Venture deep into the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp, the largest river swamp in the United States. The Atchafalaya stretches 140 miles from central Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico.
A funny thing happened to Dean Wilson on a planned journey to South America to help save the Amazon. The first stop on that journey was Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin swamp. He went no further. Born in America, Wilson grew up in Spain. But for more than 35 years, he has called the Atchafalaya home. It is where he raised his children by fishing and hunting to support his family.
At home in the atchafalaya basin swamp
During his first few months in the Atchafalaya, Wilson lived a primitive lifestyle. Wilson says, “I fell in love with the basin. I stayed in the swamp for four months with only a bow, arrows, a spear and a few hooks”. Wilson became a commercial fisherman and in 2004 he formed Basinkeeper. The organization’s mission is to protect and restore the swamps and waterways of the Atchafalaya Basin.
atchafalaya basin traveler
Wilson took me for a boat ride deep into the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp. It’s spring and the leaves on the cypress trees are a brilliant green. The forest is alive with the sounds of migrating tropical song birds. We pass the giant trunks of ancient cypress trees that were sawed down more than one hundred years ago to feed nearby lumber mills. We imagine what this place was like before the virgin timber was cut. Wilson tells me, “It was a time you could get in a boat in this forest and go all the way to Missouri without leaving the forest. The canopy was so thick not a single ray of sunlight could go through. Back then there were so many birds that the sound was deafening.”
saving the Atchafalaya’s cypress
The large cypress trees we see today are only babies that Wilson estimates are barely 130 years old. He says they are the offspring of trees that lived for thousands of years. Wilson and others want to preserve what’s left of the massive swamp. He formed the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper in 2004, an organization on a mission to protect and restore the swamps and waterways of the Atchafalaya Basin. Wilson also operates The Last Wilderness Swamp Tours, a family-owned business that provides boat tours. His Atchafalaya Basin Swamp tours are based in the community Bayou Sorrel in Iberville Parish.
Located about 30 miles southwest of Baton Rouge. The Last Wilderness Swamp Tours uses Dale’s Trading Post at 33115 LA-75 Plaquemine, LA, as its meeting point.