The bayous, bays, and lakes surrounding the villages of Lafitte, Barataria, Galliano, and Golden Meadow are some of the most beautiful in Louisiana. Peaceful waterways wind past rustic fishing camps and shrimp trawlers. Cypress trees and moss-laden oaks set an eerie scene. People who have never ventured into this swampy area south and west of New Orleans don’t have a clue what Louisiana and its heritage are all about.
It is precisely in this area – these wetlands, bayous, bays, and coves – where Jean Lafitte headquartered his smuggling and privateering operations in the early 1800s. Lafitte, his brother Pierre, and a one-time cannoneer for Napoleon Bonaparte – wonderfully named Dominique You – headed up a band of rogues that terrified the shipping industry and helped Andrew Jackson defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans.
The lonely reaches that make up the seaward fringe of Louisiana’s lower delta have been described as a place unable to decide whether to be land or water. It is a region in transition, caught in the dynamics of natural change. Today, as fishing boats ply the maze of waterways that confused the British, this area remains as beguiling as Lafitte’s legend.
Cut off from a wider world by bayous, lakes, palmetto groves, bays, and finally the Gulf of Mexico itself, the Barataria region of Louisiana gives a visitor the sense of haunted isolation felt in the late 19th century by the writer Lafcadio Hearn. He came south from New Orleans to visit the storied islands of Grand Isle and Grand Terre and wrote of a “feeling of lonesomeness that is a fear, a feeling of isolation from the world of men – totally unlike that sense of solitude which haunts one in the silence of mountain-heights: a sense of helpless insecurity.”
A museum and visitor center contain exhibits on hunting, trapping, fishing, and early lifestyles of the area. A movie about the delta region and programs providing a feel for life in this wetland are presented daily.
Barataria is home for wildlife peculiar to southern coastal wetlands: muskrats, otters, alligators, raccoons, scores of varieties of fish, rabbits, fox squirrels, and swamp deer. Bald eagles circle in search of prey; ducks and geese winter here; and white clouds of egrets burst into the air like feathers from 100 ruptured pillows.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Walking trails are located throughout the Barataria unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Bayou Coquille Trail, which is two miles long, takes hikers through diverse ecological systems, including a cypress-tupelo gum swamp and a freshwater marsh that is home to nutria, a large water rodent.