Monday, Aug 15, 2011
“I loved seeing the swamp the way it is supposed to be. We had seen so many sites where the swamp had been logged and degraded. Jean Lafitte was a beautiful example of what it should look like in southern Louisiana,” wrote a Center for Conservation Leadership student in her journal after a day at the Barataria Preserve, part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
What would it be like to explore the Mississippi River system from top to bottom? This was the question for students from the Center for Conservation Leadership, part of the Lake Forest Open Lands Association north of Chicago. The CCL works with rising 9th- and 10th-graders in Lake Country, Illinois, to develop the next generation of conservation leaders.
In summer 2010, the CCL students explored the source of the Wisconsin River (a Mississippi River tributary), and in June of this year, nine students flew to New Orleans to explore the Mississippi’s other end and to find out how life upstream affects the delta. The students discovered that EPA scientists have found pollutants in Gulf of Mexico waters that can be traced back directly to the Chicago area. Focusing on wetlands loss, the CCL group met with advocacy groups to explore the impacts of human management on the delta system and visited key locations, including university research stations gathering information about subsidence and the encroaching Gulf.
Jean Lafitte Park Ecologist Julie Whitbeck introduced the students to a Louisiana delta wetland during their visit to the Barataria Preserve. Discussion focused on the hydrological processes that shaped the landscape and how the preserve is at the mercy of both too little and too much water: starved of the nutrients and sediment once provided by the Mississippi’s floods in the days before levees, threatened by a slowly rising Gulf of Mexico.
One of the students summed it up beautifully: “We had been hearing so much about wetlands loss and the changes to the swamps and bayous, and it was helpful to have Julie put it into context for us. She showed us that despite the continuous land loss and pressure on the little bit that is left, there are still beautiful and important places worth preserving.”