- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

VACHERIE, La. (AP) - The thunderstorm that turned the green grounds of Oak Alley into mud the night before the plantation’s arts and crafts festival this spring wasn’t the main reason the plantation decided to end the 23-year festival.

But it did help the board of the Oak Alley Foundation, a private trust that maintains the plantation, to make up its mind.

“We had been thinking for years about discontinuing the craft show. It’s not part of our mission. Our mission is to educate about Oak Alley,” said Debra Mayhew, marketing director for the foundation.

“After what happened at our last craft show, we thought, ‘You know, it’s time. Mother Nature can do this at any time,’” she said of the recent collision of torrential rains with Oak Alley’s spring event on March 29-30.

“It’s still hard, still very hard,” she said of the foundation giving up the well-known arts and crafts event that was held in the spring and fall.

“Through the years, we’ve made a lot of friends with our vendors. We feel like we’re letting them down and visitors (to the festival), too,” Mayhew said.

In early April, the foundation board sent letters to the more than 170 vendors across the country who participated in the craft shows, advising them the event was being canceled.

Ending the biannual arts and crafts festival is a financial sacrifice for Oak Alley. Together, the festivals brought in $65,000 to $70,000 annually, Mayhew said.

The foundation, though, with a new master plan developed this year, believes it will be able to focus on new historical exhibits and features for Oak Alley that will make it an even more attractive tourist destination, she said.

Oak Alley is located on La. 18, across from the Mississippi levee, in Vacherie in St. James Parish, at a point midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

A National Historic Landmark, the plantation, which was opened to the public in 1976, is best known for the double row of giant live oak trees forming the oak alley leading up to the house.

Mayhew’s husband, Zeb Mayhew Jr., executive director of the Oak Alley Foundation, is a great-nephew of the last owner of Oak Alley, Josephine Stewart. Stewart created the foundation in her will to manage preservation of the plantation home and more than 20 acres around it.

Oak Alley has always relied on its visitors fees to fund its maintenance and improvements, Laura Mayhew said.

Nine years after Hurricane Katrina brought tourism to the Gulf Coast almost to a halt, the number of visitors to Oak Alley is climbing back up to its pre-Katrina level of about 800 visitors per day, she said.

Last year, there were approximately 213,000 visitors, and so far this year, numbers have been up each month when compared to the same month last year, Mayhew said.

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