Louisiana Swamp Base – A National Treasure

The beautiful Louisiana Swamp Base, a national conservation and high adventure recreation program created by the Evangeline Area Council, Boy Scouts of America in 2010, is our focus this episode.

Swamp Base aims to immerse thousands of young people in the environment and culture of the 1.4 million acre Atchafalaya Swamp each year. It is open to the general public for all kinds of activities, including ecotourism events for travelers, and the program also partners with universities across the U. S. to expand curriculum offerings.  

Jason Sikora, of RADER studios, recorded this interview with host, Jan Swift, along with Swamp Base Executive Director Ben Pierce, and Gina Beckman, Program Director.

The Atchafalaya is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals and reptiles. People who visit from across the U. S have many preconceived notions about what it means to live in Louisiana, and Ben Pierce and his team savor the opportunity to change minds and hearts.

Each summer, Swamp Base’s high adventure treks offer 6 day/6 night paddling trips through the Atchafalaya Swamp, covering 61.6 miles. Modeled from the Boy Scouts of America’s four National High Adventure camps and bases (Philmont Scout Ranch, Northern Tier, the Florida Sea Base, and the Summit Bechtel Reserve), Swamp Base offers a premier camping and paddling adventure opportunity for youth serving organizations from across America.

A group of Scouts and registered adult leaders attending Swamp Base are called a “Trek Crew.” Each Trek Crew consists of registered Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America or other accepted youth serving organization, including a minimum of two registered adult leaders. Swamp Base daily starts two Trek Crews on their high adventure journey from June 6 – July 15. Each Trek Crew consists of 8 to 11 people, which includes a minimum of 2 adult leaders. With two crews starting daily, a Scout unit can bring 16 to 22 people on a high adventure trek. The cost are $795 per person, or with a larger group. $745 per person. Hotel stays for the first night and last night are provided (in Lafayette) and all meals are covered. Visit https://www.swampbasebsa.org/trek-1-itinerary for more information.

Ben Pierce is a founding member and co-creator of Louisiana Swamp Base and originally established the program as a conservation-based activity during the Evangeline Area Council’s Centennial of Scouting celebrations in 2010. He has led the development and growth of the program as an accredited and official BSA high adventure base since 2013. Passionate about his work, Ben enjoys paddling whenever he can and finds refuge in the beautiful Cypress-filled Atchafalaya Basin. He graduated from LSU in landscape architecture and left Louisiana afterward. “I fell in love with Louisiana after I left. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’re gone. When I had a chance to return in 2009-10 and have a chance to learn how to celebrate our local landscape and culture, it had become important to me. When I came back, I knew I had to leave a lasting legacy.”

Gina Beckman was introduced to Swamp Base in 2016 when she served as a summer trek guide, and returned to the program in 2022 as the organization’s Program Director. In this role, she develops and implements trek activities that align with the mission of the organization while also making sure learning and having fun are at their cores. Gina is the recipient of the Girl Scout Gold Award, Venturing Silver Award, and Sea Scout Quartermaster Award. She brings inspirational enthusiasm and know-how as she educates others on this national treasure, the Louisiana Swamp Base. One of her favorite experiences occurs on day three of Trek 1 and is known as “Forgotten Cove” by Lake Dauterive.

The Evangeline Area Council, BSA, is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year and has made a lasting commitment to the Atchafalaya Swamp as its service project for the next 100 years. What began as a simple tree planting to commemorate Scouting’s Centennial in 2010 has quickly transformed into a comprehensive plan to engage Scouts, schools, and the public in a meaningful effort to preserve, protect and promote the Atchafalaya Swamp. We congratulate the Evangeline Area Council for its continued commitment to enriching the lives of young people throughout Acadiana.

The crown jewel of the Atchafalaya Swamp is Lake Fausse Pointe. This 12,000 acre lake is home to the oldest cypress trees in the entire swamp and are some of the oldest in the entire state.. One of Ben Pierce’s favorite sites in which to paddle is located on the North rim of Lake Fausse Pointe.

Louisiana Swamp Base bought McGee’s Landing, a longtime swamp tour outfit, in 2016. McGee’s offers swamp boat tours, airboat rides, and sunset tours of the Atchalafaya. Canoe rentals and guided photography excursions are also offered. Visit https://www.mcgeesswamptours.com/ for more information.

For more information on Louisiana Swamp Base, visit https://www.swampbasebsa.org/ 2024 registration is now open and offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about the Atchalafaya Swamp Base, a true national treasure.