Spreading south from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, the Barataria region is, as the author describes it, a “bewildering tatter” of cypress swamps, marshes, saw-grass meadows, palmetto groves, bayous, creeks, bays, and islands, all of it cut through by the Mississippi River meandering down the last stretch of its journey from land to sea. And it boils with wildlife peculiar to southern coastal wetlands: muskrats, otters, alligators, and scores of varieties of fish; swamp rabbits, fox squirrels, feral hogs, raccoons, 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 a hundred ruptured pillows.
Almost twenty years ago, sentiment arose to create through federal legislation some kind of reserve in the area for wetlands preservation, but it was not until 1978 that Congress enacted Public Law 95-625 establishing Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve “in order to preserve for the education, inspiration, and benefit of present and future generations significant examples of natural and historical resources of the Mississippi Delta region.…” It is a multiunit park that includes not only such natural preserves as Big Oak Island but also cultural and historic sites in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Barataria’s share in all this? It is hoped that ultimately it will take in as much as twenty thousand acres of marshland, together with such historic sites as Fort Livingston on Grand Terre, but for now it is represented by the green area on the map at left—some eighty-six hundred acres lying just north of the little town of Barataria. There is only the hope of the fort site for Grand Terre, and nothing at all for Grand Isle, that long tongue of an island where Lafcadio Hearn found existence “so facile, happy, primitively simple, that trifles give joy unspeakable;—in that bright air whose purity defies the test of even the terrible solar microscope, neither misery nor malady may live.”