Over the last decade, residents of Cenla are sure to have noticed the annual arrival of some very unique bicycles all over the area, each boasting an eye-catching design and vibrant color pattern. The bikes signify the approach of one of Cenla’s premier events each year, Le Tour de Bayou, presented by Kent Plantation House.
This year, Kent Plantation House’s unique annual fundraising effort celebrates a decade of cycling across Cenla, and combines a healthy lifestyle with fun and adventure! The event was born in 2012 as a unique way to raise much needed funding for the Kent Plantation House. “Bess Hensel was one of the principal people who got things started,” explains Alice Scarborough, Kent Plantation House Executive Director. “We thought it was a great opportunity; nothing like this had ever been done before in our area.” The inaugural event was set for the third Saturday in September, and was a smashing success by any measure! “The first year, we had 650 people,” recalls Alice. “It’s just taken off from there.”
Alice borrowed inspiration for the trademark bicycles from the Louisiana Political Museum. “For the Hog Dog Trials, they always have the decorated pigs all over town, so I thought it would be pretty neat for us to do here,” she says. “Once we started putting them out, people started bringing in their old ones to donate.” The dazzling designs are the handiwork of Kent Plantation House’s Jane in June campers over the summer. “Each year, our campers decorate or revamp the bikes,” explains Kent Plantation House Events Coordinator Danielle Yerby. “If they look like a kid decorated them, that’s because they probably did!”
Le Tour is open to riders of all ages and abilities, with something for everyone! Each participation level includes a scenic cycling tour throughout some of the most beautiful landscapes Central Louisiana has to offer. Riders can choose between carefully selected courses of 10 miles, 25 miles, 40 miles, 69 miles, and, for the truly intrepid, 101 miles long! Each of the courses has been designed to highlight the natural beauty of our area, traveling along the bayou and into the Kisatchie National Forest. “From Bayou Rapides to the hills and piney woods, we are so fortunate to have the great backdrop of Kisatchie,” says Danielle. “From forest to farmlands, it covers everything and really shows what Cenla has to offer.”
Kisatchie is the only National Forest designated in the state of Louisiana. The forest provides a habitat for deer, armadillo, wild turkeys, raccoons and many others—if you’re lucky, you may even spot a Louisiana black bear. Birds and waterfowl of many kinds thrive here and provide endless opportunities for birding. Keep an eye out for red-cockaded woodpeckers. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the forest is its abundance of National Longleaf Pines, known as “super” trees. They are genetically designed to enable foresters to harvest more lumber on less land.
Riders along each of the designated courses will be escorted by the dedicated men and women of the Rapides Sheriff’s Department and the Alexandria Police Department. In addition, riders will be supported by a small army of volunteers who will staff rest stops and hydration stations along the way. In addition, Le Tour volunteers will also serve as ride sweepers and pacers, ensuring that any rider who experiences any difficulty along the ride will have quick and efficient assistance. “Our volunteers ensure that each group of riders is taken care of, whether they have an injury or a mishap with their equipment,” assures Danielle. “No rider is left behind.”
Le Tour will kick off at 6:30am on Saturday, September 18th with the blessing of the bikes by local priest and noted Cenla historian, Fr. Chad Partain. “The Blessing of the Bikes is a very impressive ceremony,” explains Alice. “It’s really awesome to stand at the end of the driveway and look over all of the riders on their with their helmets on ready to roll.”
Following the blessing, the longest ride of the day, a 101-mile trek, will depart from the front gate at Kent House. The course will take bikers along Bayou Rapides towards England Airpark before turning left on Vandenburg to Highway 28 West. The ride continues through beautiful scenery of the Kisatchie National Forest by way of Twin Bridges Road, following a trail that includes Castor Plunge Road, Robinson Bridge Road, Louisiana Highways 470, 112, 1199, Valentine Lake Road and more. Full route maps with stops, mile markers, and elevations are available online at www.letourdebayou.com.
A half hour after the 101-mile group departs, the 69-mile ride will roll, followed each half hour thereafter by another group, with each successive departure corresponding to the next progressively shorter course. The last group to roll might be the most fun, as the 2-mile fun ride/run/walk departs Kent House. While most of the long course riders opt for traditional bicycles, they’re not the only wheels you may see spinning at Le Tour. From recumbent bikes to tricycles and two-seaters, “anything goes,” says Alice. “We’ve had a little bit of everything.” In no group is that more apparent than the 2-mile Krewe. Skates, wagons, strollers, buggies—you name it. In fact, Le Tour has even included a unicycle!
