful area for families.”
Top attractions Ellington mentioned include the Kisatchie National Forest, numerous lakes for boating and fishing enjoyment including Lake Buhlow, Cotile Lake, Valentine Lake and Indian Creek, historic sites including Ft. Randolph and Ft. Buhlow, and the Alexandria Zoo, one of only two zoos in the state accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Kisatchie National Forest, the state’s only national forest, covers more than 600,000 acres spread across seven parishes. The territory provides a protected habitat for deer, fish, wild turkeys and many other animals. Birdwatchers will find a variety of subjects including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The forest is divided into five ranger districts with each offering a variety of activities from hiking and camping to hunting and fishing. The forest has more than 40 developed recreation sites and more than 100 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Fisherman come to the area to catch catfish, bass, perch and more while hunters seek deer as well as wild turkeys.
For those who prefer water over land, in addition to the many lakes available for fishing and boating, Central Louisiana is home to the Red River. The Red River Waterway Commission operates a number of recreational sites along the river. Sites range from boat launches to larger facilities like Alexandria Levee Park that includes a 150 foot floating wharf, an outdoor amphitheater, picnic tables and grills as well as restroom facilities. There are a number of locks and dams along the river, which is used for both commercial and recreational boating.
“As people look for healthy, family-friendly recreational opportunities, Central Louisiana is home to a variety of great options,” notes Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Randolph. “From the beauty of the longleaf pines in Kisatchie Forest to the tranquil waters of the Red River and Lake Buhlow, we have something for everyone who enjoys the great outdoors. And those opportunities extend beyond entertaining residents and visitors. Central Louisiana is brimming with business opportunities based on our area’s natural recreational assets.”