Monday, March 3, 2008

Jean Lafitte National Park

This past weekend Lauren and I went to the Barataria preserve. It is located about a half-hour out of town and is part of the Jean Lafitte national park. There are close to 20,000 acres to explore by foot or canoe and the wildlife is incredible.

During two hours of easy walking we encountered 6-7 alligators, 5 large snakes, several snapping turtles, sturgeons, and innumerable lizards. It was surreal. In all my experiences in the wilderness of the West, I have never been surrounded by such an abundance of wildlife. Although I was nervous about the prospect of encountering alligators, their lethargic attitude put me at ease. I am hoping to rent a canoe soon and explore the areas' waterways.

The park has an interesting history, too. Jean Lafitte was a pirate during the early 1800's. He prospered as a smuggler of goods and slaves. Bayous in what is now the Barataria preserve were his primary routes of transport. His skill and knowledge of the area made it impossible for the government to capture him and he acquired prominent notoriety.

This reputation is complicated with a closer look at the era. President Thomas Jefferson passed an Embargo Act that prohibited trade in 1807. The economy suffered mightily and many smugglers insisted that they were honest businessman forced into an unlawful position through poor governance. Indeed, Jefferson later acknowledged that the embargo had been a bad idea.

Lafitte added further intrigue to his reputation with his actions in the War of 1812. The English offered him significant money for his assistance, but he warned the Americans instead. The army was skeptical and went forward with an attack against his camp. Eventually General Andrew Jackson accepted Lafitte's assistance and his crew's performance at Chalmette was integral to the victory in this decisive battle. Today he is remembered as a mysterious legend. His disjointed legacy as a patriot/pirate is appreciated enough to, well, to name a national park after.

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