A doe steps deliberately through the south Louisiana swamp, not far from her buck, cannon-bone-deep in muck.
With afternoon temperatures approaching 80, the metabolisms of the big male alligators are picking up after the dormancy of winter, and they are ready to leave their gator holes in the grassy marsh in search of food and mates.
And everywhere, the water-loving giant blue iris, Iris giganticaerulea, is spreading its downward-arching sepals, attracting pollinating insects with its beauty and musky fragrance.
These seasonal wonders and more will be on display during the Spring in the Swamp nature education program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday on the Bayou Coquille Trail of the Barataria Preserve, 6588 Barataria Blvd., Marrero.
Along the trail, a touch table will provide opportunities to handle furs and skulls and to peer through a microscope at the small invertebrates of the cypress swamp and grassy marsh, such as baby crawfish and juvenile dragonfly nymphs.
Guided walks will begin at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Bayou Coquille Trail parking lot. On Friday and Saturday, National Park Service rangers and volunteers will guide explorations of the watery preserve through dip-netting. The family-friendly program is free.
Along with the seasonal changes, longer-term changes are underway at the Barataria Preserve, adding to the value of becoming familiar with the land. Just three years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the 100-year West Bank and Vicinity Perimeter Risk Reduction System. This $4.1 billion project protects 250,000 people in St. Charles, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes from hurricane storm surge, but it also separates the area from its watershed, said Aleutia Scott, supervisory park ranger for the Barataria Preserve. “We’re looking at a wetter, kind of saltier future,” she said.
Another change coming up is the backfilling of 16.5 miles of canals in the preserve to re-create freshwater wetlands. That project is on a list of priorities approved in December by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The council works to allocate part of the administrative and civil penalties related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Wetlands filter water and purify water. They’re an important nursery for brackish and saltwater species,” Scott said. “And, they’re a great place to recreate.”
The 23,000-acre Barataria Preserve is one of six sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, managed by the National Park Service. Its parking lots are open for trail and picnic area access daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call (504) 689-3690, ext. 10, or visit www.nps.gov/jela.