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Giving Back: Enjoy local lights at Therapeutic Riding Center

LAPLACE — For many in the New Orleans area, it has become a holiday tradition to pack up the family car to see the city’s various light displays, fighting traffic and long lines to do so.

River Parishes residents now have an alternative that is a little closer to home.

Volunteers Alyssa and Holly Landry stand by a Christmas in the Crevasse bonfire last week.

Volunteers Alyssa and Holly Landry stand by a Christmas in the Crevasse bonfire last week.

For the second year in a row, the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center in LaPlace is hosting its Christmas in the Crevasse, a leisurely hayride through festive light displays spread out across the center’s five-acre property.

For the bargain price of $5 per person or $3 for children 2 and under, visitors can enjoy lighted angels and alligators, crawfish and crabs, with spirited Cajun carols playing in the background.

There are a variety of photo spots with Mrs. Claus (Holly Landry) and her elf (Alyssa Landry).

Anita Hefler, the founder of the Riding Center, came up with the Christmas in the Crevasse idea last year as an alternative for River Parishes residents. It was a great success, she said.

“Not everybody can get to Celebration in the Oaks or some of the other displays,” Hefler said. “We opened on Thanksgiving night and had over 200 people. We hope to get better and bigger every year.”

Anita Hefler, Riding Center founder, adjusts some of the lights used at Christmas in the Crevasse.

Anita Hefler, Riding Center founder, adjusts some of the lights used at Christmas in the Crevasse.

All proceeds benefit the Riding Center, which provides horse-assisted activities for children and adults with disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, Down syndrome and autism. The horses help such patients develop upper-body strength, balance and coordination.

The tour also is educational, as Hefler explains the story of the crevasse to hayriders.

The center is located not far from the Bonnet Carre Crevasse, the spot where the Mississippi River broke through the levee to Lake Pontchartrain in 1871.

It remained until 1883 and was eventually replaced by the man-made Bonnet Carre Spillway in 1932.

“Each farmer was supposed to take care of the levee near his house and was paid $5 a year to do it,” Hefler explained. “One farmer decided he didn’t want to do it.”

Holly Landry, who reports for duty as a Cajun Mrs. Claus complete with camouflage rubber boots, also is a volunteer at the center.

“It’s just a great cause,” she said. “It really helps people with healing. They just love it.”

Landry said the Christmas celebration is something everyone can enjoy.

“Not a lot of people know about it,” she said. “We would love for people to know it’s here, right in their own backyard.”

The Therapeutic Riding Center is located just off McReine Road, on the corner of Shadowbrook Lane and Louisiana Avenue.

Christmas in the Crevasse is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. through Dec. 30, except in the event of rain. Parking is free.

Hayrides depart every 20 minutes. Group reservations may be made for other days of the week.

In addition to the hayride, visitors can purchase hot dogs, hot chocolate and other snacks. There also are assorted items from the Cajun Night Before Christmas for sale. Credit and debit cards are not accepted.

Children are invited to enter a coloring contest with prizes to be awarded in the 5-under, 6-8 and 9-12 age groups. First prize is a $15 gift card to Raising Cane’s, second and third prizes are $10 gift cards to Raising Cane’s.

Prizes will be awarded on Dec. 21. Entries may be picked up at the Center and must be turned in by Dec. 17. They may be mailed to P.O. Box 5095, LaPlace, LA, 70069.

Hefler said she is still seeking patrons to sponsor light displays for $200 each. Contact the Center at 985-651-5239.

For more information, visit gnotrc.com or christmasinthecrevasse.com.