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About the Acadiana Park Nature Station

Functions
Education
Research
Louisiana Amphibian Monitoring Program
Park & Trail Information
Staff
Map to Nature Station

Nature Station Hours
Monday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday:  11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

 

Located in a wooded section of Acadiana Park, a 110 acre facility in the northeastern corner of Lafayette, Louisiana (south-central Louisiana), the Nature Station and its accompanying 3+mile trail system is owned and operated by the Division of Arts & Culture, in the Department of Community Development, Lafayette Consolidated Government. Environmental education programming began here in 1974 as an offshoot of our parent organization, the Lafayette Natural History Museum. As a result of increasing demand for our programs, the Nature Station was constructed in 1978. Since that time, our staff has conducted field trips, workshops, and other educational activities and programs for many thousands of school children and adults alike.

Ecologically, the Nature Station/Trails are situated at the juncture of two major systems: the Gulf Coastal Tallgrass Prairie (or remnants thereof), and the Mississippi River Floodplain. Several thousand years ago, as a result of large volumes of meltwater streaming southward at the end of the last "Ice Age", the ancient Mississippi River strayed westward into what is now south-central Louisiana, expanding its floodplain by about fifty miles, and flowing through this area for approximately one thousand years. As glacial meltwaters gradually subsided from the north, the river moved back into its "original" stream bed; a course which it continues to follow today, taking it through the cities of Baton Rouge (fifty miles to our east) and New Orleans (one-hundred- twenty-five miles to our southeast), before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, some one-hundred miles south of New Orleans. As a direct result of these historic climatic/geologic changes, present-day Acadiana Park straddles this ancient juncture of river and prairie, with the prairie terrace itself laying some 45-50 feet above the adjacent floodplain (where the Nature Station itself is located). Separating these two land forms is a wide, bluff-like shelf (escarpment) which was actually the western bank of the ancient Mississippi. Thus, present day Acadiana Park supports three major habitat types: a bottomland hardwood forest on the Mississippi River floodplain, a transitional oak-hickory forest on the escarpment, and the remnants of what once was a tallgrass prairie on the prairie terrace. Of course, each of these major habitats supports its own plant communities; and in turn, each plant community supports its own compliment of animals. While the plant communities are pretty much fixed, the animal communities vary according to yearly seasonal cycles.

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Nature Station Functions

The Nature Station expends most of its efforts along two broad fronts: education and research. Education is, and probably always will be, the primary focus of our facility. We are thoroughly convinced that in order for humans to care about our natural environment, it is necessary that they first come to know and understand it. Only then can they arrive at a place where they can feel confident in making informed decisions concerning its present status, as well as its future. Thus, our prime objective lies in helping people to understand that Nature is not simply a hodge-podge of plants and animals, but is actually our one and only Life Support System, where our air and water is manufactured, recycled, and purified, and our food is grown. We teach that Nature is like an engine. Plants, animals, soil, and water are its parts. In order for the engine to work properly, its got to have all of its parts. To this end, we are engaged in a continuous process of developing and presenting educational programs, field trips, workshops, lectures, and written articles designed to reach people of all ages - from pre-K to elderhostel!!

Research activities fine tune our level of understanding, allowing us the opportunity to make increasingly informed and effective decisions. Here at the Nature Station, a chronic shortage of human and financial resources has forced us to limit our research to collaborative efforts with on-going projects of universities, state & federal agencies, and amateur naturalist groups. In these cases, we primarily provide technical assistance/expertise in the form of field work, data base compilation, and informational "clearinghouse" type activities.

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Education

Since 1974, our "flagship" educational activity has been the Fourth Grade Environmental Education Program. With supplemental funding from the Lafayette Parish School Board, this program endeavors to reach every Lafayette parish kid. Each year, we schedule each and every fourth grade class in Lafayette parish to have their own special day of activities at the Nature Station. Prior to their scheduled day, we have a Nature Station volunteer make an in-school visit to each class in order to prepare them for their visit. On their appointed day, we have our own school bus driver come to pick them up and bring them to the Nature Station. Here, we present nature hikes, live animal programs, discovery box programs, and other activities for the class. After lunch, the bus picks them up and takes them back to school. The entire series of programs lasts from 8:30 a.m.-1p.m.. In the past 22 years of the existence of this program, we have served approximately 70,000 fourth grade students in this way! We also schedule non-fourth grade classes (from pre-K to college level) for shorter visits/programs here, reaching an additional 3,500 students per year. Lastly, we work in as many in-school presentations at the elementary and secondary levels as we possibly can.

For both kids and adults, we schedule 9 additional Nature Trail tours each month, all of these occurring on the weekends. One of these hikes is a monthly night hike, which is scheduled for the last Saturday evening of each month. The other eight hikes are called "general trail tours", and take place at 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. We also intermittently offer additional workshops and field trips - mostly for kids - throughout the course of each year.

We are constantly invited to present lectures on birds and birding, native plant gardening, and other natural history related topics, mostly on evenings and weekends, to many civic groups, environmental organizations, and ornithological and native plant societies throughout our parish, our region, our state, and many other southeastern states. Should you wish to schedule us to speak at your meeting or conference, please contact us at (337)291-8448, or by Email.

Each month, we contribute several natural history related articles to the local newspaper, as well as to local, state, and regional ornithological and native plant newsletters.

Lastly, we receive large numbers of personal, written, and phone inquiries each week concerning a diverse array of natural history related topics including bird, snake, insect, and plant identification, backyard habitat modification, hummingbird/butterfly gardening, and other small- scale management practices. These, we attempt to answer as forthrightly as possible, and are hoping that our website will assist in this area.

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Research

Since our research efforts are mostly limited to offering technical assistance to other agencies with ongoing projects, working in this area offers periods of fun and relaxation for us. Nothing beats getting out in the field! We routinely assist agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Biological Survey, Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development, Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture and Forestry, National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and others - mostly in plant and animal survey work. These efforts also help us in sharpening our field biology/ecology skills, as well as in keeping us abreast of the latest developments in the area of field research, which greatly aids us in the design and presentation of our own programs, workshops, field trips, lectures, etc...

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Park & Trail Information

The Acadiana Park Nature Trail is a 42-acre tract of land purchased by the City of Lafayette in 1967. This land has been maintained in an unaltered state to provide a wooded oasis in the midst of sprawling urbanization. It is the goal of the Acadiana Park Nature Station staff to retain this forest complex as a living record of this areas natural landscape.

Historical Human Inhabitants

Acadiana Park has been a popular camping area for over 5,000 years! The earliest visitors, however, differed greatly from their modern counterparts. Attracted by the high, dry land of the Mississippi River escarpment and the close proximity to navigable waters, at least two groups of Native Americans utilized the land that is now within park boundaries.

Evidence in the form of various artifacts indicates that the arrival of the park’s first human visits occurred about 3,000 BC This prehistoric group of people is referred to by archaeologists as Archaic Indians. The paucity of the stone implements recovered indicates that these ancient people utilized this area more as a hunting camp.

A later group of natives settled here between 1200 and 1600 AD – a larger and obviously more advanced group. An abundance of shell-tempered potsherds indicates that women were also present with this group.

The earliest non-native occupation of this area is that of a French settler named Pierre Dugat, who arrived here in the late 1700’s. He laid claim to 675 acres through a Spanish Land Grant (Spain owned what is now Louisiana during this period). Dugat constructed a large home on the escarpment and developed the surrounding lands into a plantation.

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Natural Features

All soils of Acadiana Park are alluvial in nature, and the dates and methods of deposition have resulted in a topography unique to southwestern Louisiana. Upon entering the park, first-time visitors are often surprised to find a series of sloping hills in this region, which is typically known for being very flat. These hill-like formations actually represent the Mississippi River escarpment which divides this area into floodplain and prairie ecosystems.

The prairie terrace is comprised largely of loess-covered alluvial deposits. The time of deposition of these sediments has been estimated to have occurred between 80-100,000 years ago by the early Pleistocene Gulf of Mexico. In almost direct opposition to these prairie soils is the Mississippi River floodplain and its associated formations. This area, in the northern portion of the park, was formed as a result of an ancient meandering of the Mississippi River. Approximately 6,000 years ago, the Mississippi River occupied a more westerly course, and the present-day Bayou Vermilion functioned as a major distributary to it. In areas where the adjacent Mississippi flowed, very deep trenches developed to accept the tremendous volumes of water draining from the entire Mississippi Basin as a result of rapidly melting glaciers that signaled the close of the Ice Age. When the ancient Mississippi River was active in this region, protions of such trenches ran as deep as 300 feet. The river occupied this course for about 1,300 years. As glacier meltwater subsided, these gaping trenches were gradually filled with rich, black, clay-like sediments. The resulting floodplain forest seen at Acadiana Park is only a minuscule representation of a vast ecosystem which extends from the Gulf of Mexico to Tennessee and ranges 40-100 miles in width.

Today, the active body within the park is the François Coulee (also known as the Dan Debaillon Coulee). François Coulee drains from west to east near the northern edge of the park, following the old Mississippi River meander. In spring, its waters contain largemouth bas, bluegill and channel catfish. Autumn finds the coulee encrusted with a small floating aquatic plant called duckweek (Lemna sp.), and supporting another community of fishes that include bowfin (locally known as choupique) and spotted gar. The term “coulee” is from the French word couler, meaning “to flow.”

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Climatology

Together with topography and soil types, climate is a major factor in determining the ecology of any region. Southern Louisiana enjoys a rather mild, humid, subtropical climate that becomes less than tolerable only a few weeks in midsummer and midwinter. Generally, regional weather patterns are tempered by warm, moist, subtropical air from the Gulf of Mexico. The northerly flow of gulf air is also responsible for rather high annual rainfall totals that often exceed 60 inches.

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Staff

Stacey Scarce, Nature Station Curator
Holly Green, part-time Naturalist
Kaye Madden, part-time Naturalist
Stephen Saltamacchia, part-time Naturalist
Joseph A. Dugas, Bus Driver

 

Contact Nature Station Staff Nature Station Staff
Acadiana Park Nature Station
1205 E. Alexander St
Lafayette, LA 70501
(337) 291-8448