Heart of Louisiana: Atchafalaya Basin Swamp

Every time we drive the interstate between New Orleans and Lafayette, we cross what some people believe is one of this country's natural wonders. The Atchafalaya Basin swamp is massive in size. But you don't really experience its natural beauty until you paddle a canoe beneath its towering cypress trees.

Charles Fryling moved from Pennsylvania to Louisiana to teach landscape architecture at LSU. 43 years later, he's still teaching, and he's still exploring Louisiana's Atchafalaya swamp.

"I heard stories about the Atchafalaya, actually it was the second day I was in the state of Louisiana back in '67. Some people started telling me how deep it was. "Of course I wanted to know what a swamp was, so it was only a few weeks after that that I got myself started coming in here. I love plants to start with and the bald cypress are just so beautiful and they're so varied." Fryling says.

Fryling's Baton Rouge home is full of images he's captured in the Atchafalaya.

Many of the existing cypress trees are at least a hundred years old. But their trunks are dwarfed by the remains of virgin cypress cut for lumber in the early 1900's. Those cypress giants are gone.

"If people start coming in here and seeing how beautiful it is, they're gonna want to make sure it gets protected," he says.

One of the reasons we still have this massive undeveloped swamp is because it's been set aside as a floodway. But the flood control levees that surround this area are also changing the nature of the basin

Fryling believes that seasonal Spring flooding from the Mississippi River drowns most of the cypress seedlings

"If you cut down these beautiful cypress trees, you're not gonna get another stand of cypress coming up. early Summer you see a lot of seedlings that are growing but they only get a few inches at the most and then comes the next Spring, they're under water and they can't survive that way," says Fryling.

The way to save the Atchafalaya, Fryling believes, is to share its beauty with others through pictures and by leading canoeists into the swamp.

"I really think the Atchafalaya is a world class landscape. It's on a par with the Everglades, Yellowstone. But this is different and this is just a fantastic spot," said Fryling.

This LSU professor believes a trip into the Atchafalaya wilderness can refresh the mind….that it's inspirational and can spark a person's creativity, and that we all need to experience its beauty.

"Protecting it is giving our grandchildren a real gift," he said.

Charles Fryling and other members of the "Friends of the Atchafalaya" will be leading canoe expeditions into the basin swamp during the month of October. There are a number of other events and festivals in the Atchafalaya Region during October that celebrate the beauty and culture of the area.

For more information, go to http://www.eadays.info