South of Interstate 10, there is a terrific fight taking place. It’s a life and death struggle.
The Gulf of Mexico is trying to wash us away. And so far, the Gulf is coming out on top.
Since 1932, the land along Louisiana’s coast has been sinking and slipping away. Land that once comprised rich marshes and bayous is now under the sea. That’s 1,900 square miles, equal to the state of Delaware.
This is not Louisiana’s fight. This is our fight as a nation. It’s the fight to save America’s Wetland. Between 25 and 35 square miles disappear every year. By the year 2050, one third of coastal Louisiana will be gone. Unless we all get in the fight.
In order to increase awareness of the problem and simultaneously expand Louisiana’s $9.4 billion tourism industry, we recently launched the America’s Wetland Birding Trail. Part of the Great Gulf Coast Birding Trail, America’s Wetland Birding Trail will extend from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula clockwise around the edge of the Gulf of Mexico to the tip of southern Florida. The trail features 12 scenic loops and 115 sites in 22 south Louisiana parishes, offering some of the world’s best birding and wildlife watching in our swamps, marshes and bottomland forests.
More than half of Louisiana’s birding trail loops are in our coastal marshes and the swamps and prairies of southwest Louisiana. Two loops run through the heart of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and other loops are accessible by car from those cities in less than 30 minutes. Statewide, there are about 450 bird species – waterfowl like pelicans and raptors like the bald eagle. Louisiana sits on a major beltway for migratory birds, meaning birding enthusiasts can enjoy an extremely diverse variety of birds (along with alligators and other wildlife for which Louisiana is known). Lagniappe for birders are our historic and cultural attractions – south Louisiana cuisine and music stops are readily found along all loops.
Louisiana is poised to be a top destination for birders worldwide while capitalizing on the growing interest of travelers abroad in eco-tourism. Outdoor activities are the second-most popular trip activity for Americans, and over 98 million Americans have taken a trip involving adventure in the past five years.
In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 46 million birding enthusiasts. Our neighbors in Texas have seen an estimated $80 million in economic impacts annually from birding. We can do that and more.
The birding trail is a joint effort of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT) and the Department of Transportation and Development’s National Scenic Byway Program, which provided a $168,000 grant to initiate the project. Within CRT, leadership has come from the Office of Tourism’s Heritage Development Division and the Office of State Park’s Outdoor Recreation Division.
We see many benefits for the state. We see gains for Louisiana’s tourism industry – an expanded eco-tourism market means more tourists, who will stay longer and spend more money because there will be more to see and do. With more tourists come more tourism-related businesses and jobs for Louisiana citizens.
At the same time, Louisiana residents will enjoy the benefits of new recreation and economic development opportunities in their towns and parishes.
All while we are heightening awareness among tourists and Louisiana residents of our precious natural resources, their endangered status, and the importance of taking action to save and preserve them.
Here’s what is at stake:
• Louisiana serves as an anchor for the nation’s energy supply. More than 25 percent of all oil and natural gas used in our country passes through by tanker, barge or pipeline. Imported energy? 80 percent is delivered courtesy of the infrastructure in Louisiana.
• New Orleans has four of the nation’s top 10 ports. We move the grain, steel and manufactured goods of the country. America’s Wetland protects that port system from hurricanes.
• America’s Wetland is the winter home for millions of migratory birds and a nesting refuge for the bald eagle. Already, populations are diminishing.
• A third of the national seafood supply depends on America’s Wetland. Without the coastal ecological systems that support the life cycles of fish, shrimp and other marine life, many of our dinner menus will have to change.
We’ve been struggling with this for years. We’ve made some progress. But the fact is, we can’t win this fight alone. National effort is required. The effort will require reworking the coast’s hydrology, using the natural processes that originally formed the wetlands. Such an engineering program will cost approximately $14 billion and will take 20 to 30 years. Measure that investment against the tens of billions of dollars we will lose if no action is taken. Fortunately, recent data have shown that America’s Wetland can be restored to a sustainable level.
With the America’s Wetland Birding Trail, we are adding one more oar in the water to help guide Louisiana to a safe shore. We cannot let them wash us away.
To learn more, visit www.americaswetland.com or call, toll free, (866) 4WETLAND.
In and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge
There are several loops that are ideal for New Orleans and Baton Rouge residents and visitors.
The Orleans Loop includes 10 sites inside the city or on its outskirts, offering a full-spectrum “wild” contrast to the metropolitan area. Many city sites can be reached by taxi or by using the streetcar system. Sites include:
• The Bonnet Carre Spillway, an 8,000-acre swamp, marsh and wading bird and raptor habitat between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.
• Lake Pontchartrain’s National Wildbird Refuge, which is a major staging area for migrating purple martins.
• The Audubon Park Heronry and the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center at the city’s Audubon Park.
• The New Orleans Lakefront at Seabrook; and New Orleans City Park’s 500 acres of oaks, which are normally active with hawks, owls and songbirds.
