Stopping the channelization of the Ouachita River was a huge environmental victory 30 years ago. Today, man’s part of another huge environmental project with future benefits we can’t even fully comprehend has been completed. It’s an amazing project.
Last Thursday, water flowed down Mollicy Bayou and into the Ouachita River for the first time in more than 50 years. Along the banks of the meandering bayou, oaks and cypress and willows and other native species are beginning to grow again.
There’s no way to put into words what that really means. But the short version is that this former bayou that drained thousands of acres of upland and bottomland forest along the river is now meandering along the same path it used to. The bayou’s path
had all but disappeared in the midst of 11,000 acres of clearcut forest that had become Mollicy “farms”.
It was the culmination of a massive project under the direction of the Nature Conservancy and managed by West Monroe native Dr. Keith Ouchley. That name should sound familiar. He is the younger (much, as he says) brother of Kelby Ouchley of West Monroe, a noted outdoor and environmental expert.
Dr. Ouchley gave an update on the project to the recent ORVA meeting in Monroe. The amazing story included the planting of 10 million trees — mostly the same exact species that were identified from all maps and studies from decades ago. Many by volunteers.
Here’s a brief history. Some 15 years before bendway cuts to the river were ever officially proposed, 25 square miles of beautiful hardwood bottomland on the Morehouse Parish side of the river across from Union Parish’s northern reaches were clearcut. The trees weren’t even utilized. They were piled up in huge rows with the stumps, doused with hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel and burned. A huge levee was built around the area to keep it from flooding in the name of planing soybeans.
Mother Nature would allow a few years of successful farming there, but more than not, the Ouachita would find its’ way through or around the levees and flood the fields. The project was a massive failure, except for a couple of sizable financial fortunes that apparently exchanged hands. Bottom line: the land should have never been cleared. The levees should have never been built.
“We can’t get it back like it was totally,” Dr. Ouchley said. “We know that. But if you saw it then and you saw it now, you’ll see a remarkable change.” The real change will come in the next 20 years.
“We’ve done all we can do. We’ll leave it to Mother Nature now and see what she can do with it,” he said.
The restored area has national, perhaps international, significance. It has become the largest living laboratory in the United States for hydrology, fish population, water quality, water nutrient, and vegetation studies and many more things that I can’t spell or say. Connecting the river back to this natural floodplain is more significant that we probably will ever know.
Here’s another bottom line for you: The only bad thing about a “restoration” project of this magnitude is that it means something wonderful was destroyed in the first place. Perhaps we can learn from that. But thank goodness, and thank all the volunteers, companies and organizations who took part, at least it’s been turned around!
For more interesting information on this project, see: