News & Features
Louisiana's State Seashore-An Idea Whose Time Has Come
by Randy Lanctot
When you think about the literally thousands of miles of shoreline Louisiana has and the affinity of its citizens and visitors for the coast and its abundant fish and wildlife resources, it's indeed remarkable that the Sportsman's Paradise does not have its own "State Seashore." You could say that all of the shoreline is state seashore since, at least where the water meets the land (the shore), the state claims ownership and the public has some right of use. But in Louisiana with its soupy wetland soils and ever-moving coast, the public/private interface is as muddled as the dissolving, evolving shore itself.
For the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF), whose mission is "conserving our natural resources and YOUR right to enjoy them," establishing an official "State Seashore" is a worthy endeavor. Some might ask what designating a "State Seashore" has to do with conservation. To LWF, the answer is clear: conservation does not happen without people to advocate for it. Connecting people with nature is the best way to assure public understanding and support for conservation.
The idea of a "State Seashore" is an extension of the LWF's successful campaign to restore public access to Elmer's Island (EI). At about the same time EI was closed to the public in 2002, vehicle access to and along the Fourchon Beach was also being curtailed. A "State Seashore" that would include the entire headland between the passes was a LWF dream from the outset. However, Elmer's Island, for sale at the time, required immediate attention.
To explain why the Caminada Headland*, rather than somewhere else along the Louisiana coast, should be considered for designation as a "State Seashore," I offer the following.
An obvious idea: The Caminada Headland is the only non-developed, (relatively) conveniently accessible from land, 14-mile stretch of shoreline and beach in a state with one of the longest coastlines of any US coastal state.
A compelling idea: To restore managed public access and use, for which there is a strong public demand, that was traditionally enjoyed via the Elmer's Island road and Hwy 3090 prior to 2002.
Not a new idea, though a different vision: The Louisiana Office of State Parks included a concept plan for a state park from Caminada to Belle Passes in its 1997-1012 Master Plan.
There are other reasons why the Caminada Headland should be Louisiana's "State Seashore" like the cultural and economic importance of the area, the natural resources, including game and commercial fish and wildlife, that are abundant there and the opportunities for education and interpretation of what can, without challenge, be considered the epitome of Louisiana's "working coast."
The definition of a state seashore that we are working within is "an undeveloped length of shoreline, adjacent waters and beach of significant quality, scale and character that is managed for conservation of natural resources and compatible (with conservation) public uses, and that is reasonably accessible to the public via land and water."
Access to the envisioned "State Seashore" is intended to be controlled and uses managed by designated state and/or local government agencies or their contractors, similar to a state park or wildlife management area. Uses at all times will be consistent with habitat preservation and the conservation of aesthetic and natural resources, with emphasis on providing compatible recreational opportunities.
Depending on the variety of site-specific attributes and habitats of the "State Seashore" different types of access and uses would be allowed: from walk-in/float-in only, to public vehicle conveyance and permitted tours, to private vehicle access on and along the beach. Where suitable and manageable, some areas might be designated for overnight camping while others may be altogether off-limits as wildlife sanctuary or restricted for security reasons (pipelines).
Presently, there is no such thing as a "State Seashore" defined in Louisiana law. Assuming that we can garner sufficient support, and with the cooperation of affected landowners and other stakeholders, statutory language will be crafted and legislation introduced to create the legal underpinning for the concept. The statutory language would likely include a general description of the area, the purposes of the "State Seashore" and the intended public uses. It would also direct the designated state agency(s), in cooperation with the pertinent parish and local governments, to develop a plan for management and use of the "State Seashore" including the acquisition of any necessary land rights or execution of servitudes from willing sellers/donors.
This all sounds so logical and simple, but there are hurdles to negotiate. One immediately in front of us is the proposed Caminada Headland Ecosystem Restoration Project, which also presents an opportunity to advance the "State Seashore" concept. The state and federal governments are developing plans for a $300 million "ecosystem restoration" project for the Caminada Headland with the draft feasibility report to be available for public comment soon. The state is considering starting on its $70 million share of the project this year with the Corps coming in along the way, after the sand-mining permits are secured and Congress authorizes the funding. If the envisioned "State Seashore" is to be realized, it is essential that the ecosystem restoration project be designed and executed to complement it, and vice versa. If it does not, it could preclude the "State Seashore" purposes and essentially foreclose on the idea altogether.
So, what can you do to support the "Caminada Headland State Seashore?"
. Review the details of the concept describing the anticipated management and use of the area.
. Talk up the idea and recruit support of your friends, family and colleagues for it. Make it clear that the success of the campaign will depend on the attitude of prospective "State Seashore" users: this will be a wildlife conservation and public use area, not public abuse area like those leery of the idea will charge.
. Watch for and comment on the draft feasibility report for the Caminada Headland Ecosystem Restoration Project due out soon; be sure to urge that the project be compatible with establishing a "State Seashore" between Caminada and Belle Passes.
. Support LWF; the Federation is leading this charge and cannot succeed without your support. Please join us and encourage others to do so. I invite organizations to become an affiliate of LWF to have a role in determining conservation policy, programs and action.
. Stay informed and be ready to act.
* The Caminada Headland is the shoreline and associated beach and dune complex between Caminada Pass on the east and Belle Pass on the west. It is immediately west, across Caminada Pass, from Grand Isle in south Lafourche and Jefferson Parishes on the central Louisiana Coast. Other than via watercraft, access to the shore is by the Elmer's Island Road on the east and Hwy. 3090 on the west. A headland, is defined as an area of "high" land jutting out into the sea from a land mass (which distinguishes it from a barrier island). In Louisiana, many of what we consider barrier islands are formerly headlands that, through erosion and subsidence of the land "behind" (that is, landward-facing), have been severed from the "mainland." The Caminada Headland was formed primarily by the discharges of sediment from the Mississippi River when the River occupied the channel of present-day Bayou LaFourche, reworked by wave and current from the Gulf of Mexico. Other Mississippi River alignments, including the present active delta, have also, for better or worse, influenced the evolution of the Caminada Headland.