Located in a wooded section of Acadiana Park, a 150 acre facility in the northeastern corner of Lafayette, Louisiana (south-central Louisiana), the Nature Station and its accompanying 6 mile trail system is owned and operated by the Division of Arts & Culture, in the Department of Community Development, Lafayette Consolidated Government. Environmental education programming began here in 1974 as an offshoot of our parent organization, the Lafayette Science Museum. As a result of increasing demand for our programs, the Nature Station was constructed in 1978. Since that time, our staff has conducted field trips, workshops, and other educational activities and programs for many thousands of school children and adults alike.
Ecologically, the Nature Station Trails are situated at the juncture of two major systems: the Gulf Coastal Tallgrass Prairie (or remnants thereof), and the Mississippi River Floodplain. Several thousand years ago, as a result of large volumes of meltwater streaming southward at the end of the last "Ice Age", the ancient Mississippi River strayed westward into what is now south-central Louisiana, expanding its floodplain by about fifty miles, and flowing through this area for approximately one thousand years. As glacial meltwaters gradually subsided from the north, the river moved back into its "original" stream bed; a course which it continues to follow today, taking it through the cities of Baton Rouge (fifty miles to our east) and New Orleans (one-hundred- twenty-five miles to our southeast), before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, some one-hundred miles south of New Orleans. As a direct result of these historic climatic/geologic changes, present-day Acadiana Park straddles this ancient juncture of river and prairie, with the prairie terrace itself laying some 45-50 feet above the adjacent floodplain (where the Nature Station itself is located). Separating these two land forms is a wide, bluff-like shelf (escarpment) which was actually the western bank of the ancient Mississippi. Thus, present day Acadiana Park supports three major habitat types: a bottomland hardwood forest on the Mississippi River floodplain, a transitional oak-hickory forest on the escarpment, and the remnants of what once was a tallgrass prairie on the prairie terrace. Of course, each of these major habitats supports its own plant communities; and in turn, each plant community supports its own complement of animals. While the plant communities are pretty much fixed, the animal communities vary according to yearly seasonal cycles.
The Nature Station expends most of its efforts along two broad fronts: education and research. Education is, and probably always will be, the primary focus of our facility. We are thoroughly convinced that in order for humans to care about our natural environment, it is necessary that they first come to know and understand it. Only then can they arrive at a place where they can feel confident in making informed decisions concerning its present status, as well as its future. Thus, our prime objective is helping people understand that Nature is not simply a hodge-podge of plants and animals, but it is actually our one and only Life Support System, where our air and water is manufactured, recycled, and purified, and where our food is grown. We teach that Nature is like an engine. Plants, animals, soil, and water are its parts. In order for the engine to work properly, its got to have all of its parts. To this end, we are engaged in a continuous process of developing and presenting educational programs, field trips, workshops, lectures, and written articles designed to reach people of all ages - from pre-K to adulthood.
Research activities fine tune our level of understanding allowing us the opportunity to make increasingly informed and effective decisions. Here at the Nature Station, a chronic shortage of human and financial resources has forced us to limit our research to collaborative efforts with on-going projects at universities, state & federal agencies, and amateur naturalist groups. In these cases, we primarily provide technical assistance/expertise in the form of fieldwork, data base compilation, and informational "clearinghouse" type activities.
Since 1974, our "flagship" educational activity has been the Fourth Grade Environmental Education Program. With supplemental funding from the Lafayette Parish School Board, this program endeavors to reach every Lafayette parish kid. Each year, we schedule each and every fourth grade class in Lafayette parish to have their own special day of activities at the Nature Station. Prior to their scheduled day, Nature Station staff make an in-school visit to each class in order to prepare them for their field trip. On their appointed day, a school bus driver brings the students to the Nature Station. Here, we present nature hikes, live animal programs, discovery box programs, and other activities for the class. After lunch, the bus takes them back to school. The entire series of programs lasts from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. In the first 22 years of this program, we served approximately 70,000 fourth grade students in this way! We also schedule non-fourth grade classes (from pre-K to college level) for shorter visits/programs, reaching an additional 3,500 students per year. Lastly, we work in as many in-school presentations at the elementary and secondary levels as possible.
For both kids and adults, we schedule additional Nature Trail tours each month, all of these occurring on the weekends. We offer a monthly night hike, which is scheduled for the last Saturday evening of each month, and a general trail tour offered at 1pm every second and fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month. Please make reservations for these hikes by calling 337-291-8448.
We are constantly invited to present lectures on birds and birding, native plant gardening, and other natural history related topics, mostly on evenings and weekends, to many civic groups, environmental organizations, and ornithological and native plant societies throughout our parish, our region, our state, and many other southeastern states. Should you wish to schedule us to speak at your meeting or conference, please contact us at (337) 291-8448, or by emailing, email@example.com
Lastly, we receive large numbers of personal, written, and phone inquiries each week concerning a diverse array of natural history related topics including bird, snake, insect, and plant identification, backyard habitat modification, hummingbird/butterfly gardening, and other small-scale management practices. These, we attempt to answer as forthrightly as possible, and are hoping that our website will assist in this area.
Since our research efforts are mostly limited to offering technical assistance to other agencies with ongoing projects, working in this area offers periods of fun and relaxation for us. Nothing beats getting out in the field! We routinely assist agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Biological Survey, Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development, Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture and Forestry, National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and others — mostly in plant and animal survey work. These efforts also help us in sharpening our field biology/ecology skills, as well as in keeping us abreast of the latest developments in the area of field research, which greatly aids us in the design and presentation of our own programs, workshops, field trips, lectures, etc.
Kyle Patton — Curator of Natural Science
Steven "Cory" Garrard — Naturalist
Will Blackman — Part-time Naturalist
Celina Wade — Part-time Naturalist
Loree Stickles — Part-time Naturalist
Stephanie Bertucci — Part-time Naturalist
Jack T. Bado — Part-time Naturalist
Blair Miller — Part-time Naturalist
Nature Station Hours of Operation
Saturday and Sunday 11:00am–5:00pm
** Trails are free and open everyday from dawn until dusk. Please note that visiting the Nature Station is also FREE of charge. **
Park and Trail Information
Our limited powers are similarly perplexed and overtaxed in reading the inexhaustible pages of nature, for they are written over and over uncountable times, written in characters of every size and color, sentences composed of sentences, every part of a character a sentence. There is not a fragment in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself. — John Muir