THIBODAUX, La. - Nicholls State University kicked off its annual Swamp Stomp festival Friday with 'Tresors du Bayou,' an educational program for local students featuring music, food, animals, crafts and everything in between.

More than 2,000 students from Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption parishes attended the event, circling between tents set up outside the football stadium.

In a tent run by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary program, kids squealed as they handled live crabs, crawfish and other bayou critters. Some gingerly plucked the crustaceans out of their tubs, while others avoided them altogether; then, in true Cajun fashion, several scooped them up and started playing with their claws.

Next door, Mitch Samaha, a biologist with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, showed off various furs and animal pelts, including a stuffed Louisiana Black Bear.

Samaha also brought a collection of animal traps, from simple snares to intimidating steel-jawed traps.

Students clustered around Samaha as he prodded one of the traps with a pole. When it slammed shut, several students squeaked and started.

'They just love these animals,' Samaha said. 'It's like a magnet.'

Samaha said he relishes the chance to engage students personally about the local wildlife and habitat, especially in an age of computers, cars and televisions.

'A lot of these kids don't know what it's like out in the wild,' he said. 'They don't know about all of the amazing and important stuff that goes on out there. This festival is a chance for us to bring that back.'

Nearby, Reid Callais stirred a black iron pot of spaghetti etouffee with a long-handled ladle. As he scooped out sample cups, he talked about the humble origins of Cajun cooking.

'Back in the day, this is all they had. They had a pot and a fire,' he said. 'You can cook anything in a black iron pot gumbo, etoufee, whatever. I bet you I could cook a grilled-cheese sandwich in this pot.'

Callais who grew up 'down the bayou' cooking 'the old-fashioned way,' said he loved showing kids where the food they sometimes take for granted comes from.

'The No. 1 thing people know about Louisiana is the food. Everybody knows that,' Callais said. 'But a lot of people don't know that it all comes from simply working a pot like this.'

In all, there were 22 booths, featuring everything from Zydeco dance lessons to Indian folklore and turtle-shell masks, paper pulp art and traditional crocheting.

Tresors du Bayou was only the start of a weekend of public festivities for the Swamp Stomp, which continues Saturday and Sunday. Attendees will get to hear live music from about a dozen local Zydeco and Cajun bands, and peruse stalls full of art and crafts.

Some of the stalls were up Friday. They ranged from ornate carved wooden ducks and paddles to decorative chain mail clothing to

Of course, it's not a Cajun festival unless the air is thick with the smell of jambalaya and fried shrimp. Food and drink booths with a distinctively Cajun flavor will be open all day.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 10:30 p.m. today and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $10 per day children under age 11 enter free.

You can find a band schedule, vendor list, parking information and other details online at

Staff Writer Matthew Albright can be reached at 448-7635 or at

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