The local Boy Scouts of America council is launching a summer program of weeklong swamp trips through the Atchafalaya Basin this year with the hopes of attracting Scouts from across the country.
“The Atchafalaya is something you are not going to get anywhere else,” said Boy Scouts of America Evangeline Area Council Executive Art Hawkins.
Scouts will spend their days kayaking through the swamp and their nights on houseboats, in tents and in cabins on an island outpost, along the way enjoying airboat rides, Cajun and Creole cooking, presentations on local culture and ecology, and a chance to try their hand at fishing the swamp and spying on alligators.
“They are going to be immersed in the swamp,” Hawkins said.
He said the swamp adventure has its roots in the Evangeline Area Council’s decision a few years ago to take on the Atchafalaya Basin as a service project to mark the 100th anniversary of Scouting.
Local Scouts have planted some 50,000 trees in the Basin over the past four years, staged swamp trash sweeps and are planning wildlife habitat rehabilitation projects.
Hawkins said it became obvious the swamp is a great resource for the Scouts but also an intimidating one because of its vastness and complexity.
“They didn’t know how to get in the Basin,” Hawkins said. “We decided that we are going to be the experts and get out kids in the Basin.”
He said the swamp trips could also reconnect kids with the swamp traditions and knowledge that are disappearing.
“With the passing of each generation, more and more information was being lost,” Hawkins said.
Ben Pierce, the program director for the swamp adventure, said 10 people went on a test run of the swamp adventure last year to iron out routes, timing, menus and assess the challenges.
“This year, we are expecting about 150 participants. We expect to double that next year,” Hawkins said.
In addition to Louisiana Scouts, he said, troops from Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Minnesota have signed up for the trip.
Groups of eight to 12 Scouts and leaders will depart on the week-long treks from June to July, launching at Bayou Courtableau near Port Barre and traveling 65 miles south through the swamp to Myette Pointe in St. Mary Parish.
The trips will be made in special tandem kayaks designed for the Scout’s swamp journey by Baton Rouge-based KC Kayaks.
Pierce said the Scouts have dubbed them “Atchafalayaks.”
KC Kayaks CEO Gaines Garrett said the boats have more space for gear storage than conventional kayaks, seats that can be removed to double as camp chairs and design tweaks for enhanced stability, he said.
“They were having difficulty finding a kayak on the market that would fit their needs,” Garrett said.
Hawkins said the ultimate goal is to develop the swamp adventure into a major destination for Scouts nationwide, something on par with such Boy Scouts “high adventure bases” as the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and the Florida Sea Base in Florida.
“Why not have a high adventure base here in Louisiana?” Hawkins said.
A program on that scale would require a permanent facility, he said, and the Evangeline Area Council is trying to raise $21 million for the project — $14 million for the facility and another $7 million to create an endowment to support long-term maintenance.
Pierce said the Scouts have $3.15 million in commitments so far.
Preliminary plans for the base cap in the Basin include a welcome center, a dining hall, dormitories, warehouses for equipment, docks, a pavilion and space for research.
Hawkins said the plan is to develop a facility that can be used not just in the summer for the swamp treks but all year round, possibly offering fishing camps, photography workshops or serving as a base for university research groups.
“This is all about Scouts, but it’s much bigger than the Scouts,” he said. “We want to engage as many people in the process as possible.
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