The Barataria Loop is nine sites about a half-hour south of New Orleans. It winds through some of the most primeval-looking bottomlands and swamps in Louisiana, and the bird life and wildlife throughout is typically diverse and abundant. Sites include:
• Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.
• The cypress and tupelo gum swamp and walkways at the Jean Lafitte Nature Study Park; and potential overnight stops at the Victoria Inn and Gardens in the town of Lafitte or Woodland Plantation near Pointe A La Hache.
The East Florida Parishes Loop extends east from Madisonville to the Louisiana/Mississippi state line along the Interstate 12 corridor. It introduces visitors to a variety of “black water” swamp and marsh habitats normally associated with the lower Gulf Coastal Plain of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. This loop also represents the only chance within the southern U.S. for viewing the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Sites include:
• Madisonville Marsh, a freshwater marsh dotted with forested patches of bald cypress and tupelo gum swamp bordered by the Tchefuncte River to the east.
• Two Louisiana State Parks, Fairview-Riverside near Madisonville, and Fontainebleau near Madisonville.
• The Tammany Trace, a 31-mile nature hiking, biking and horseback riding trail that connects the towns of Covington and Slidell, passing through the towns of Abita Springs, Lacombe and Mandeville.
• The Northlake Nature Center, a 400-acre pine and swamp habitat near Mandeville with an extensive trail system.
• The Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center near Slidell, which contains interpretive birding exhibits and frequent workshops and tours for birding, canoeing and nature photography enthusiasts.
The West Florida Parishes Loop extends from the St. Francisville area through Baton Rouge to south Tangipahoa Parish and features a mix of upland hardwood forests that are found nowhere else on the America’s Wetland Birding Trail. Sites include:
• Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to a massive bald cypress forest, one of which being the largest tree in the U.S. east of the Sierra Nevadas. Plan your trip carefully – it is a 9,500-acre catch basin for the nearby Mississippi River and it’s typically flooded from January to June.
• Four Louisiana State Historic Sites: Rosedown Plantation; Audubon (home of Oakley Plantation, where John James Audubon painted many of his “Birds of America” series); Centenary, the site of two 19th-century Louisiana colleges; and Port Hudson, site of a major Civil War battle.
• Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, a 100-acre swamp and forest stand inside Baton Rouge where over 100 bird species have been recorded.
• Tickfaw State Park near Springfield, featuring four nature trails through three distinct ecosystems, canoe trails and rentals, and a nature center.
• Joyce Wildlife Management Area south of Ponchatoula, which has a 1,000-foot elevated boardwalk through a swampy mix of cypress, red maple and wild ferns.
In and around Lafayette and Houma
Loops and offerings in south central Louisiana include:
The Vermilion Loop extends southwest from Lafayette to Vermilion Bay, and its path along Bayou Vermilion mixes riparian forests and coastal prairies and marshes. Sites include:
• Acadiana Park Nature Station and Trails is a 125-acre bottomland hardwood forest within the corporate limits of Lafayette.
• The Abbeville RV Park contains a diverse mix of vegetation in its mix of upland and bottomland forests and a subsequently diverse mix of birds that call it home.
• Gladu, Pelican, Bobwhite and Prairie Roads and the Mouton Cove area are quiet paths through crawfish and rice farmlands that are filled with birdlife during the summer months.
• The Bancker Grotto and nearby Bancker Ferry Landing are home to species of egret, heron and duck in the winter.
• The 1,300-acre Palmetto Island State Park will offer a nature center and hiking trails when it opens in late 2005.
• Pine Island Road, Fresh Water City Road, and fishing piers on La. Hwy. 82 are all near coastal marshes and are havens for a variety of winter bird species.
The Atchafalaya Loop runs along Bayou Teche and through the Atchafalaya River Basin, the largest river swamp in the U.S. Sites include:
• The Sherburne Complex Wildlife Management Area and the Indian Bayou Area are 44,000- and 28,500-acre wildlife refuge and management areas, respectively, made up of bottomland forests and swamps with spectacular birding opportunities year round.
• The Atchafalaya Welcome Center on Interstate 10 at Butte LaRose has exhibits and a theater presentation focusing on the wildlife, plant life and culture of the Atchafalaya Basin.
• Lake Martin, part of The Nature Conservancy’s 9,500-acre Cypress Island Preserve, annually hosts 20,000 nesting pairs of wading birds in its cypress-tupelo gum swamp rookery.
• Jungle Gardens on Avery Island also has a substantially large rookery known as “Bird City,” created by E.A. McIlhenny of Tabasco pepper sauce fame.
• The Evangeline Oak Park in St. Martinville has a boardwalk along Bayou Teche and the great live oak tree made famous by Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline.” New Iberia City Park is 45 acres and home to several woodpecker species.
• Spanish Lake near New Iberia has a horseshoe path on part of its border for walking and five fishing piers that double as scenic overlooks.
• Lake Fausse Point State Park offers 6,000 acres of canoeing and birding opportunities in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin.
