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This popular Cajun Halloween festival in Houma is on an environmental mission

After two pandemic- and hurricane- related cancellations, Houma’s spookiest event returns in late October, with the goal to raise awareness for Louisiana’s disappearing coast.

Named after the legendary bayou creature that has the head of a wolf and body of a human, the Rougarou Festival is a staple in South Louisiana that celebrates the area’s folklore and culture in true Louisiana fashion: a costumed parade and contest, good Cajun-flavored food and some folklore storytelling.

At the parade, keep an eye out for costumes made of local materials — moss and oyster shells, for example — bayou boats turned into decorated floats and moves from the 600-person Rougarou Witches dance krewe.

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Misty Leigh McElroy
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Witches get ready to dance in the annual Rougarou Festival parade.

“I’m always impressed with the creativity and artistry for the costume contest,” Jonathan Foret, South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center executive director and event organizer, said.

But there’s one message that organizers hope comes through loud and clear among revelers: the area’s culture can’t be celebrated if land is lost.

“If the Rougarou doesn't have a place to live, then neither do we,” Foret said.

The new South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, a brand new facility that intends to increase awareness and education of the area’s important local ecology, is the organizers’ focus of the fundraising and where the festivities are taking place.

Though the festival is free, organizers are able to raise funds for the center from food, drinks and merch sold at the event. In 2019, the Rougarou Fest raised over $100,000 for the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center.

Construction of the educational outreach center, which also aims to revolutionize how people think, teach and learn about the state’s coast and wetlands, began in January 2021; the grounds were completed this fall.

The space boasts a half-acre of man-made wetland and an educational pavilion with bathrooms on site. Outside of the Rougarou Fest, the grounds will be used to provide programming like school field trips, classroom visits and summer camps for kids.

Foret said the center is a crucial place for local kids growing up in some of the most vulnerable areas in the world due to climate change.

“It's our responsibility to make sure that the children that grow up in Terrebonne Parish and coastal Louisiana have the knowledge that they need to either live successful lives for as long as they can in the area, or at least be able to weigh the risk of living in a coastal community,” Forret said.

The festival is also set up to be environmentally conscious, with reusable, recyclable or compostable materials being used throughout the weekend, and there will be zero-waste stations to collect those materials.

The festival will also have a recycling center where bottles and cans can be traded for tickets and prizes.

Foret said the festival is also throwing “RouCoins” during the parade. The RouCoin — a play on the word BitCoin — is a wooden token to help keep the festivities clean and can be redeemed later for one free cone of frozen yogurt.

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Misty Leigh McElroy
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The 2022 Rougarou Queen Celeste Roger in her costume featuring Donald Kraemer's taxidermy.

“It also gives us that opportunity to advocate for our community because it's not just where you live,” Celeste Roger, this year’s anointed Rougarou Queen, said. “It's our surrounding land, our values, our waterways.”

Roger said she hopes to see the new environmentally-friendly measures at the festival inspire the attendees’ to implement similar initiatives into their daily life.

“It's going to be really awesome to have something where it definitely supports the overall goal and mission of the festival,” Roger said.

The festival will be held from Oct. 21-23 at the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center and surrounding grounds on 132 Library Drive in Houma. Parking spots will be available next door at the Terrebonne Parish Main Library and Civic Center. There will also be RV camper spots for those coming out of town.

Kezia Setyawan is a coastal reporter for WWNO and WRKF and is based out of Houma.

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