By Chase Berenson
We all know that Louisiana is a traditionally swampy environment, but after too long in the city of Baton Rouge it’s easy to lose our connection with the swamps that surround us. Even when we want to experience classic swampland, many of realize that it’s a bad idea to just head off into the wilderness without knowing exactly what we’re doing. However, an easy way to get back in touch with nature is to visit the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center.
A couple hundred years ago the Bluebonnet Swamp encompassed a large area south of the city, but increasing development encroached on the swampland. A 103-acre swath of the swamp is preserved near the bustling commercial district of Bluebonnet and Perkins Roads, which allows us urban dwellers to explore and experience the swamp as it used to be.
For many people, the word “swamp” doesn’t evoke magical feelings of beauty and grandeur, but that doesn’t mean you should skip Bluebonnet; there is an air of mystery to the swamp that you can’t experience without being out there. The nature center has a network of gravel trails and boardwalks which, when linked together, can give you approximately a mile and a half of walking and exploration.
The Library Trail is an out-and-back trail that takes you from the main building along the edge of the swamp to the East Baton Rouge Library on Bluebonnet Road, and is a great excuse to visit them both. (There is a locked gate on the Library end of the trail though, so be sure to start on the nature center side and ask for the gate code before you start.)
The other side of the trail network consists of a loop, which stretches for half a mile, and actually takes you into the Bluebonnet Swamp on very nicely constructed boardwalk. The boardwalk is dotted with benches and observation decks, so on a nice sunny day you can get comfortable and take in the sights of the local wildlife.
Speaking of local wildlife, the nature center is a great spot for checking out bird life. On a recent visit we were able to spot wood ducks in the swamp, as well as red-bellied woodpeckers and cardinals in the woods. We ran into two friendly birders on the trail who told us they often see egrets and swamp swallows, but they weren’t out on this visit. There are many seasonal bird populations at Bluebonnet, so whenever you visit there are sure to be birds throughout the area. There is also a sizable turtle population, which means you can catch view them sunning on logs or just peek their noses popping out of the water to breathe.
If you somehow manage to miss all the wildlife on the trails, you’ll have a great excuse to check out the main visitor center. The building is an educational goldmine, and is filled with static and live displays showcasing the swamp environment. Everything from snakes, birds, frogs, and even salamanders are there to be seen, and there also are examples of the Louisiana state fossil and state mineral to check out as well.
A trip to the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center serves as a great reminder of how incredible the swamps actually are, and can be a great incentive to learn more and explore some of the larger swamps outside of the Baton Rouge area.