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Located in a wooded section of Acadiana Park, a 110 acre facility in the northeastern corner of Lafayette, Louisiana (south-central Louisiana), the Nature Station and its accompanying 3+mile trail system is owned and operated by the Division of Arts & Culture, in the Department of Community Development, Lafayette Consolidated Government. Environmental education programming began here in 1974 as an offshoot of our parent organization, the Lafayette Natural History Museum. As a result of increasing demand for our programs, the Nature Station was constructed in 1978. Since that time, our staff has conducted field trips, workshops, and other educational activities and programs for many thousands of school children and adults alike.
Ecologically, the Nature Station/Trails are situated at the juncture of two major systems: the Gulf Coastal Tallgrass Prairie (or remnants thereof), and the Mississippi River Floodplain. Several thousand years ago, as a result of large volumes of meltwater streaming southward at the end of the last "Ice Age", the ancient Mississippi River strayed westward into what is now south-central Louisiana, expanding its floodplain by about fifty miles, and flowing through this area for approximately one thousand years. As glacial meltwaters gradually subsided from the north, the river moved back into its "original" stream bed; a course which it continues to follow today, taking it through the cities of Baton Rouge (fifty miles to our east) and New Orleans (one-hundred- twenty-five miles to our southeast), before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, some one-hundred miles south of New Orleans. As a direct result of these historic climatic/geologic changes, present-day Acadiana Park straddles this ancient juncture of river and prairie, with the prairie terrace itself laying some 45-50 feet above the adjacent floodplain (where the Nature Station itself is located). Separating these two land forms is a wide, bluff-like shelf (escarpment) which was actually the western bank of the ancient Mississippi. Thus, present day Acadiana Park supports three major habitat types: a bottomland hardwood forest on the Mississippi River floodplain, a transitional oak-hickory forest on the escarpment, and the remnants of what once was a tallgrass prairie on the prairie terrace. Of course, each of these major habitats supports its own plant communities; and in turn, each plant community supports its own compliment of animals. While the plant communities are pretty much fixed, the animal communities vary according to yearly seasonal cycles.
The Acadiana Park Nature Trail is a 42-acre tract of land purchased by the City of Lafayette in 1967. This land has been maintained in an unaltered state to provide a wooded oasis in the midst of sprawling urbanization. It is the goal of the Acadiana Park Nature Station staff to retain this forest complex as a living record of this areas natural landscape.
History: Acadiana Park has been a popular camping area for over 5,000 years! The earliest visitors, however, differed greatly from their modern counterparts. Attracted by the high, dry land of the Mississippi River escarpment and the close proximity to navigable waters, at least two groups of Native Americans utilized the land that is now within park boundaries.
Evidence in the form of various artifacts indicates that the arrival of the park's first human visits occurred about 3,000 BC This prehistoric group of people is referred to by archaeologists as Archaic Indians. The paucity of the stone implements recovered indicates that these ancient people utilized this area more as a hunting camp.
A later group of natives settled here between 1200 and 1600 AD - a larger and obviously more advanced group. An abundance of shell-tempered potsherds indicates that women were also present with this group.
The earliest non-native occupation of this area is that of a French settler named Pierre Dugat, who arrived here in the late 1700's. He laid claim to 675 acres through a Spanish Land Grant (Spain owned what is now Louisiana during this period). Dugat constructed a large home on the escarpment and developed the surrounding lands into a plantation.
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