The folks at Kent House are quick to point out that Le Tour is a ride experience, not a race. “Le Tour is an at-your-leisure, for-fun event,” says Danielle. “Everyone is going to walk away with the same great stuff, no matter when they decide to finish.” That great stuff includes the official 10th Anniversary Le Tour de Bayou medal, t-shirt, and a unique “swag bag” compliments of Red River Cyclery. “The contents of the swag bag are always a surprise, and always different,” says Danielle.
Riders completing the courses will be welcomed back to Kent House with a huge party! “It’s Louisiana,” says Danielle, “you can’t just have a bike ride, you have to have a party!” The festivities will include a live DJ, complementary tours of the house and grounds, and lots of fun for everyone. Registration includes admission to the post-ride festivities, where riders, registered guests and ticketholders will enjoy a delicious meal of Louisiana cuisine prepared by Cenla’s own Tommy Sauve of Southern Creations. Tommy will prepare delicious selections featuring Louisiana shrimp provided by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board and Louisiana Tourism. Registered guests will enjoy refreshing beverages provided by Jack’s and The Tasting Room of Louisiana. Registration for the 101-, 69-, 40-, and 25-mile courses is $50.00 per rider. The 10-mile course is $30.00 and the 2-Mile Fun Ride/Run/Walk is $20.00 for a family of up to four. Additional family member or companion tickets are available for $5.00 each and each person will need a ticket to enter.
Le Tour de Bayou is one of the principal fundraising activities for Kent Plantation House each year, supporting the Kent House educational mission through generous donations from all event sponsors, including GAEDA and the Alexandria-Pineville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “All of our educational programs are funded by events like Le Tour and grants that we receive,” explains Alice. Kent Plantation House, built in 1800 by Pierre Baillio II, is one of Louisiana’s oldest standing structures. This French Creole style home, built raised on brick pillars to protect it from flood waters, has been fully restored with period correct furnishings and pieces. All outbuildings, though not original to the plantation, are as old as the two-century-old house. These buildings compliment the house and, together, give a living history example of a typical working French Creole plantation of the 1800s.
Kent Plantation House preserves, interprets, and promotes its historic site to educate the public about the history and culture of Central Louisiana between 1795 and 1855. “Our volunteers take visitors back in time,” explains Alice. “We don’t focus on dates as much as lifestyles.” Kent Plantation House’s staff and team of dedicated volunteers offer guided tours of the main house, surrounding buildings and grounds to guests from all over the world. “This area was such a melting pot of different cultures at the time,” says Danielle. “You can’t paint the history of Kent House with just one brush.” Kent Plantation House offers a glimpse of the French, Spanish and American cultures that have influenced Louisiana. All three flags fly over the entrance.
This year’s event is especially important following the challenges of the last year. “Last year is the year that wasn’t,” recalls Alice. “When the schools closed, there were no kids and no tours. It was very sad.” Since then, things have begun to come back to life. “When we finally got to reopen, we began offering tours by reservation only,” she explains. “It’s picking back up, but still not back to where we were before.” Things are looking up. In addition to Le Tour, Kent Plantation House will once again welcome the community for another of Cenla’s favorite events, Fall Herb Day, on Saturday, October 2nd from 8:00am until 1:00pm. In addition to quality Louisiana herb plants for fall, garden plants, vendors selling both handmade and garden related items along with arts and crafts, Fall Herb Day will feature a huge yard sale! You won’t want to miss it!
From Le Tour to Fall Herb Day and every day in between, “we want to see happy faces, outside enjoying what we have to offer,” says Danielle. “We encourage schools to give us a call to set up a tour for their class. We operate within the guidelines set by the CDC and we are open!” Because of capacity limits, advanced registration for guided tours is highly encouraged by calling the Kent Plantation House office at (318) 487-5998. Maximum six people per group from the same household. Tour guides and guests are required to wear masks. “We are excited to welcome all of our visitors back,” says Alice. “We’ve missed them!” Kent House currently offers three tours per day, as the volunteers and staff work back towards the standard six daily tours.
Le Tour de Bayou riders, guests and community supporters can pre-register for the various routes, fun walk and post-ride party in advance at www.letourdebayou.com. In-person registration will be available on Friday, September 17th from 9:00am to 6:00pm at the Kent Plantation House office. So air up your tires, wash your sneakers, and get ready to ride, roll, walk or stroll along the bayou at the 10th Annual Le Tour de Bayou!