Iowa’s First Scout Crew to the High Adventure Camp in Louisiana

Submitted photos

Boy Scouts submitted photos

by Gareth Stefanc

This summer, a crew of Scouts from Oskaloosa (Troop 71), Ottumwa (Troop 11) and Washington (Troop 242), undertook an adventure of a lifetime as they paddled over 61 miles through the swamps of Louisiana. More accurately, they paddled through majestic Cypress trees, among egrets and alongside alligators of the Atchafalaya Swamp, a drainage basin encompassing 1.4 million acres. And they were the first from Iowa to accomplish this feat.

Pronounced “uh-CHA-fuh-LIE-uh”, the Atchafalaya swamp is home to one of the largest populations of migratory fowl including wood storks, spoonbills and osprey. As a distributary of the Mississippi River Valley which is the third largest drainage basin in the world and includes all the water that flows through the state of Iowa, the swamp diverts some 30% of the Mississippi’s flood waters before they reach Baton Rouge and New Orleans, eventually finding its way to the Gulf of Mexico but not before providing a source of nutrition and habitat for so much wildlife.

The crew’s journey began long before putting paddle to water. It actually began with the crew leader’s dream almost 2 years ago. Constant planning and practicing and conditioning on the white caps of Lake Red Rock helped prepare the Scouts for this day. The actual trek began with a 2-day journey from Iowa to southern Louisiana which included an overnight stay in northern Arkansas. Upon arrival in Lafayette, the crew was presented a tour of the historic Vermillionville, much akin to our Living History Farms, to learn about Cajun, Creole and Native American culture of the area. Soon after, the crew checked into their facilities on the University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULL) campus and undertook a shakedown of gear & equipment in preparation of the next day. The crew went to bed with visions of swamps and alligators in their heads.

The trip in the swamps lasted five days and began at “O-Very-Early” that first day with an hour long bus ride to the location where they would put in. As the sun rose, the fearless guides did their best to distribute gear and prepare the crew for the adventure ahead. The first few miles were considered a warm-up before hitting what is known as The Wall and the crews first introduction to a bayou. Through a combination of cypress trees and stumps, the crew made it the first 19.3 miles to their accommodations; house boats on Henderson Swamp. There they were treated to a program explaining about life on the swamp and were able to investigate more of their surroundings.

Day two began with a respite as the crew was able to tour the swamp on an airboat ride. A favorite activity of all, for sure. After, the crew paddled another 10.3 miles whichincluded a portage up and over a 25’ high levee into Bayou Berard and their primitive accommodations for the night on Rougarou Island. There, the crew learned how to make blow guns used for hunting by natives of the area as well as tales of an unnatural beast known as the Rougarou, or Cajun werewolf, that is said to make its home among the area.

Day three included a 14.4 mile trek to a completely different experience; Island Outpost. This old hunting camp and, we found out, one time Boy Scout camp, would provide the accommodations for the next two nights. Cabins with bunks replaced the netted hammocks and the crew were able to partake in swimming, fishing, paddle boarding and other activities. That is not to say the day wasn’t difficult as a portion of the trek was over open waters with looming storms and strong winds. Day four, a day of rest, was welcome indeed.

Day four also included the opportunity to “jug line fish”, something very common in this region. Although only a few fish were caught this day, the crew was advised that success is based upon who set the lines the day before. The next day saw greater success, making these Iowa boys proud. I also punched an Asian Carp in the face.

Day five would probably be the most challenging but also the most rewarding for the crew. The day started by being on the water at 5:15 a.m. and paddling an hour to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises one can experience. After this wonderful experience, the push was on to paddle the last 17+ miles through almost every type of water the area can present from open lakes created by logging 100 years ago to narrow channels and canals and through majestic cypress trees. Included was another portage affectionately known as the Mud Stomp due to the conditions on the back side of the levee. Slipping, sliding and coming out coated in mud was the name of the game but, strangely enough, it was a great time. Although a storm put a pause for an hour the crew eventually made it out and back to their accommodations at ULL before heading back the following day for the 2-day journey back home.

However, the experience was one all agreed was worth the effort. Seeing alligators up close, as well as a large amount of other wildlife, was quite an eye opener. It also provided these young men with a greater appreciation for how we treat the water where we live, knowing the impact we have thousands of miles away on tens & hundreds of thousands of other lives dependent on our good stewardship.

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Posted by on Sep 10 2017. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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