Barataria Preserve is full of pitfalls for a hiker: Betsy Swanson

Date: Jul 01, 2011

Barataria Preserve is full of pitfalls for a hiker: Betsy Swanson

Without food or water in a sweltering, mosquito-infected swamp, Professor Francisco Piedrahita, a visitor from Colombia, was lost for five days in the Barataria Preserve of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. The professor was seeking wood ducks to photograph.

He followed the "Wood Duck Trail,'' which is the access road of an oil drill site constructed in 1966, to the "Wood Duck Ponds.'' The ponds, which are drill site excavations, were dry because of the recent drought. So, Mr. Piedrahita ventured into the swamp looking for duck ponds. Unaware that he was in the midst of an old oil field, he became trapped between numerous water-filled pits.

He would have been misled by the National Park Service's preference for interpreting the densely wooded preserve as simply natural.

There are in the preserve more than 50 oil drill sites and more than 50 miles of drill site access canals, oil and gas pipeline canals and buried pipelines. To increase the deceptively natural appearance of the heavily vegetated park, the National Park Service has leveled drill sites and partly backfilled more than 20 miles of canals.

Appropriately, the name Barataria means "deception,'' for the semi-tropical preserve shrouds an entirely man-altered land. The greatest human impact was left by oil and gas exploration.

In wetlands, drill sites are frequently "mucked out.'' The first 5 or 10 feet of moist, organic soil is removed, and river sand is hauled in to serve as beds for drill pads and for pads for auxiliary structures, equipment and storage tanks. When drill sites are abandoned, the river sand is frequently dug out and used elsewhere, leaving pits behind. In firmer soil, borrow pits are dug to build pads, roads and levees.

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