Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Overview
Although established in 1988 and in existence only six years as a national wildlife refuge, Cameron Prairie NWR is a rapidly growing attraction for local residents and visitors alike. In fact, the Gulf Coast Bird Club has already adopted Cameron Prairie NWR as one of its favorite birding sites and committed itself to compiling the refuge bird list.
Click here to view a map of the refuge.
"I have walked almost the entire refuge, and I love it," says Winston Caillouet, a past officer of the club and frequent birder at Cameron Prairie NWR. Caillouet says the refuge is a great birding place because of the variety of habitats. He reports that the refuge bird list he is helping to compile has 199 species so far.
Refuge Lands Were Formerly Rice Fields
Consisting of 9,621 acres of fresh-water marsh and coastal prairie, the refuge was previously owned by companies that constructed levees and dikes for controlling water levels in their rice fields. When rice farming became uneconomical, they sold their properties for a refuge, which had in the meantime been identified as being crucial to meeting goals set by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, an international agreement to restore lost wetland habitats.
Cameron Prairie NWR was established under the auspices of this plan and acquired with $5.1 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The 15,000-acre East Cove Unit was transferred from Sabine NWR in 1992. It is accessible only by boat.
Bird Wonderland, Says Manager
Considered a "waterbird wonderland" by manager Paul Yakupzack, Cameron Prairie NWR can boast new nesting colonies of egrets, herons, cormorants, ibis, and anhingas. Roseate spoonbills are seen feeding from late summer to early winter. Wintering ducks and geese arrive in November; common snipe and woodcock also arrive in the fall and spend the winter. Numerous shore birds congregate and feed in the managed moist-soil area along the Pintail Wildlife Drive.
Only Alligators Like Nutria
Swamp rabbits and white-tailed deer inhabit the refuge, but the most numerous mammal is the exotic nutria, ruinous to levees but food for the alligators. Alligators and nutria are trapped, and an archery hunt for deer is permitted. Limited youth waterfowl hunting is allowed. Public fishing occurs in two refuge canals.
Management Maintains Optimum Habitat
The water-control system installed by early rice farmers is now used for wildlife management. Other management techniques include prescribed burning on higher marsh (prairie) sections and moist soil management. The so called "feathered-edge" zone between higher ground and the marshes is premier waterfowl habitat.
Keeping the area in early vegetative stages stops the invasion of Chinese tallow and wax myrtle, of no benefit to wildlife, and attracts geese and ducks.
New Facilities Are Increasing Visitation
The number of visitors to Cameron Prairie NWR has been low so faronly 500 to 600 per yearbut that is expected to change. A modern new visitor center opened at the end of 1994 (see below), and the Pintail Wildlife Drive has been completed. Manager Yakupzack expects that the easily accessible new facilities will generate many new visitors, but will also create new logistical needs such as weekend staffing of the visitor center.
The fast track development of Cameron Prairie NWR is due in large measure to a supportive member of congress. Former Senator J. Bennett Johnston was instrumental in successfully pursuing a $2.9-million appropriation for the planning, design, and construction of a new maintenance building and one of the few visitor centers recently constructed on a national wildlife refuge.
Only 60 miles on LA-27 from Sabine NWR, Cameron Prairie NWR makes a drive around the Creole Nature Trail loop a must for a one-day view of outstanding wildlife habitat. In Cameron, the drive includes a crossing by ferry on which both trailers and recreational vehicles are permitted.
Enjoying Your Visit
Cameron Prairie NWR offers a wide variety of wildlife-oriented recreation opportunities. These activities are permitted during daylight hours only. To learn more about what to do and see during your visit, stop by the Refuge Visitor Center located south of Lake Charles on Louisiana Highway 27, 11 miles south of Holmwood, Louisiana. The Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wildlife Observation -- Bird watching, photography and sightseeing are encouraged year-round. Fall and winter months offer the best opportunities to observe flocks of migrating geese and ducks. Spring and summer are the best times to see wading and shore birds. Songbirds can be observed passing through the area on their spring and fall migrations. A bird checklist is available at the visitor center.
Wildlife Drive -- Excellent wildlife observation opportunities are available approximately two miles south of the visitor center along the Pintail Wildlife Drive. During the fall and winter, flocks of ducks and geese can be seen feeding in the fields along the road. In addition to the seasonal waterfowl, wading birds and alligators can also be observed. Remember, alligators can be dangerous so stay a safe distance away from them and keep all pets in the car.
Hiking -- The dikes and levees on the refuge are open to hiking unless otherwise indicated and the more adventuresome are welcome. However, be cautious of poisonous snakes such as cottonmouths. Insect repellent is a must to guard against mosquitoes and biting flies during the warm months of late spring to early fall. All public use of the East Cove Unit is restricted to boats only.
Boating -- Gibbstown Unit -- Motorized boats are only allowed in the outfall canal from March 15 through October 15. Motors over 25hp are prohibited in the canal. Non-motorized boats are permitted in the bankfishing area.
East Cove Unit -- The refuge is closed to all public use during the Louisiana Waterfowl Hunting season and when the Grand Bayou Boat Bay is closed. Motorized boats may be operated in refuge canals, bayous and lakes. Only electric trolling motors may be used in refuge marshes. Boat motor horsepower is not restricted.
Fishing -- Gibbstown Unit -- Fishing is permitted from March 15 through October 15 in accordance with State laws in designated areas.
East Cove Unit -- Fishing is permitted year-round except during the Louisiana Waterfowl Hunting season and when the Grand Bayou Boat Bay is closed.
Hunting -- Gibbstown Unit -- The refuge does have a bow hunting season for white-tailed deer.
Firearms -- All firearms are prohibited. Cased and unloaded weapons may be transported through the refuge on through routes of travel.
Cajun Woman Debuts in New Visitor Center
The new Cameron Prairie NWR visitor center opened its doors to the public in 1994. Included among its interpretive exhibits is the sequel to the highly popular Cajun Man at Sabine NWRan animated Cajun Woman sitting in a pirogue (a canoe-like boat) talking about the refuge. The four marsh types found in Louisiana are explained in an adjoining diorama exhibit.
According to refuge manager Yakupzack, the combined office and visitor center is the most unique in the Southeast. Visitors exiting their vehicles walk to the center across a pond on an elevated boardwalk, which has several arbor-covered observation areas. An elevated boardwalk from the rear of the center leads to an observation deck overlooking a moist-soil area that will attract wildlife. The single-level boardwalks and visitor center floor make the entire facility fully accessible for disabled persons.
From Sabine NWR, south to Holly Beach, east on LA-82 through Cameron, and north on LA-27 to visitor center on left approximately 15 miles north of Creole. From I-10, exit 36 east of Lake Charles, south on LA-397, east on LA-14, and south on LA-27 to visitor center on right approximately 10 miles south of Holmwood. For further information, contact Cameron Prairie NWR, 1428 Highway 27, Bell City, LA 70630, phone: 318-598-2216.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Travel Q&A
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