The St. Mary Loop circles around the south end of the Atchafalaya River Basin through the towns of Lafayette, Franklin, Morgan City and Plaquemine. Sites include:
• Cypremont Point State Park has beach-associated bird life on the northeastern edge of Vermilion Bay.
• The Basin Containment Levee at Charenton has a boat launch into shallow swamps where large wading birds and raptors including the bald eagle dwell.
• The Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge is just under 10,000 acres and has walking trails through habitat that’s home to the threatened Louisiana black bear.
• Kemper Williams Park and walking trails in the towns of Morgan City and Berwick offer a substantial list of bird varieties year round, including hawks, songbirds and waders.
• Lake End Park and Brownell Memorial Park, on the edge of Lake Palourde, hosts substantial bird populations, especially in the spring, fall and winter.
The Terrebonne Loop connects the city of Houma to the coastal community of Cocodrie, on one of the few paths through this massive brackish marsh region. Sites include:
• Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge near Houma has a trail that terminates at a secluded wading bird rookery.
• Pointe-Au-Chien Wildlife Management Area and the Marguerite Moffet Sanctuary are marsh areas that are mostly only accessible by boat, but earthen and boardwalk areas are ideal for hiking and wildlife watching.
• The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium operates a marine research and education facility in Cocodrie that offers visitors exhibits, boardwalks and a six-story observation tower for viewing 10 panoramic miles of marshes and estuaries.
The Grand Isle Loop is on an eight-mile long barrier island with a diverse and abundant coastal bird community. Sites include:
• The Grand Isle Port Commission has a 300-foot boardwalk that juts into a salt marsh that’s frequented by orioles, songbirds, rails and waders.
• Grand Isle State Park, on the extreme eastern end of the island, has an observation tower and interpretive nature trail.
In and around Southwest Louisiana
Loops and offerings in the area of the city of Lake Charles include:
The Lacassine Loop descends into some of the most quiet and remote sites on the America’s Wetland Birding Trail. It features locations where woodland, swamp, marsh and open water come together, and a subsequent long list of birds to see. Sites include:
• The Louisiana Oil and Gas Park offers information on the state’s early petroleum history, an information center, walking trails and a sizeable lake with picnic areas and scenic overlooks.
• Lorraine Park is home to a variety of ducks, woodpeckers, warblers and thrushes depending on the time of year.
• Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge has a 1,600-acre impounded marsh that swarms with diverse bird life throughout the year.
• The Thornwell Site in Jefferson Davis Parish is said to provide some of the most spectacular winter birding in the state and many wading bird, duck, geese, raptor, shorebird and sparrow varieties.
• Lake Arthur Boardwalk and Park is six acres frequented by songbirds during migratory months.
The Creole Loop starts in pine forests north of Lake Charles and heads south to the Gulf on the eastern route of the Creole Nature Trail, a National Scenic Byway. Sites include:
• Sam Houston Jones State Park has forests for hiking, swamp and an open river for canoeing and nature trails for bird and wildlife watching.
• The Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge’s headquarters has biological and cultural exhibits focusing on human and animal life in the marshes of the region, and a three-mile driving loop through prairie and marsh habitat.
• Rockefeller National Wildlife Refuge has a seven-mile nature drive into marshlands and canals filled with a variety of wildlife.
• The Cameron East Jetty Fishing Pier on the Gulf shore offers viewing of birds, shrimp, fishing and petroleum vessels in action and occasional pods of Atlantic Bottle-nosed dolphins.
The Sabine Loop traverses the largest diversity of habitats in the America’s Wetland Birding Trail, starting in hardwood and pine forests and crossing isolated prairies to get to the brackish and salt marshes and beaches on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Sites include:
• The Louisiana Welcome Center on Interstate 10 at Vinton has an elevated walkway skirting a bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp, and terminates at the eastern edge of Lake Bienvenu, where year-round woodpecker and wren varieties are met by neotropical warblers and robins in the spring and summer.
• Fabacher Road is prime ground for sparrows and raptors during the winter months, and it is one of two known breeding sites for crested caracara in Louisiana.
• Volunteer Lane in Hackberry is home to a willow-lined lake that contains a substantial wading bird rookery.
• The Sabine National Wildlife Refuge’s headquarters building doubles as a visitor’s center, and its scenic overlook is an egret habitat throughout the year. It has a one-mile paved loop through the middle of a freshwater marsh.
• Holly Beach stretches about 10 miles on the Louisiana coast in Cameron Parish and it is frequented by rare species of gulls and terns.
• The small coastal woodland at Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary has established a reputation as an active migratory bird trap, and it captures many neotropical songbirds in the spring and late summer.
• The eastern end of the Sabine Pass Swing Bridge is the only place in Louisiana where cave swallows are routinely observed.
A heron sits in a stand of bald cypress trees.
Shallow swamp areas in the Atchafalaya Basin offer canoeing as well as birding.
Fairview-Riverside State Park near Mandeville.