LAFAYETTE — A plan that calls for more public-access options on federally owned land in the Atchafalaya Basin is up for public comment through next month.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is updating its long-term Basin plan, which includes a wish list of initiatives to further develop nature trails, bird-watching opportunities, camp sites and outdoor education.
“I’m all for increased public use of public lands,” said Michael Saucier, who oversees the roughly 50,000 acres of corps-owned land in the Basin.
Much of that land is in the Indian Bayou recreation area, a 28,500-acre tract north of Interstate 10 that spans St. Martin and St. Landry parishes.
Indian Bayou has long been a popular destination for anglers and hunters, but there has been a growing interest on the part of paddlers, birdwatchers, bicyclists and hikers.
“Just as a whole in Louisiana, more interest has been brought to the Atchafalaya area,” corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said.
The new long-term plan — like the old one — addresses water quality issues, hunting and fishing regulations, and conservation, but the public-access enhancements are a focus of the updated master plan.
The plan calls for expanding the existing system of nature trails and ATV trails, new primitive campsites, outreach programs to encourage more public access, fishing piers, an observation deck and a possible outdoor education area.
Money would be the critical issue for the projects to move forward.
“These are just planning ideas for the next 10 to 15 years,” Saucier said.
Anything the corps can do to improve recreation opportunities in the Basin could boost the economies of the communities along the edge of the massive swamp, Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette said.
“The future of Henderson depends a lot on tourism,” he said.
Collette said his most pressing concern is controlling hydrilla in Lake Henderson. Hydrilla is an invasive weed that grows so thick some years that it practically chokes the popular lake.
The state has occasionally applied herbicide to control the weed, and officials have also lowered water levels in the lake to dry out the hydrilla and kill it.
There has been talk of the corps taking a more active role in managing invasive plants in the Basin, but Saucier said controlling aquatic vegetation is costly and the corps has little money to spare.
Collette said he plans to soon present to the St. Martin Parish Council his own hydrilla-control plan, which involves lowering water levels in the lake from July through August.
Water levels could remain high for the July Fourth weekend, be lowered for the hottest two months when fishing is poor and then brought back up before Labor Day.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a nonprofit conservation group, supports the public-access provisions in the Basin’s plan but has issues with the corps strategy for restoration and preservation in the swamp, Basinkeeper Director Dean Wilson said.
Wilson said the corps should take a tougher stance against certain loggers, oil companies and other groups he alleges have long ignored federal environmental regulations in the Basin.
The deadline for commenting on the corps’ master plan for the Basin is July 19.
For information on viewing and commenting on the Basin master plan, visit http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/news/view.asp?ID=579.