The Daily Review/John Flores
The author’s grandson, Eli Flores, examines a sweet gum tree seed ball he found hiking on Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge last weekend.
Lessons in an upside-down world: Writer and grandson explore wildlife area
This past weekend, following the State’s emancipation from the COVID-19 stay home edict, I spent time with my grandson Eli hiking on Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge. It’s amazing what you can do to entertain a 4-year-old who concludes the world is upside down (Note: his words, not mine), while enjoying outdoor pursuits.
Part of getting the grandkids out of the house and into the forest (Note: forest was also his word, not mine) is an opportunity for them to exercise and get rid of some of that pent-up energy from sheltering in place.
The treks can also be used for teachable moments. Essentially, kids love attention. Especially positive attention while learning.
The refuge didn’t disappoint us either. Just for the record, my grandson got to see up close green anole lizards, overcome a fear of picking up the spiky sweet gum seed ball, and see a pretty large alligator in its natural habitat, besides some pretty cool and interesting birds.
He and I also discussed what direction we were walking and the importance of paying attention in the woods. We moved two large tree limbs out of the way that fell along the trail, making it difficult for people to pass (Note: his suggestion, not mine). And when done, from the smile on his face, it meant a lot to him.
My grandson’s mom and dad are both schoolteachers who live and work in Lafayette, and coincidently had their second child on March 29, in the middle of the pandemic. Not only did they have to deal with the stay at home order, but had to reconcile the fact that no family members or friends would be coming over to visit, see and celebrate the newborn.
The two parents were appreciative the grandparents were happy to take the new “big brother” home for several days to help break up the monotony of being homebound. In fact, Eli’s grandmother offered to do this a couple of times during the past several weeks of the pandemic.
There’s a saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The first weekend in May, my wife and I heard Grand Isle was open again. Not knowing all of the facts, apparently the whole island was shut down to tourists during the coronavirus outbreak, where the beaches were closed, along with much of the amenities it’s noted for.
Being a nature photographer and a bird watcher of sorts, to have the island closed during the month of April, which is the peak period of the neotropical songbird migration “felt like” a huge loss and something missing. Two of the places I was planning to go was the State Park on the island and then Elmer’s Island.
Not thinking, I made the trip to visit these two public places, but unfortunately, they were closed due to the governor’s order, according to the signs on the gates. Yes, I admit that I grumbled and complained to my wife, calling it stupid and idiotic, but eventually got over myself. Moreover, realized just because the island was “open” didn’t mean the state parks and wildlife management areas were. “My bad,” as they say.
One of the things about Louisiana being known as the Sportsman’s Paradise is that the term just doesn’t encompass only a part of the state. The Sportsman’s Paradise is literally found and celebrated in nearly every square mile of Louisiana. For goodness sakes, we even fish in city parks in both New Orleans and Lafayette.
As such, access to our State Parks, Wildlife Management Areas, and National Wildlife Refuges are critical to the general public for their use, enjoyment and pleasure. I have had the opportunity to visit and write about several of the State Parks and have to tell you what a treasure they are to the people.
There are 21 State Parks in Louisiana. They are relatively inexpensive to use and, in most cases, immaculately cared for. Most offer a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, camping, fishing, swimming, birding, and nature viewing. Some even have golf courses. They have cabins to rent, overnight RV parking (most with utilities), and primitive camping.
Two of the closer State Parks here locally are Cypremort Point in St. Mary Parish and Lake Fausse Pointe in Iberia Parish. Both are real gems for outdoor enthusiasts.
All of Louisiana’s State Parks are now open following the governor’s order last Friday, with the exceptions of Chicot, Bayou Signette and Lake Bisteneau state parks. These have been designated Regional Isolation Facilities for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Besides State Parks, Louisiana has some 1.6 million acres of Wildlife Management Areas that have pretty much remained open throughout the crisis. There have been exceptions, like Elmer’s Island, but by and large the WMA’s have been places where outings like my grandson and I had this past weekend were available to the general public. However, public restroom facilities were closed, and social distancing was encouraged with no more than 10 people gathering at one time.
There are also 23 National Wildlife Refuges located throughout Louisiana covering some 550,000 acres. One of the more popular refuges located in Southwest Louisiana is Sabine NWR. Here, besides fishing, crabbing is an extremely popular activity.
During the coronavirus outbreak, my wife and I traveled this region and were surprised at the number of people who were not practicing social distancing while crabbing. Literally, they were crabbing near shoulder to shoulder. Additionally, with the Sabine NWR restroom facilities closed, some people felt it was appropriate to defecate on the sidewalks behind the building, where the refuge walking trail starts and ends. The trails, crabbing areas and boat launches were also disgustingly trashed by visitors using the area during the pandemic.
Days later, Sabine NWR issued a press release stating the NWR crabbing areas and walking trails would be closed until further notice, while USF&WS employees cleaned up the refuge.
A week later, another press release updating the status of the closures stated that refuge staff collected 1,450 gallons of trash in just “one” area left by citizens.
On Monday, May 18, yet another press release was issued by the refuge with the title, “Citations Written and Arrests Made as Sabine National Wildlife Refuge Areas Re-Open to the Public.”
The release went on to say, “Although frequent pleas from refuge staff and fellow visitors have made the news, and circulated on social media asking all visitors to carry out, what they carry in to the refuge, many are still leaving behind crab strings, bait, bait packaging and food and drink containers. That is not all; unfortunately, there has also been a blatant disregard for other laws and refuge regulations as well.”
I’m quite sure my grandson didn’t come up with the world being upside-down on his own. Nonetheless, I couldn’t agree with him more. We somehow have become a people who trash things that are good and seem to praise disobedience.
I hope the people who trashed the public access areas missed being able to use Sabine NWR’s facilities while the crabs were running, as much as I missed being able to enter Grand Isle State Park and Elmer’s Island WMA during the governor’s pandemic order. Like I said, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
All I can say is, we’re lucky to have Bayou Teche NWR located here in St. Mary Parish. It’s a place open to the public that I find normal in what has become an upside-down world (Note: My words, not my grandsons).