The swamp as classroom

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Two decades in the tourism industry have come to head for Paul Bair, who along with his wife, Lori, assumed ownership of Cajun Pride Swamp Tours in March.

Bair, a self-proclaimed Navy brat, got his start in the tourism industry when he found a job at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans after graduating from Tulane University. His career really began to take shape when someone tapped him for a sales and management position with another tour company.

“I started to get involved, and I liked it,” he said.

Then, when he came out to visit Cajun Pride last year, Bair noticed a “for sale” sign and immediately began to work on acquiring the property.

After spending years observing and working with various tour companies, Bair has the knowledge and drive to get Cajun Pride back in tip-top shape.

“I’ve done a little bit of homework,” said Bair.

Taking over was not quite as challenging as it could have been, however.

“It needed a little bit of TLC,” he said. “I had a great staff that was already here for me.”

Part of that staff is Captain Gary “Coyote” Hickman, who has led tour groups through the swamps for years.

Even the resident animals have helped Bair to keep the site in good working order. A number of cats inhabit the ground, keeping the rodent population at bay. One of the felines, Mugsy, has even been known to take on an alligator or two and has become somewhat of a YouTube sensation for his exploits.

Bair said he plans to make the base site for the tours a little more comfortable for guests by adding waterside gazebos and maybe even some local cuisine.

“We want to create an experience,” said Bair.

He said he is even looking at adding a stage for live music to the grounds.

Still, the main attraction is the tour itself. The 1 1/2 hour tour is an experience unique to the area, according to Bair.

“I’ve never seen the cypress trees they have out here,” he said.

The company owns 50 acres, and the surrounding land is a wildlife refuge, so there is no other traffic through the cypress swamps. While gators remain the main draw, Bair said he has also seen bald eagles, raccoons, egrets and herons as well as the occasional beaver.

“You’re really hitting on everything out there,” said Bair, who sees the business as much more than just a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

“It’s bringing people outdoors and letting people experience the outdoors in a different way,” he said.

The outdoors, after all, is what makes business a worthwhile Venture for Bair. Not only does he get to spend much of his time in the fresh air, but it has also provided the perfect venue to spend quality time with his wife and daughter.

Said Bair, “We’ve really turned this into a family thing.”

It is a feeling he hopes spreads to his guests.

“It’s all about having fun,” he said. “It’s a memory.”

Cajun Pride Swamp Tours is located at 110 Frenier Road in LaPlace. Call 504-467-0758 for more information or to schedule a tour.