Heart of Louisiana: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park

Updated: Jun. 7, 2016 at 10:50 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - One hundred years ago, Congress had a great idea and passed legislation creating the National Park Service. As the park service celebrates its 100th birthday, we decided to explore our Louisiana National Parks.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park celebrates a heroic victory at the Battle of New Orleans, South Louisiana's rich Acadian culture and the peaceful beauty of the Barataria swamp.

"You're just going to be able to enter a slower pace and just be open up to your senses and be able to experience nature that was once all around the Greater New Orleans area," said Supervising Ranger Aleutia Scott, who oversees the park service's Barataria preserve.

Although the preserve is only 25 minutes from the Superdome, it feels like it's a world away.

"Major parts of Orleans and Jefferson Parish always used to look exactly like this before they were drained and developed," Scott said.

The park has ten miles of trails with boardwalks only a foot above the dark water - water that's spiked with countless cypress knees.  This natural watery garden is decorated with wildflowers that change with the seasons.

"A lot of visitors see the wildlife of New Orleans and then they come see the real wildlife out here in the swamp," Scott said.

The star attractions are the alligators that park themselves next to the trail and seem oblivious to passers-by. Children discover a group of young armadillos foraging in the grasses. And with patience, this swamp allows you to come inside, and discover its secrets.

The Barataria Preserve is one of several sites that make up the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. It protects the battlefield in Chalmette where Andrew Jackson defended the City of New Orleans two centuries ago. In Thibodaux, the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center hosts local jam sessions. And the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice hosts Saturday night concerts.

"It's about preserving the history and the culture to share with future generations," Scott said.

In the Barataria Preserve, there is ancient history in the form of shell middens – piles of clamshells placed here by ancient Native American tribes.

"As soon as there were marshes out here, Native Americans were here using the land," Scott said.

And as it begins its second century, the National Park Service is trying to stir the interest of the new generation.

"Hoping that the young people of today will have the same kind of park traditions in their life that, you know, my parents as well as the baby boomers have today," Scott said.

At this park, it's about a quiet walk that brings you to the wildlife and lets you experience the delicate and scenic beauty of a uniquely Louisiana National Park.

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