By Chase Berenson
When most people think of the LSU Agricultural Center and the Burden complex located at the intersection of I-10 and Essen Lane, they think of either plant research or the Rural Life Museum.
However, the Burden Center offers so much more than that.
As a matter of fact, there is a five-mile trail network appropriately named Trees & Trails that runs through the woods of the property, and it’s a great spot to unwind and enjoy a nature walk between two of Baton Rouge’s major roads.
Before the LSU Burden Center existed, the land was known as the Windrush Plantation and had been owned by the Burden family since the 1800s. Besides having strong enough ties to LSU that the Burden family ended up donating the plantation’s land, the family also had a deep love for nature.
When donating the land to LSU, one of the stipulations was that it must remain a natural area with no more buildings than necessary to serve its purpose.
Steele Burden loved observing the plants and bird life on the plantation, and he created the trails so that he could keep an eye on the flora and fauna living in the forest. Well before I-10 was built and Essen Lane became part of a traffic-choked medical corridor, he envisioned the trails living into the future and serving as a nature walk in the middle of the city.
The first half-mile of trails are clearly for the smaller explorers, and are a great place for children. At the very beginning there are multiple trails all winding around each other in a very short distance. There are educational signs to teach children about flowers and wildlife, and fallen old-growth trees have even been cut and sawed to create a tiny natural wood playground.
Once we get past the initial bit of children’s trail, there’s a long stretch heading back towards Black Swamp, which culminates on a short boardwalk out over the swamp itself. The boardwalk only gives you a small taste of the swamp experience, but in such an untouched swamp it’s both beautiful and mystifying.
On the longer stretches of trail, there are still educational signs posted along the way, though the subject matters have matured and the signs are teaching about hydrology, dendrology, and other scientific topics.
From Black Swamp the trail brings you to the Barton Arboretum, which is centered around a small pond and has about twenty signs giving detailed information about the trees. After circling the Arboretum, it’s time to head back alongside the orchard and then follow the Magnolia Beech Trail back towards the car.
The LSU Burden Center is located on Essen Lane, just south of I-10. Park to the left of the Conference Center, the first major building you’ll come to on the property, and follow the small sign towards Trees & Trails. The trails are open every day from 8 a.m. until dusk.