It’s difficult not to notice the beauty of the Atchafalaya Basin, even when speeding over Interstate 10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. But the millions who pass don’t get off the freeway long enough to really experience the extraordinary beauty of the basin.
That is why we are enthusiastic about the partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and the state to make a scouting adventure in the Atchafalaya.
The Scouts’ Evangeline Area Council would lease about 450 acres of state-owned swampland in St. Martin Parish. With about $4 million in state seed money and private donations, the goal is a permanent entry point for Scouts from around the nation and the world.
Today, Scouts participate in a weeklong trek through the swamp, with lessons about the culture of the region, local food and boating through the sights and sounds of the legendary river swamp.
The adventure program began in 2013 with 140 participants in a series of trips over the summer. There are more than 200 participants this summer and 250 have already signed up for next year, said Swamp Base Director Ben Pierce.
He increasingly is getting inquiries about the adventure from around the nation and from overseas. “There is a worldwide interest in what we have right here in our backyard,” Pierce said.
Not only Scouts will benefit, as the Evangeline Area Council committed to using half the area as a public recreation area.
We acknowledge that the main benefit of this ambitious project will be Scouts and their education, but we should not overlook the economic potential of more tourism as Scouts participate in the Atchafalaya up close. Our state is already blessed with extraordinary landscapes, the world-famed city of New Orleans, plantation homes and other tourist attractions.
Yet it is part of today’s tourist economy that active sports, hiking and boating are increasingly among the attractions that bring people to a locale. Birdwatching is also a bigger draw for south Louisiana’s coasts than many people appreciate.
Scouting and its benefits for young people are well worth seeing this project through. But it also should be a good long-term investment for the state and its future as a destination.