Environmental talk: UNO documentary on the history of Lake Salvador

What: Lake Salvador

Editor’s Note: ViaNolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöp, pairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum that results in a short documentary. This piece is a documentation on Lake Salvador. 



Southwest of the city of New Orleans lies Lake Salvador, home to one of the most robust ecosystems and it’s rich in history. You can see the city rearing its head over the swamp on a clear day.

We’re back here on the Salvador Wildlife Management Area in St. Charles Parish. We’re in an area we called the Netherlands tract. I’ve been coming back here since I was eight years old.

Back in the turn of the 21st part of the 20th centuries, Louisiana had a large fur industry. Families would move to the marsh in house boats and spend their whole summers out here in this marsh to make their living. It was a way of life.

What they did was access the interior parts of the marsh. They dug a maze of trapper’s ditches through the marshes, which are correctly referred to as trapper’s ditches. Most trapping, back in the day, was carried out using a pirogue and push-pull method. Trappers using push-pull, with one pirogue, would tie a second pirogue behind it in order to haul all of the furs, including nutria and muskrat. Muskrat was the primary target fur-bearing animal at that time. However, after the incident at Avery Island when a nutria was released into the wild, nutria pelts became highly in demand, and nutria was also harvested.

But the trapper’s ditches have a cage with a French name. It’s called trenasse. It’s a small ditch that runs through the marsh. 

Nutria rats are an infamous invasive species in Louisiana. However, a new contender has entered the marsh. If you look down onto the blades of marsh grass, you can see a red clump clinging to them. These are called apple snails. They consume large quantities of vegetation which threaten the food source of our native fish populations.

Despite all of the invasive species in the swamp, it’s home to a large population of American alligators. Adult alligators eat nutria and other large animals.

The Rathborne Lumber Company, in the first part of the 20th century, returned and acquired this land for cypress tree harvesting. There existed a cypress lumber industry in this area. In fact, approximately a quarter mile from my location, there is the Louisiana Cypress Canal, specifically dug for the purpose of harvesting cypress trees from this region.

Supplying people with resources in timber for decades, Lake Salvador is more than another swamp in Southeast Louisiana. It has a rich history that can be seen with the reminisce of the past lingering in the swamp.


This piece was edited by Rafael De Alba as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University. 


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