Mandalay NWR Nature Trail

Nature trail

Terrebonne Basin at Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge Nature Trail

What's the Story?

The Terrebonne Basin is part of the Lafourche Delta that formed between 800 to 2,500 years ago when the Mississippi River flowed through what is now Bayou Lafourche. Once the river changed course, the delta’s growth slowed. The normal process of subsidence eventually took over, developing bays inside of barrier islands that marked the delta’s farthest point as it marched toward the Gulf of Mexico. Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay and the barrier islands of Timbalier and East Timbalier are remnants of this Lafourche Delta. 

The name Terrebonne derives from the French and translates to “good earth,” a nod to the fertile Terrebonne Basin at the time of settlement. This major drainage basin—one of 12 in Louisiana—is currently made up of about 729,000 acres of swamp and marsh, varying from fresh marsh inland to brackish and saline marsh near bays and the Gulf. The basin’s major bayous are Terrebonne, Black, Blue, Dularge, Petit Calliou and Grand Calliou. The area supports sugar cane production and a wilderness of tidal marshes and lagoons, including Lake Hatch, in the middle of the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Terrebonne Basin’s two major urban complexes, Houma-Thibodaux and Plaquemine-Port Allen, are well connected (including by waterways), making these areas attractive to commerce and industry. The 1,300-mile Gulf Intracoastal Waterway runs through the middle of this basin and directly through the heart of the national wildlife refuge on its journey from Florida to Texas. Completed in the mid-1900s, the GIWW was designed primarily for barge traffic and allows for the transport of goods in safer waters inland, away from the Gulf. Recreational boaters also use the waterway to move vessels to maintenance facilities or other points along the coast.

As with all human intervention in the Atchafalaya and along the Louisiana coastline, the GIWW changes the way water flows through the rivers and bayous it encounters in the Terrebonne Basin, equalizing flows between some waterways that would normally be separated by distance and their natural levees. Approximately 10 percent of the Atchafalaya flow turns east and west at the GIWW and then continues on to the Gulf. Additional challenges affecting the southernmost part of the Terrebonne Basin include coastal erosion, substantial subsidence, sediment deficit, marsh loss and saltwater intrusion. 

Visitors to the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge can enjoy a variety of activities, including bird watching and wildlife observation, boating, photography and fishing.

This site’s geology/geomorphology: Holocene natural levee deposits of Lafourche course of Mississippi River

Site GPS Coordinates: 29.550527, -90.790356
Closest Address: 3599 Bayou Black Drive, Houma, LA 70360
Driving Directions: From Houma, head west on LA-182 W/Bayou Black Drive to Rue de la Manson. Turn left and proceed to the site, approximately one-half mile ahead.

Trail Site Information

Nearby Parking
No Entrance Fees



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