Dig Baton Rouge

Camping, Primitive Style

By Jonathan Olivier

 
“It’s about getting people to take a look at the Basin – to go out there and take a look at the biggest river swamp in the country.” – Don Haydel, Atchafalaya Basin Program executive director

This fall, as the wildness of nature beckons with promises of cool-weather backcountry adventure, outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of newly established primitive campsites scattered throughout the depths of the Atchafalaya Basin.

For the first time this autumn – prime camping season –campers will have the opportunity to take their pick from 30 primitive sites located on state-owned public land among the cypress-filled, backwater swamps of the Atchafalaya. Those who document their adventures at a campsite this fall with a photograph can send them to Atchafalaya@la.gov to receive a free hat from the state Department of Natural Resources.

The hats read, “I went wild in the Atchafalaya,” and, according to Don Haydel, Atchafalaya Basin Program executive director at DNR, the initiative is meant to advertise the sites to those who may be unfamiliar with the new recreational opportunities.

“It’s about getting people to take a look at the Basin—to go out there and take a look at the biggest river swamp in the country,” Haydel said.

The idea to construct the primitive areas arose when campers interested in spending a night in the Atchafalaya Basin often had trouble discerning where to go. The Basin is half privately owned and half state owned, so it can, at times, be tough to distinguish if one is camping on public land or unknowingly trespassing.

To remedy the solution, as well as give people more recreational opportunities, Haydel said DNR went to work to establish the campsites at the end of 2013.

“We went out and installed a very simple sign post at each location, just a four foot metal post sticking up above the ground to mark the locations,” Haydel said. “Maps of each location are on the DNR website for folks that want to go and just get away from it all: go fishing, birding, or take photographs and know they aren’t on private land.”

A majority of the campsites can only be reached by boat and are scattered from Iberville parish, down through St. Martin and St. Mary parishes almost to the mouth of the Atchafalaya.

When campers arrive at one of the sites, they won’t find many traces of humans—only a four-foot pole marking the area with a campsite number and a fire ring. And that’s exactly how they were constructed to be to give visitors a real taste of wilderness within the Basin.

“The consensus when we talked to all parishes and people that would typically use campsites was they wanted to remain primitive,” Haydel said. “We want them go to [to the Basin] and see it like it is.”

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