Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge encompasses over 15,000 acres of cypress-tupelo bottomlands, which are part of North America’s largest river basin swamp, and sustains an array of wildlife from reptiles and amphibians to large colonies of nesting wading birds. Floodplain forests depend on regular dousings of silty river water to ensure their existence. Nowhere is this more evident, or more critical, than in southeastern Louisiana along the Atchafalaya River, one of the last major overflow rivers in North America. (An overflow river is a river that runs over its bank, saturating the surrounding areas.) The Atchafalaya Basin became an endangered habitat in the 1970s, primarily because the Mississippi River, which once flowed into the Atchafalaya River, was rechanneled. Today, however, at least part of the region is protected.
The Acadiana Park Nature Station, on the Vermilion River northeast of Lafayette, is a small-scale version of the Atchafalaya Basin. The nature trail here provides a scenic walk under a canopy of Bald Cypress, Green Ash, American Elm, Basket Oak, Sugarberry, and American Sycamore trees. Red-shouldered Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Mississippi Kites, and Swainson’s Warblers breed in the woodlands.
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