The Heritage Area At a Glance
The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is made up of 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It was designated by Congress in 2006 as a region with significant natural, scenic, cultural, historical and recreational resources and offers a unique blend of European, African, Caribbean and Native American cultures. Atchafalaya (pronounced like a sneeze: "uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh") is a Native American word that means long river in Choctaw.
Mission and Goals
The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is a model of authenticity in heritage development and ecotourism, a truly fascinating and “foreign” place here in the middle of the U.S. culture. The area manages to be authentic and real, while offering outstanding amenities for residents and visitors who seek a relaxed but active break from the everyday.
The mission of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is to build understanding and identity, raising local, regional, and national awareness of the Atchafalaya region; to strengthen the fabric of the place; to expand economic opportunities and to increase the community collaboration and involvement within the parishes that constitute the heritage area while supporting a healthier Atchafalaya ecosystem and enhancing natural resource-based recreation opportunities.
PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE
The purpose of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is to establish and maintain interpretive sites; increase public awareness of and appreciation for the natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational resources of the area; and implement programs that recognize the important resource values of the national heritage area.
The Atchafalaya Basin is significant because:
- It is the largest example of an alluvial bottomland and swamp in the United States, and provides outstanding habitat for 24 federal- and state-listed threatened or endangered species, or species of concern including Louisiana Black Bear, brown pelicans and bald eagles.
- It possesses exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting many of the natural themes of our nation’s heritage, including river systems and lakes, recent geologic history (i.e., the processes of alluviation and deltaic land building), bottomland and swamp components of the eastern deciduous forest, aquatic ecosystems, and streams.
- It possesses exceptional value in illustrating certain cultural themes, particularly water control technology and unique, ongoing American ways of life.
- It offers a rare opportunity for scientific study of active delta building processes, and provides a significant opportunity to study disturbance regimes, primary succession, population-level ecological processes, and southeastern bottomland species.
- The quality of recreational opportunities provided by the Basin indicates the Atchafalaya has the potential to become a nationally significant recreational resource.
Enhance interpretation and awareness of the heritage area’s key stories.
If the factors that make the Atchafalaya region unique and beloved by its residents are to last in the face of change, there is a need to enhance the strong regional identity and to cultivate a heightened appreciation of the authentic. Interpretation— communicating truthful information about people and places in an interesting and engaging manner—helps residents and visitors alike gain an understanding of the importance of the Atchafalaya area and its culture and resources. Properly done, interpretive programs can also enhance the appeal of the region to discerning visitors.
Support Sustainable Cultural Economic Development Opportunities in the Heritage Area.
For centuries, people found many ways to earn a living from the Atchafalaya region. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area was established in part to stimulate investment while protecting the region’s sensitive lands and other cultural and natural resources. Achieving this balancing act will diversify the economy and create jobs, while also improving the experience of being in the heritage area as a resident, an employer, or a visitor.
Increase appreciation for cultural resources.
There are distinct physical elements that define the Atchafalaya region. The cultural landscape here is unique and involves the interplay between natural resources and the effects of centuries of habitation by those who have carved livings out of the swamp and those who tried to control nature.
More recognition and protection is needed for the important vernacular townscapes and buildings that give the region its strong sense of time and place. Also, efforts that highlight cultural traditions, language and skills are an important part of this goal.
Increase appreciation for natural resources.
Just as aspects of culture and the built environment are important to the heritage area, the natural environment is also a critical resource—inextricably linked to the region’s economy, culture, history, and traditions. Preserving and restoring the natural environment is a foundation for economic vitality, recreation opportunities, and tourism development. Natural resource extraction and natural resource preservation need to be balanced appropriately. Further, the wild and “foreign” landscape of the Atchafalaya Basin provides a distinctive recreational experience. Protection, enhancement, and improved access to existing active and passive recreational opportunities can enhance the broader appreciation of the Atchafalaya ecosystem, culture and history.
Theme 1 - Adaptation and Survival
The early settlers acquired living skills unique to the environment.
Theme 2 - Identity Through a Cultural Blend
The region’s identity evolved from a blend of many cultures.
Theme 3 - Influence of the Water on the Land and the People
Water is the distinctive influence on life in this area: through the ages it has created everchanging landscapes, contributed to subtle and catastrophic natural events, and has been subjected to a long history of human manipulation; this relationship continues to evolve today through increased recreation and conservation efforts.