Bald cypress and Spanish moss in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
© Chris Moore/Exploring Light Photography/Tandem Stills + Motio
Here's looking Atchafalaya
Encompassing 14 Louisiana parishes and over 1.4 million acres, the Atchafalaya Basin is one of the United States' 55 National Heritage Areas, the one they call America's Foreign Country. It's the nation's largest river swamp and wetland—the bayous, marshes, and backwater lakes here nurture one of the most diverse ecological and cultural landscapes in North America.
The Choctaw people named the area hacha falaia ('long river'). Over the past four centuries, waves of French, Spanish, African, Acadian, and Caribbean settlers have contributed to the unique Cajun language, cuisine, music, architecture, and storytelling traditions that set this region apart.
Bald cypress trees—seen here draped in Spanish moss—are an iconic part of this incredibly rich ecosystem. Wildlife here includes crawfish, catfish, shrimp, bears, alligators, and over 270 species of birds. The Atchafalaya Basin was recognized as a National Heritage Area in 2006. Unlike national parks, NHAs function as partnerships between residents and local and federal agencies, which combine private and public lands into more livable and sustainable regions.