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Aboard the Cameron Ferry

We did not know that there was a ferry ahead, but since the alternative was to take a 150-mile detour to catch I-10, the ferry was welcomed; besides, ferries are more scenic than an interstate.

For all the endangered species near the state’s waterways, the ferries are among them. There are only eight ferry services left in a state that was once filled with the boats chugging across the labyrinth of canals, rivers and bayous.    

Of the eight, the Cameron Ferry, which we were about to drive on to, is the only one that operates 24 hours every day crossing the deepwater Calcasieu River/Ship Channel. On board were industrial workers and tourists like me who were driving along the Gulf-side Creole Nature Trail past the towns of Creole and Cameron.

In a state in which just about everything that can be cut back has been, the eight surviving lines have been as durable as alligator hide. The most visible of the ferries is the Algiers/Canal boat, which makes a sideways S-pattern as it glides across the Mississippi River connecting New Orleans’ French Quarter with the city’s west bank. While most of the ferries are in the southern part of the state, the northernmost survivor is the Catahoula Parish-based Duty/Enterprise boat that crosses the Ouachita River. The Cameron Ferry can haul 50 cars; the little Duty/Enterprise boat can carry six cars or one 18-wheeler.

There was barely time to stand on the deck as the Cameron Ferry made its crossing, but I did anyway. Because the canal connects to the Gulf, there are occasional spottings of dolphins and pelicans splashing along the way. Gulls circle above. Oil is produced along the shore, but not the kind that you think. Piles of menhaden, a nonedible fish prized for its oil, which is used to make pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, dot the beach. At nearby plants, the processed essence of menhaden is loaded into trucks, many of which take the ferry en route to providing healthier faces and lifestyles. Left behind is the smell of fish piles, overpowering in spots even with the fragrance of salt air.

Soon we were back in the car waiting our turn to leave the ferry. The whole trip took about as long as the time lapsed to read this column, assuming you did not pause along the way. Now you can flip to another page. Meanwhile, the Cameron Ferry is heading back for another trip.

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