Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Interrupted

The things you learn after you visit a new place. Just today I read, on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service web site, that the "124,511-acre [Sabine National Wildlife Refuge] coastal marsh... is currently closed to all public uses because of damages sustained during Hurricane Rita."

Two weeks ago Monday, I drove from San Antonio to Lafayette, Louisiana, as the first leg of my return home from Texas. Naturally, the drive was more than just about getting home, so I took a few detours of my own devising. But not as many as I'd dreamed of. When I look at a road map, I see more than points that designate cities and towns or lines that designate roads. I see a candy shop.

Like candy, I can only take so many destinations, but it's still a fair amount. Just west of Lake Charles, Louisiana, I left I-10 and headed south on Louisiana 27, also called the "Creole Nature Trail." It cuts down the eastern edge of the Sabine NWR in extreme southwest Louisiana (Cameron Parish) and then eastward along the Gulf coast.

Also, according to the National Scenic Byways Program, a division of the Federal Highway Administration, the road is an "All-American Road," which is the program's term for a major-league scenic route. (But don't expect a reasonable description of Louisiana 27 from byways.org. It's just as bad as a hack travel brochure: "... when you travel the Creole Nature Trail, you will get an up-close and personal view of Louisiana's unique environment. The trail travels through thousands of acres of untouched wetlands, which reflect an area blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.")

That isn't to say it wasn't one fine drive, through intensely flat, intensely grassy, intensely wet territory in June. A sublime green all around. This is a view from a platform at a place called Blue Goose Trail, which didn't seem to be closed. At least the parking lot was open. So was the trail, which winds through the background of the picture.

So I took a walk, with a hat and water. It was just as hot as in Texas. I'm not sure if these posts used to be part of something that blew down four years ago or not, but they were trailside.

"Untouched" isn't quite the way I'd describe the Sabine NWR. Again, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: "Refuge recreational areas along Highway 27 received varying amounts of damage to bridges, piers, observation towers, boardwalks, restroom facilities, fences, and parking lots. These facilities need to be repaired before the areas can be re-opened for public use."

The bridges I saw connected Louisiana 27 with side roads, crossing the large canal that often ran next to the highway. Most of them looked intact, but one not far from Blue Goose Trail had been completely wrecked and not restored yet.

In case I had any ideas about heading down one of the Sabine NWR's canals to gig some alligators, "West of Highway 27, Sabine refuge canals and marshes were severely impacted by storm wind and water.... Canals and marshes are clogged with seven million cubic meters of debris from off shore rigs and coastal communities.... Tanks and barrels containing hazardous liquids and gases have the potential to explode or break down and release toxins into the environment. Over 1,400 hazardous material containers have been identified and are estimated to contain between 115,000 and 350,000 gallons of hazardous liquids and gases."

Lest we forget, Hurricane Rita was stronger than Katrina. But it didn't hit New Orleans. Instead it washed large parts of the oil industry into a wildlife refuge. It also thumped a lot of places in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, and destroyed the the town of Holly Beach, Louisiana, on the Gulf, which I passed through after walking on the Blue Goose Trail. I can't compare what I saw to the pre-2005 town, but the place did look ragged and improvised. At least the new buildings were far up on stilts.

My plan had been to cross the Calcasieu Ship Channel by ferry and continue along Louisiana 27 and loop back to near Lake Charles. Or maybe even follow Louisiana 82 to Abbeville, though it was getting late in the day. But after waiting in line a while, I decided to retrace my route back to I-10, especially after a truck driver came by telling everyone, "the ferry's broke."

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At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

two of my biggest geographical memories of 1969, the year i lived in new orleans, are: the way bridges arched above the swamps, like dinosaur backs; and how there was an artificial hill near the zoo, to show local kids what a hill looked like. otherwise, in all that flat, they'd never have a clue.



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