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Down On The Bayou

Southwestern Louisiana is bayou country, a part of the Pelican State's "liquid land," as one writer described it. The Choctaw Indian name for creek, the bayou is ubiquitous in southern Louisiana. Countless in number, bayous very slowly distribute fresh water from the north into the huge flat marsh areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to Texas before fresh and salt water merge in the gulf.

Although a challenge to human occupation, Louisiana marshes have nevertheless played an important role in supporting two of the state's largest industries, agriculture and oil and gas. Growers have constructed an intricate system of canals and pumps that make it possible for them to drain and then flood former marsh. There they plant, grow, and harvest one of the largest rice crops produced in the United States.

Oil and gas companies have laid miles of plank roads across the otherwise inaccessible marsh. Vehicles and equipment are driven along these roads to drill and operate the deep wells that dot the landscape.

The marsh plays another role, one that is only now becoming recognized as equally important to the long-term economy of the region. This role is as old as the marsh itself: providing a habitat for birds and sustaining an intriguing community of uniquely adapted animals.

Tourists from every state and many foreign countries come each year to see the marsh wildlife, making tourism a growing Louisiana industry. That is expected to help stabilize the state's economy, which has been troubled by recent declines in oil and rice production.

The importance to migratory birds of the marshes in the southwest corner of the state led to the founding of three of the state's 17 national wildlife refuges: Lacassine and Sabine National Wildlife Refuges in 1937 and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in 1988. These three refuges are featured in a color brochure describing the Creole Nature Trail, a well-traveled automobile tour route established by the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Written by James Clark for, a partner of
©1998 Greer Consulting Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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