#26 The Atchafalaya Basin

Cajuns love the outdoors, the fresh air, being surrounded by wilderness, and there’s no better place for this in south Louisiana than in the Atchafalaya Basin. The Basin’s our backyard, a place we can get away to on the weekends and wind down with a little camping, fishing, and beer drinking — everything a modern Coonass needs.

When I was young, my grandfathers would take me to the Basin every few weeks. We’d drive on top of the Henderson or Butte La Rose levees and choose a good place to launch our boat. We’d ride out to our secret spot, moving past house boats and navigating a maze of cypress knees, careful not to hit any underwater stumps. Sometimes we’d fish, other times we’d pick up nets that my grandfather had set out earlier. Sometimes my grandfather would hand me a shotgun with instructions to shoot pretty much anything that flew over my head, endangered or not. To my grandfathers, hunting and fishing laws were more suggestions than anything else. Nobody was going to tell an old school Cajun what he could or couldn’t shoot. Luckily for the birds, I was a pretty bad shot.

South Louisiana contains 40-45% of the wetlands of the lower 48 states, and the Atchafalaya Basin makes up a huge part of that. With 865,000 acres, the Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the United States. The Basin is over 15 miles wide running east to west, and 150 miles long. The word Atchafalaya comes from its Choctaw name “hacha falaia” which means “long river”. The Choctaws used this word to describe the Atchafalaya River that feeds the Basin. For those that don’t want to get their hands dirty, the Basin can most easily be seen while driving the 18.2 mile stretch of I-10 that runs between Henderson and Marigouin.

The Atchafalaya is home to a wide array of wildlife, including over 300 species of birds and the largest population of bald eagles in the south central United States. It also hosts a large population of American alligator along over 54 types of reptiles and amphibians. In addition, over 90 species of fish, crawfish, crabs, and shrimp also call the Atchafalaya home, and provide a livelihood to many Louisiana fisherman. The fishing industry brings 300 million dollars into Louisiana each year, and the Atchafalaya is part of that.

The Atchafalaya Basin serves an important role as a buffer marsh. As a wetland, the Basin performs many vital functions, including flood control, water purification, and storm buffering. It is home to endangered species such as the Louisiana black bear and the bald eagle, and native wildlife like grobecs (delicious), osprey, herons, egrets, beavers, and alligators.

In the early 20th century, it became quite evident that the Mississippi River, seeking a more direct route to the Gulf of Mexico, was attempting to reroute itself over the Atchafalaya River. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 triggered a max exodus from communities like Bayou Chene, Sherburne, Atchafalaya, and Pelba as these towns were ravaged by Mississippi floodwaters. To prevent future flooding due to the Mississippi’s repeated attempts to redirect itself, the US Corps of Engineers erected huge floodgates at the intersection of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers. An extensive system of levees and channels was also built to help control future flooding.

In recent years, control of the Mississippi’s flood waters has become a controversial issue as many point to it as a major reason for land loss in Louisiana. Much of the Mississippi’s valuable silt is now being deposited over the continental shelf, rather than into surrounding buffer marshes, which depend on this silt for replenishment. These marshes play an important role as buffers against storms and hurricanes. It is estimated that over 29 square miles of Louisiana land is lost each year to erosion. I’m no scientist or tree hugger, but I love the Basin, and want it to be around for future generations to enjoy. If that means I have to make a few sacrifices in the short term, than so be it.

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17 thoughts on “#26 The Atchafalaya Basin

  1. all so, so so true.
    I’m sure you don’t read “women’s health” magazine, but there was an excellent article by the “i can do this” girl who did a night time canoe trip through the atchafalaya. That article really made me want to go on a canoe trip out there.

    You are true about the coastline. It’s so sad to hear, but unfortunately true. Mother nature is an amazing thing.

  2. After seeing how New Orleans was ignored during Katrina, I don’t think we have a chance at saving our coastline. There’s just not enough money in the area for the federal government to justify it, and not enough local money to make a dent in the problem. Now if it was the Texas coastline, it would be an entirely different matter.

  3. I grew up with a paranoid fear of the game warden. I rarely saw one, but it seems as if we were always trying to outsmart or outrun him.

  4. Well they’re out there, but like most things, if you know the right person, you can get out of trouble. Maybe I’ll do a future post…#128 Having a Game Warden in the Family 😉

  5. Beautiful post! Anyone who has spent any time in the Basin knows precisely what you’re talking about.

  6. Thanks. Some of the boat landings run tours. I used to get a kick out of people on the tour boats taking pics of my dad and I fishing. Still, if you’re an out of towner, it’s probably a good option.

  7. mr frank had a camp out on the bayou. i had some good times there as a kid.

    sometimes, alligators would crawl into his old truck, and die a natural death.

    *cough*

  8. Oh, HAYL NO. I love the actually going out into the bayou (well, the parts you can go out into) and I love the old Cypress trees with the moss… But I hate, HATE, driving over that damn bridge. D<

  9. Here is a heads-up advisory on how the Federal Courts will respond to one of us loosing our livelihood, as a result of No-Fault of our own; and, you’ll also discover how to make these corrupt authorities expose themselves, and how to beat them at their own corrupt game >>> http://amurderconspiracy.wordpress.com/ <<<<

  10. I remember during the flood of 1973, as the waters began to rise, there was talk in some parlors of the need to use the New Orleans City area as a floodplain to assist in relieving the Mississippi of some of it’s burden in order to protect property elsewhere in Southeast Lousiana. This technical discussion did not come from the helicopter engineering and governmental policymakers;l it came from some very resourceful cajuns who knew the ecosystem. Fortunately, the techniques discussed to make that relief plan effective, would have required efforts that “bigmoney” in the Port of New Orleans did not want to see take place. Some of the plans involved parking crewboats hard into weak levee walls…then backing them out repeatedly until the levee gave way. Other techniques involved more instantaneous results. The fortunate aspect of all this was that the bigmoney people allowed the Corps of Engineers and the US Army to come into areas, like Berwick and Morgan City to re-enforce the ring levee systems in order to allow a greater flow of water via the Morganza Spillway. Just a temporary fix, but reflective of how government and bigmoney Port Authorities can be “encouraged” to respond to what the real experts: local cajuns and coonasses (no they are not the same, even though I am both) know.

  11. Breaux, I believe you are saying that the Katrina flooding of New Orleans was a planned and assisted event, just like 911, because corporate interests wanted an investment elsewhere. Since G.W.Bush was aware, he allowed it to happen, or was bribed to allow it to happen. Makes a lot of sense, and explains a-lot.

  12. Pingback: LAfestival feat. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears and Givers | b.good blog

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