November, 2012. Atchafalaya Basin. America’s River of Trees

Posted on November 19, 2012


As you drive along the 18.2 mile Atchafalaya Basin Bridge on Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, an entirely different world suddenly opens up before you.

Stretching out to the horizon on either side there’s nothing but water, marsh, trees and grasses.  The only indication of human life is the occasional fishing boat – a mere dot on this sweeping, other-worldly vista.

It’s awe-inspiring, but scary – it’s primitive, it’s wild… it’s America’s largest swamp.

The Atchafalaya Basin is a scenic semi-wilderness area of hardwood forests, cypress stands, marshes and bayous.  It is one of the last great river swamps left in the nation, almost entirely uninhabited and accessible only by boat.

The Atchafalaya River, a 135-mile long natural distributary of the Mississippi River, spreads out into the Basin before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. This Basin is the only growing delta in Louisiana.

That it is growing is important – much of southern Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are NOT growing, but are sinking into the Gulf at an alarming rate of 25 or so acres every year, thanks as usual to man messing around with Mother Nature.

But that’s another story, and the internet is full of statistics and information as to why it’s happening.

Back to the Basin.

The Atchafalaya River, along with hundreds of miles of bayous snaking through its Basin, brings life to this wilderness area. Rich and varied populations of wildlife call it home. The brackish areas closer to the Gulf provide a perfect nursery for the salt-lovers – shrimp, oysters, crabs and fin fish. Alligators, catfish, crawfish and varied freshwater fish and crabs call the northern salt-free waters home.

It’s a sportsman’s paradise and a favorite food source for the people who live in this portion of lower Louisiana known as Cajun Country.

The vast delta of the Atchafalaya River – it encompasses nearly 1 million acres – is also prime wintering habitat for waterfowl. Situated at the mouth of North America’s most important flyway, the Basin supports half of America’s migratory waterfowl, more than 300 bird species.

Wildlife habitat isn’t the only reason the Basin – and Louisiana’s other coastal wetlands – are important.  They serve as protectors of inland population centers, such as New Orleans, as well as a myriad of lesser-known communities.

It’s a magnificant place – almost impossible to really describe. And while many of the suddenly popular Cajun-themed television shows like Swamp People and Duck Dynasty are filmed in parts of the Basin, trust me – you haven’t seen it until you’ve been there.