SCOUTS BOATING IN ATCHAFALAYA
Boy Scouts arrive at Louisiana Swamp Base, an environmental stewardship and high adventure recreation program, ready to meet the worst the Atchafalaya Basin has to offer.
“People assume that alligators are around every turn, said Ben Pierce, executive director of Swamp Base, “that they won’t come back alive, that mosquitoes fill the skies, that snakes are on every branch. There’s a lot of negative stereotypes about this environment and, frankly, about the people of South Louisiana.”
But, Pierce said, the scouts (the only group Swamp Base currently serves) leave much better informed: “We’ve basically played the role of myth-buster with the program. And we get a chance to be ambassadors of our state and show them what it’s really all about.”
Pierce, in other words, thinks the Basin is better considered through the complex prism of ecology, stewardship, environment, and culture. And these are the lessons that Scouts receive when they take one of the six-day, six-night treks offered by this nonprofit, which opened in 2013.
Recently, Louisiana Swamp Base bought McGee’s Landing, the popular swamp-tour outfit in Henderson, Louisiana, that has introduced decades’ worth of visitors to one of the most singular environments in the world. It was kismet: Pierce said that Swamp Base had been looking for a spot to build a multi-use facility, a staging ground for their Atchafalaya adventures and a space for educational programs. The owner of McGee’s Landing was an interested seller, but with the caveat that the buyer would, as Pierce said, “do something meaningful with the sale.”
Swamp Base has taken over the for-profit side of McGee’s traditional business, ferrying tourists into the swamps to encounter their first wild alligator. They will also offer paddling tours to the public in the spring.
But future plans will include a 40,000 square foot facility adjacent to the levees which will be targeted to three specific groups in addition to the Boy Scouts: K–12 students from the entire Gulf South, academic researchers, and special needs children who require “no-boundaries” accommodations in order to explore the Basin.
Fundraising is underway, and the earliest that these plans could come to fruition is 2020, according to Pierce. In the meantime, best get your sons into Scouts.