What To Do With Bayou Bienvenue?: John Taylor

Jun 3, 2014

John Taylor.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle of today is what is called a “ghost swamp.” Until the 1960s, it was a full of cypress trees, part of the central wetlands system that ran from the Lower 9th Ward all the way to Lake Borgne. But destructive forces — from levee and canal construction to invasive species — turned this freshwater swamp into a saltwater marsh, killing all the cypress trees in the process. You see their dead trunks like scarecrows in the water, and don’t see much else.

"This was something that was beautiful to me. This gonna be restored."

When the Wetland Triangle was a swamp it provided the surrounding community with natural resources like fish, game and timber, and protected the area from storm damage and coastal erosion. Most of the wildlife that inhabited the swamp is gone, as is the native vegetation that safeguarded the land.

Now, the Bayou Bienvenue Triangle has been included in the “Master Plan” to restore the Louisiana coast. Few dispute this as good news, but there are varying perspectives on how and why the landscape has changed, and differing opinions on how it should be restored. What happened here? What restoration strategy now makes the most sense for this specific area? Should restoring this small section be prioritized compared to other, larger parts of the central wetlands?

Five people walked out to the Bayou Bienvenue platform, a wooden walkway at Florida and Caffin Avenues, to overlook the land as it is now and consider these questions.

Explanatory signage at the Bayou Bienvenue walkway.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / Jason Saul / WWNO

John Taylor is the Wetlands Specialist for the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, and an outspoken resident highly involved in restoration efforts. He is overjoyed to see the new growth, and the renewed excitement in restoring the swamp. For years he felt like he was the only one who cared about the place, and he gave up the idea of it being included in any Master Plan.

“From '65 back, if you was standing here, you wouldn't see any water. The water was covered with lilies. Water hyacinth lilies, big leaf lilies. You would see purple, white lilies all over the place. We actually had to make trails through it, to get the boats through it. You wouldn't see all this open water. And it would be beautiful. It looked like a — like you're riding along Texas highway and you see all the wildflowers? That's the way this looked.”

“I want to see, before I get too old — unless I die, dead tomorrow — but before I get too old, I want to see this starting to grow again. I want to see, you know, like I could say, you know, like, exhale, say, I know if I die the youngsters got my slack.”

“I had accepted it the way it is. The people come along and say, ‘Well we're gonna try to restore this.’ Then it's a chance to be restored. This was something that was beautiful to me. This gonna be restored. But now it's sort of like a lollypop and a kid. You let him take the sweetness of this lollypop, then you pull it back and you put it in a refrigerator. You put it on the side, let it cool. So now I'm confused. I had put up with it being destroyed, I'd accepted it being destroyed, and never turned my back on it. Now people are talking about restoring this, and you do whatever you can to help a good friend.”

This story has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

The original version of this story omitted Mr. Taylor's job title. He is the Wetlands Specialist for the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Kabacoff Family Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.