By Chase Berenson
By this time it’s no surprise to anyone that Louisiana’s state budget has taken a beating, and though Louisiana State Parks are an excellent resource for Baton Rouge residents, they have suffered from a steep decline in resources.
Park areas managed by the federal government have not been as unlucky as the state parks, and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is a great example of the government working to preserve our history and natural environment.
The park has a few different units in the New Orleans area, but the prime place to visit is the Barataria Preserve in Marrero. The Barataria Preserve is located on Bayou des Familles, which was historically one of the original waterway access points into New Orleans.
A network of four walking trails spreads out directly from the Preserve’s Visitor Center, consisting of boardwalks over the swamp and totaling approximately four miles out and back. These boardwalks are low over the water and don’t have rails along the side, contributing to the feeling of being a part of the swamp environment rather than just observing it from above. The most basic trail is the Visitor Center Trail, straight out the back door.
Despite being the shortest and most trafficked trail, it’s the only trail that we were able to see alligators on our most recent trip. It culminates on a platform over open marsh with expansive views of marsh grass waving all the way to the trees on the horizon.
The Visitor Center Trail links to the Palmetto Trail, which serves as a travel corridor to the Bayou Coquille Trail. However, the Palmetto Trail is the longest part of the boardwalk-trail network, and it’s possible to skip this section after the Visitor Center Trail by driving to the Bayou Coquille Trail parking lot if it’s getting to be too hot out on the boardwalks. By driving, though, one would miss out on the snakes, the spiders, and of course the palmettos that call this trail home!
The appropriately named Bayou Coquille Trail follows Bayou Coquille as it branches off from Bayou des Familles. Bayou Coquille is the trail with the most interesting non-animal sights. Among other attractions along the trail are historic middens from the Native Americans who first lived in the area and the “Monarch of the Swamp,” a 600-year old bald cypress tree that was left standing by the loggers who worked this area over a hundred years ago.
The Bayou Coquille trail connects up to the Marsh Overlook Trail, which unsurprisingly brings people to a beautiful overlook in the marsh. Like the Bayou Coquille Trail, this is the other trail with signage along the entire length, allowing hikers to learn about the history of the region as well as the plants and animals along the trail.
The trails follows an old oil company canal that is now choked with plants and provides a strong juxtaposition of man’s capabilities to change the natural environment but also how Mother Nature reclaims what was originally hers.
As the trail emerges from the trees to the final observation deck, the views are breathtaking; 180-degree views of open marsh and wide-open space, reminding visitors how large these watery worlds that surround our cities truly are.