The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is a remnant of a once great Mississippi River Delta swamp. As recently as the 1960s, a freshwater cypress swamp extended from New Orleans eastward to Lake Borgne. But more than a century of levee and canal construction converted this swamp into an open-water brackish marsh, with only cypress “ghosts” and some older residents’ memories remaining.
A portion of the Lower 9th Ward was built on the drained bottom of the cypress swamp. What remained “back of town” (closest to the wetland triangle) was a vital resource for the community, providing fish, game, wood, and recreation. As man-made environmental change occurred in the area, this natural resource was lost. Notably, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a nearby shipping channel completed in the 1960s, brought salt water into the freshwater wetlands, killing the trees, eroding the land, and destroying tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands that buffered communities like the Lower 9th Ward.
Wetlands, especially cypress forests, can act as “horizontal levees” – reducing the height and speed of storm surges and sheltering man-made levees from waves. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the levees along the MRGO were decimated by storm surge, leading to catastrophic flooding of communities.
Despite having higher elevation than much of New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward experienced the deepest, most violent flooding in the metro area. According to a 2009 report, this extensive flooding was attributed in part to the MRGO.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, two structures (a surge barrier and a rock dam) closed the MRGO channel and helped reduce saltwater intrusion into the area. Closing the MRGO was the first step toward restoration. Now we must take the next critical step and restore the wetlands around New Orleans to once again help protect the city from storm damage and coastal erosion.
Restoration plans for the ecosystem impacted by the MRGO include restoring the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle to a cypress swamp. Thanks to advocacy from residents who fished and played here as children, Bayou Bienvenue has become a focus of national interest, a representative of the regional crisis, and a beacon of hope for solutions. Less than five miles from downtown, this special place is a classroom, a laboratory, a gathering place, and a window to the threatened landscape. Click here to learn how you can help restore this important wetland area.
From The Locals:
“Welcome to the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle. It is the only part of the Central Wetlands system that is located in the Lower 9th Ward. What is now open water used to be an old–growth swamp that was filled with cypress trees, water lilies, and freshwater wildlife such as fish, alligators, otters, birds, and crawfish. Since the completion of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel in the 1960s, salt water has intruded into the wetland area where you are standing, causing the cypress trees to die off and changing the wildlife species from freshwater to saltwater.
For the community of the Lower 9th Ward, the swamp was a place to fish, catch turtles for soups, go crawfishing, and explore as a kid. Many wild foods were harvested from the bayou as was the cypress wood for building materials in the community.
There is an ongoing effort to restore the wetlands to their natural state, so that future generations will have a place to go that is still wild in the middle of a city. Restoring this swamp would bring back an incredible resource which would be accessible to all people, including Lower Nine residents, citizens of Louisiana, and visitors. ” – John Taylor, lifelong resident of the Lower 9th Ward
History of the Platform
Once a part of the everyday life of neighborhood residents, the wetland area now known as the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle lost its prominence in the Lower 9th Ward after the cypress swamp degraded due to saltwater intrusion after the construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet in the early 1960s. Less than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Lower 9th Ward, due in part to the destruction of the wetlands surrounding the Greater New Orleans area, the idea that the wetlands should be tied back into the neighborhood became a rallying cry in the community. As the community planned the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward, reconnecting the community with the wetlands and building awareness took off as part of the vision thanks to community leaders and advocates like Pam Dashiell and Steve Ringo. Architects from University of Colorado who were studying the area worked with the community to design the platform and find the funds and get permission to build it. After many meetings with the local levee district and the Corps of Engineers, the platform was built in early 2008 with funds from the university and private foundations. A community effort, the platform was built with support from local residents and community-based organizations.
“It came from the neighborhood.” – Austin Allen, pioneer of the platform and Lower 9th Ward resident
A fire destroyed part of the platform in 2009, but only a few days went by before neighborhood leaders, community-based organizations, and academics studying the triangle had it repaired – even better than before – to the structure standing on the levee today.
The platform quickly became a major destination, not just for Lower 9th Ward residents who fish there and take in the view of the cypress “ghost” swamp, but for residents throughout New Orleans, political leaders, and busloads of visitors from around the world. Just five miles from the French Quarter, the platform provides a critical portal to the coast and is a vivid reminder of what is happening to the Mississippi River Delta and how it impacts the people who live there. Today, the platform serves as a call for action and an opportunity to show the world what is possible through restoration.
Click here to learn about the organizations and universities that have helped make the platform a reality and are working for restoration of the area today.