January 31 is National Plan for Vacation Day! The reason this is important is because a 2018 study from the U.S. Travel Association discovered that 55% of employees do not use all their allotted paid time off! But down time and traveling for pleasure are vital to our physical and mental health. In this special travel section, you’ll find some exciting American destinations, an interview with travel expert Angie Manning with Visit Lake Charles, and a good-news update on the Lake Charles Regional Airport.
Lake Charles Regional Airport: Nothing but Blue Skies Ahead
by Katelynn Mouton
While the weather-related disasters of 2020-2021 affected the Lake Charles Regional Airport, the COVID-19 pandemic truly took its toll on the airline industry worldwide.
“The airline industry, especially the commercial sector, is one that is used to bouncing from challenge to challenge,” says Lake Charles Regional Airport Executive Director Heath Allen. “The COVID-19 pandemic, however, was something completely unseen.”
Allen recalls a day, early on in the pandemic-related shut-downs, when only five people came through the airport in the span of a day. Those days are quickly becoming a distant memory as the industry continues to rebound and locally, according to Allen, things are really looking up for the Lake Charles Regional Airport.
“In 2022, every month, with the exception of January, we saw passenger numbers that exceeded our 2019 numbers,” Allen explains. Storm repairs are wrapping up and federal grant dollars are making some additional projects a reality, setting the stage for future growth.
“Even though the terminal building held up well, the building still incurred more than $1 million in damages to our facilities,” Allen adds. “We lost about 70 percent of our hanger space, but we are well on our way to restoring that and expect to be at nearing completion on those repairs as we look forward to being in a position to exceed the space we had pre-storm by the end of this year.”
When discussing the current projects underway, and the projects that are on the horizon, Allen says it is like a “chicken or the egg” scenario.
“The Infrastructure Law established five years of committed funding, an unprecedented investment, in airport operations,” explains Allen. “We expect to see a little over $1 million a year in funding, in addition to our typical annual Federal entitlement funding, with opportunities to apply for additional project funds, allowing us to renew our facilities and put us in really good shape for future growth opportunities.”
One project Allen cites is a $2.5 million federal allocation earmarked to replace two existing passenger-boarding bridges.
“This project has been awarded and the contract is signed,” Allen said. “By the end of the second quarter, we can look forward to all four Gates having brand new loading bridges. This is not only helping enhance our offerings now, but also preparing us for the possibility of larger planes servicing the airport.”
A new terminal for fixed base operations is in the works with an anticipated completion date set for the end of 2023. New passenger canopies at the front of the airport will make for more convenient loading and unloading, and a new parking lot for employees will help increase parking in the existing lot.
“I think what is most exciting about our current projects right now is that so many of them are public-facing,” Allen adds. “Many times the projects we are working on are not necessarily visible to the public.”
While the skies are clearing for Lake Charles Regional Airport, there are still some challenges ahead for the industry as a whole.
“The only headwinds I see right now, and this is really nationwide, is a shortage of pilots and the fact that fares are on the high side across the board due to their just not being as much supply on flights,” says Allen.
Allen says he does expect those fare prices to level off by the end of this year, going into 2024 and added that the airport remains in a good position to continue serving travelers.
“I think we have a very savvy traveling public at this point in time. They do their homework and weigh their options when choosing where to start and end their trip. There are a number of factors that affect booking decisions, but in the end, the convenience of free parking and leaving from and returning to your hometown are hard to pass up.”
Visit https://flylakecharles.com for more information on the Lake Charles Regional Airport.
10 Top U.S. Travel Destinations
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Notice how I didn’t title this Top Ten U.S. Travel Destinations. Because really, who can be the judge of that!? The United States is a vast, diverse nation, and there are a LOT of fantastic places to visit. More than we can tackle in one Thrive story! And so much depends upon a person’s interests. Does one love the beach, the mountains, the desert? Is one an adventurer, foodie, or history buff? Big cities or great wildernesses? To narrow this down, I will share ten destinations that are on my own personal bucket list. So, in no particular order . . .
Specifically, I want to do one of those deals where you take a cruise from Seattle to Alaska, then a train ride through Denali National Park to marvel at the glaciers, fjords, mountains and wildlife. While you could take a road trip, the cruise/train option allows you to see a lot in a shorter amount of time, including scenic ports like Ketchikan and Skagway.
2. Key Largo, Florida
There are plenty of beach destinations to choose from in Florida, but Key Largo is a place where people can leave the sand and enjoy the ocean. For examples, at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, visitors can grab a snorkel mask and experience an adventure below the surface.
3. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Immerse yourself in stunning Pacific Northwest scenery in the Columbia River Gorge, an hour’s drive from Portland. The area is known for its majestic waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls. After a day of hiking or biking, unwind in the town of Hood River and experience their craft beer scene.
4. Nantucket, Massachusetts
Step off the ferry and start to relax on this idyllic island off the coast of Cape Cod. You’ll find beautiful beaches, quaint gray-shingled cottages, and historic lighthouses. I hear the drive to get there is an experience in its own right. Explore the Whaling Museum and dine on lobster rolls.
5. Louisville, Kentucky
I have yet to be in town on the weekend of the Smoke and Barrel Festival, one of Lake Charles’ newer and instantly popular events. So I’ll just have to go to Louisville! Known for famous brands like Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam, the city offers the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, consisting of 10 distilleries, each offering tours and tastings of the Bluegrass State’s signature spirit.
6. Nashville, Tennessee
I’ve never been a huge country music fan, but they don’t call it Music City for nothing. Nashville is one of the country’s premier spots for music. Check out the honky-tonks along Broadway and hear anything from rockabilly to blues. Don’t forget the Grand Ole Opry!
7. Estes Park, Colorado
I’ve always wanted to explore the Rockies, but I am not a skier. An hour and thirty minutes from Denver, Estes Park is known as a “summer mountain town.” Travelers can enjoy the lakes, nearby rivers, and lush forests of the valley. Estes Park also has a famous landmark – the Stanley Hotel – one of the most haunted hotel destinations in the nation, and the inspiration for Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” I will decidedly not be going there!
8. Frostburg, Maryland
I love small, charming, quaint towns that scream Americana. Sure, touristy, but the locals don’t mind. Add in “college town” and that ensures there are always interesting arts and entertainment events. Added bonus – it’s only an eight-mile bike ride down the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad trail to Cumberland, Md., terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail – an experience that is high on my list.
9. Chicago, Illinois
While wilderness generally trumps big city for this outdoorsy girl, I can also appreciate the amenities of a major metropolis. Museums (the Art Institute of Chicago), architecture (the skyscraper was born in Chi-Town), musical entertainment, a plethora of dining options (deep dish pizza?) What’s not to love!
10. Madison, Wisconsin
I don’t know a lot about Madison, but a good friend of mine is from there, and he’s always raving about his hometown. It sounds like it might not be all that different from Lake Charles – a Saturday farmers market, numerous lakes, plenty of annual festivals, lots of live music – except it is significantly larger and it’s cooler in the summer and colder in the winter. These facts are exciting: Madison has the most parks and playgrounds per capita of any of the 100 largest U.S. cities and is one of five communities to have received a «Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community” rating from the League of American Bicyclists!
Keep in mind, I’ve already been to numerous U.S. destinations, so many of the BEST locations are likely not on this list. Go online, do some research, and make a Ten Top Bucket List of your own! Let 2023 be the year you start checking them off.