In the middle of the Pontchartrain Basin and between lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, the Manchac Land Bridge has always been a special place. Being established as a Louisiana Estuarine Research Reserve could help it remain so.

The National Estuarine Reserve System is a network of 29 areas representing different ecological regions of the country, and the Manchac isthmus is one of three places in Louisiana under consideration to be the 30th. The other two Louisiana areas being considered are the Atchafalaya Basin and the Barataria Basin.

Reserves are established for long-term research, education, stewardship and interpretation to promote informed management of the nation’s estuaries and coastal habitats. A reserve represents a partnership program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency with input from local partners.

The Friends of the Manchac Greenway group studied the NOAA guidelines for site selection and came up with reasons Manchac would be the perfect choice.

The group made particular note of the state-owned 40-acre Port of Manchac facility in the middle of the estuary, near the geographic center of this region, at the intersection of the Manchac Greenway and the North Pass waterway. This under-utilized port facility has public access, existing buildings raised above flood elevation, related infrastructure, dock and other water access points that could be adopted for research and education. What’s more, the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission is considering re-purposing the facility for eco-tourism and environmental education. It adjoins the 40,000-acre Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries’ Joyce Wildlife Management Area with two other WMA’s (Maurepas Swamp and Manchac) around nearby Lake Maurepas.

Among other reasons the Manchac Greenway Friends group listed for selecting Pontchartrain Basin are:

n Numerous universities and state agencies in this region have or are currently conducting research throughout the estuary. Southeastern Louisiana University’s renowned Turtle Cove Research Center is also between the two lakes on Pass Manchac.

n The Manchac Greenway and the federal interstate and state highways make these environs easily accessible.

n The Manchac Land Bridge is also home to Bayou Jasmine, a National Historic Archaeological Landmark site as the home of Native Americans who lived there for some 2,200 years. Hunting and cooking tools found there confirm the long-term species richness of the area as well as its value as an educational site for communities impacted by climate change.

n As one of the Pontchartrain Conservancy’s “critical lines of defense” to storm surge, the Manchac Land Bridge serves as a storm surge buffer for hundreds of thousands of residents east of Baton Rouge.

n Most of the land on the Manchac Land Bridge is owned and managed by the state Wildlife and Fisheries department.

There’s no place like the Manchac isthmus. If you’ve lived in Tangipahoa Parish for any length of time, or if you just look at the Manchac Land Bridge on a map, we don’t have to tell you why this place is so special and unique.

But to refresh memories, we’ll mention that this special place contains approximately 99,517 acres of primarily swamp and bottomland hardwood forest with isolated pockets of fresh marsh between the two lakes. The Tangipahoa and Tchefuncte watersheds drain into this area. Although heavily impacted by the logging industry and levee construction in the past century, these wetlands are home to rare plant species. The wetlands are also extremely important to many species of wildlife, including federally listed endangered species – the American Bald Eagle, Manatee and the Palid Sturgeon.

For people interested in learning more, the site selection development committee for the Louisiana National Estuarine Research Reserve has announced a series of virtual town hall meetings to provide information about the three sites.

The meetings on the Pontchartrain Basin proposal are scheduled for Sept. 7, noon to 2 p.m.; Sept. 10, 6-8 p.m.; and Sept. 15, 6-8 p.m. Registration is required.

The Manchac Land Bridge is a valuable resource that would serve well and be well-served as an estuarine research reserve. We call on governmental officials and community leaders to encourage and push for its selection.

– Lil Mirando, The Daily Star

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