Hobbyist Wins Duck-Carving Awards

ERATH – Grant LeBlanc went from a whittler of wood to World Champion in the course of a weekend.

The 70-year-old hobbyist won two first-place distinctions for his wooden duck and pintail at the 43rd Annual World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City, Md. After dominating their individual species division, LeBlanc’s two prized carvings were judged against each other, with LeBlanc’s wood duck bettering the pintail (which judges determined floated erratically) to move into the “Best of Show” finals. Once there, judges further dissected LeBlanc’s already-intricate piece of art, claiming a certain feather was painted the wrong color and that the wing-length was less than a half-inch off.

Prior to making his mark at the World Championships, LeBlanc flexed his wood-carving muscle at a regional event in Mandeville late last year. At the 35th Louisiana Wildfowl Festival, LeBlanc (who belongs to the Acadian Wood Carvers Guild in Abbeville) snagged four first-place ribbons including “Best in Show” for his breathtaking wooden Drake – a labor of love that took nearly a year to complete. Cumulatively, LeBlanc estimates it takes nearly 400 hours of work to craft these award-winning ducks.

Louisiana Spirits Rum Distillery Opens in LaCassine   

LACASSINE – For drivers commuting between New Orleans and Houston on Interstate 10, Jeff Davis Parish is starting to turn into more of a destination than a pit stop. With its Oil and Gas Park already attracting more than a million visitors a year, local tourism received another shot (pun intended) with the long-anticipated opening of the Louisiana Spirits rum distillery.

Set on 25 postcard-worthy acres of land accented by rows of cypress trees, Louisiana Spirits offers guided tours and rum tasting at its 18,000 square-foot facility. The site also includes a gallery celebrating the state's historic role as a sugar cane producer and rum distiller, a 109 year-old farmhouse (the first home built in Iowa, Louisiana) that has been saved and relocated, plus a gift shop.

Tim Litel, Skip Cortese and Trey Litel founded Louisiana Spirits in 2011. The Litel brothers are from the Lake Charles area and have teamed with Cortese, of Baton Rouge, for the venture. Tim and Skip have worked together over the past 12 years to build and sell environmental service companies. Tim brings his environmental expertise with specialties in operations, compliance and general management. Skip is a successful entrepreneur with an environmental engineering background and specializes in construction and startup management. Trey brings over 25 years of sales and marketing expertise, with over 10 years in the distilled spirits and beverages industries.

Zoo of Acadiana hosts Giraffe Wedding

BROUSSARD – After a brief courtship, dozens of locals attended the celebrity wedding of the season as Gabriel the Giraffe and Evangeline the Giraffe tied the knot at the Zoo of Acadiana. For those scrambling to get the happy couple a belated gift, they’re registered at Ranch Outlet.

Gabriel, a 16-foot giraffe, has been a much-talked about and oft-visited resident of the zoo for years. Last fall, though, Gabriel finally got some company when the zoo acquired 14-foot Evangeline from a Wildlife Preserve in Kansas. The couple worked through a brief awkward phase – zookeepers divided the habitat initially, separating the two giraffes – before warming up to each other.

Spots in the wedding party were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Music was provided by the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra. The Zoo of Acadiana is open year-round (although with limited hours in the month of December). For more information on when and how to visit Gabriel and Evangeline, go to www.zooofacadiana.org.

New Iberia Attractions Celebrated at Louisiana Culture Awards Ceremony

Nouvelles des VillesNEW IBERIA – Two local attractions, Shadows-on-the-Teche and New Iberia’s Main Street district, were among 13 entities recognized at the Louisiana Culture Awards Ceremony at the Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge. Hosted by Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, the event honored individuals, organizations and communities making outstanding contributions to Louisiana's culture.

Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation Home received the Historic Preservation Education Award. The family home that William Weeks Hall bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1958, opened to the public in 1961 to tell the story of those who worked in the sugar industry in New Iberia more than 100 years ago. The Shadows-on-the-Teche's staff developed these stories as teaching tools for students. They created workshops in which participants can live like their ancestors in the 1900s (including fishing with bamboo poles).
    New Iberia's Main Street –  a picturesque thoroughfare complete with beautiful old buildings, antebellum homes and a thriving downtown with shops, restaurants, businesses and museums – received the Historic Preservation Main Street Communities Award.

Thibodaux Regional Medical Center Receives Accolades

THIBODAUX – For the sixth year in a row, Thibodaux Regional Medical Center received the HealthGrades Outstanding Patient Experience Award. The annual distinction is given to facilities that rate in the 95th percentile of hospitals in terms of favorable reviews from those admitted.
    The HealthGrades website compares similarly to other publicly graded review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List. According to the website, more than 225 million people have used the site to find and rate doctors and medical facilities. The Outstanding Patient Experience Award is based on the total scores hospitals compile from sub-categories such as punctuality of care, clarity of instructions and diagnosis and doctor-nurse-patient communication.

LCVC Launches New AppsNouvelles des Villes

LAFAYETTE –  Finding the perfect vacation destination in Acadiana just got a whole lot easier. The Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission (LCVC) now offers the new VisitMobile iPhone and Android application. VisitMobile is the ideal way for leisure and business travelers to effortlessly plan and navigate their Lafayette experience with an online destination guide, interactive map of the area, and access to valuable special offers from industry partners.

“As technology grows, it is important for us to keep up with our visitors’ desire to have as much access as they can to all the great amenities Lafayette Parish has to offer,” says Ben Berthelot, executive director of LCVC.

“This mobile app will be a user friendly way for visitors to navigate their stay in Lafayette. We are pleased to get it launched, and we have more technology offerings on the way.”

VisitMobile provides LCVC’s industry partners real time access to travelers through their mobile phones, and enables LCVC to communicate with visitors while they are planning their travels, as well as once they arrive in Lafayette. The app allows LCVC officials to update content instantly, such as information on hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions, and convey partner promotional offers. LCVC can view detailed reports of how visitors are using the system in real time. The application was custom-designed for LCVC, incorporating photography, logos and color schemes from its brand.

The iPhone app can be downloaded for free by visitors from Apple’s iTunes Store. The system’s GPS capabilities turn the visitor’s device into a Mobile Concierge making it easy to find nearby attractions, hotels, restaurants and money-saving offers anytime and anywhere. Using VisitMobile’s exclusive Virtual Location feature, visitors may also explore different areas of Lafayette by selecting any point of interest on the embedded map to visualize what is around them.