Evangeline-Longfellow State Historic Site gets new fitness signs, StoryWalk, vegetable garden
Writer: Ruthie Losavio

(SAINT MARTINVILLE, La) – Evangeline-Longfellow State Historic Site visitors can look forward to several new amenities including fitness signs, a StoryWalk and a vegetable garden.

“We are always trying to find ways to welcome the local community into Longfellow,” said Christi Disher, manager of Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site. “These new projects add a whole new element to the park. Where we have previously focused on historic elements, we are now expanding our interpretive programs to include nature, health, and wellness.”

Thanks to LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities and SNAP-Ed, Eat, Play, Live St. Martinville, Cycle Zydeco and TRAIL, the walking and biking trail on site now features signs with fitness messages about warm-ups, stretches, bench exercises, trail distances, hydration, and nutrition.

“Encouraging physical activity in public spaces benefits the community by developing a social connection or bond with people of the community. It provides enjoyable time to socialize with family and friends in a safe environment,” said St. Martinville Mayor Melina Mitchell. “Utilizing walking and biking trails will promote physical activity and attract tourism, which can benefit a community economically and socially.”

The StoryWalk, installed by the St. Martin Parish Library, features laminated pages from a children’s book I Love Autumn (J’adore L’automne) by Shelley Admont. Families can read through each page of the story in both English and French as they walk along the trail to the Acadian farmstead.

“This partnership is an opportunity to introduce visitors to new books and promote local culture. The French-English book currently on display is a nod to the strong Acadian heritage in the community and to the diversity of books planned for future StoryWalks,” said Susan Naquin, head of programming for St. Martin Parish Library.

“At first glance, outdoor reading and physical exercise seem like an odd pairing,” added Naquin. “However, creating welcoming, diverse, and cohesive public spaces is an important factor in any successful community. People of all ages need public spaces to learn, play, socialize, and relax. Promoting literacy and an appreciation of reading are paramount to the Library. Pairing books with physical activity in the StoryWalk will result in strong minds and bodies, a balance needed for all successful community members.”

The new vegetable garden, planted and maintained by the ARC of St. Martin, will feature broccoli, turnips, radishes, Swiss chard, beets and maybe even a few herbs this fall. The Greauxing Gardens grant program, run by LSU AgCenter’s Dr. Kiki Fontenot, provided supplies to get the garden started.

“The opportunity to maintain the community garden at the Longfellow-Evangeline Historic Site gives all ARC Day Program participants as well as ARC Supported Independent Living individuals an outdoor activity in the community,” said Joan Cormier, Day Program Supervisor for the ARC of St. Martin. “We also hope the process of planting, growing and eating the vegetables they grow will educate these individuals about the food they eat and lead to a healthier lifestyle. Staff will have ongoing discussions with participates about the nutritional value and benefits of eating the vegetables they grow.”

Cormier also noted that outdoor activities like gardening provide an opportunity to remain active and connected while social distancing. The garden also features two rows of bench seating perfect for accommodating field trip groups and families.

These projects are part of the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative, which aims to improve the physical and social environments that influence health using a community-driven approach. The Healthy Communities initiative in St. Martin Parish is facilitated by LSU AgCenter assistant extension agent Jessica Randazzo.

Individuals with questions about walking or cycling in the park can contact Disher at (337) 394-3754. If you would like to learn more about the new amenities or St. Martin Healthy Communities, please contact Randazzo at jrandazzo@agcenter.lsu.edu or (337) 332-2181.

Susan Naquin of St. Martin Parish Library poses with StoryWalk pages from children’s book I Love Autumn (J’adore L’automne).
Photo by Jessica Randazzo/LSU AgCenter.