Rick Seale, former manager of the park (now District Manager for NWLA) met our cohort and oriented us to the facility.  He emphasized the importance of making tours accessible, good interpretation, and accuracy.  He gave us a history of the building of the Fort, differentiated “reproduction” and “reconstruction.”

The museum/ visitors center has a number of reproduction artifacts. The exhibits were English/ French bilingual. We watched an introductory film (also available with French subtitles).

We entered the Fort in a sustained rain. We were lucky to have a long-term employee and reenactment enthusiast give us the Fort tour. He was wearing a very passable French colonial uniform, gave us the known facts of the fort and clearly differentiated known facts from likelihoods and guesswork. It was also clear he modified the tour for our group: he switched between giving the standard tour and some critique, and lots of personal opinions.
He also talked about difficulty of interpretation, what could be and should be interpreted as what, and that first person interpretation should be reserved for a large staff (they have been severely affected by state budget cuts), and that some people find strict first-person experience rude.  Before we left, the rain subsided, and our interpretive ranger fired a musket.

The facility provides a wonderful opportunity to provide an historical lesson on a resource that has been long gone, but that is the bedrock of the French colonial history in Natchitoches.

I was overly critical of the site before visiting it. I now see it was an amazing jewel just a rock’s throw from my apartment. On a slow day it would probably be a peaceful park. I can’t wait to go back.

Visitors from France really liked the Fort too. The two couples had just visited sites downriver and before that visited New Orleans and L’Acadiane.

First-time visitor experience: Four bouquets (highest normal rating) and ½ brickbat (it was raining).

* I hope to be able to use pictures from classmates to enhance this entry. In the meantime, visit Megan Blinov’s excellent Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/newunoriginal2