Often referred to as a Sportsman's Paradise, Louisiana is a state for those who truly love the outdoors. Every year, thousands of tourists are drawn to the state by such nature-inspired exhibits as Mud Painting (don't laugh, mud prints have been known to sell for $70 or more), Cajun festivals (the most recent having been Mardi Gras, which introduces tourists to New Orleans' version of "wild life") and, of course, the Louisiana Swamp Tours of the Atchafalaya Basin.
The major natural attractions of Louisiana are its beautiful bayou and swamp regions. Although there are smaller wetland areas scattered throughout the northern parts of the state, the cypress-inhabited Atchafalaya Basin lies primarily in the southern region. It is the largest hardwood forest river-swamp in North America.
A bayou or a swamp?
The word bayou originated from the term bayuk, the Louisiana French word for "small stream" By definition, a bayou is a watercourse, usually the offshoot of a river or lake in a lowland area. It is a sluggish or stagnant creek, frequently flowing through swamp terrain. The term is used mainly when referring to areas in the delta region (the area near the mouth) of the Mississippi River. In comparison, a swamp is low-lying, marshy wetland, and is usually forested and seasonally flooded.
While tours of the bayou areas are also offered throughout Louisiana, the Atchafalaya Basin categorizes its expeditions as swamp tours.
What types of wildlife can be seen on the Swamp Tours?
Alligators are a primary attraction on many of the tours. Some swamp guides will actually feed the alligators so that tourists can get a closer look at the creatures. Egrets, raccoons and nutria rats are also commonly sighted on the tours.
Crawfish (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs) are a common ingredient in most Cajun dishes and can be found in great abundance in the Atchafalaya Basin. Farmers will often flood a portion of their land and set wire traps in time for the crawfish season. Shrimp may also take refuge in these man-made abysses, only to be caught and used as an additional food source. Crabs are also abundant in the briny marshes of southern Louisiana.
Not only are they beautiful, but the swamplands are also a functional component of Louisiana's environment. Along with its abundance of animals and fish, the basin produces thousands of pounds of vegetation yearly. This vegetation is a valuable source of flood control in the perpetually damp climate of Louisiana, absorbing millions of gallons of water yearly.
The Atchafalya Basin is the home of many animal species nearing extinction, for example the Louisiana black bear. Largely herbivorous creatures, the Louisiana black bear lives out the mild winters in the hollowed out cypress trees of the basin, where its population is largely concentrated.
For many years, this hardwood river-swamp has been shrinking. Fortunately, organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have been quick to defend and protect the swamp regions from dangerous invasions by man. In a proposal delivered to the Louisiana Legislature on March 4 of this year, these associations have banded together to create the Atchafalaya Basin Program. Legislative acceptance of the program will put into effect a 15 year plan to conserve and restore the environmental resources unique to the Atchafalaya Basin.
Since the fishing industry is one of Louisiana's chief resources, the swamplands also make a major contribution to Louisiana's economy. Because fish are so plentiful in most areas along the Mississippi River, many chartered fishing tours combine the entertainment of a fishing trip with information of a tour.
Among the day tours in the Greater Baton Rouge/New Orleans area are the Alligator Bayou Swamp and Manchac Swamp Tours, both of which offer canoe rentals and charted boat tours. Angelle's Atchafalaya Basin Tours offer tours in either French or English narration. Manchac Swamp Boat Tours boast alligators as its number one attraction on daily tours. Some of the longer boating trips, which can last up to one week, include the entire Atchafalaya Basin area, not just its surrounding swamplands.