"It's very important that we continue to promote collaboration and open communication among all of those who are working towards the conservation and restoration of the Atchafalaya River Basin."

A new facility along one of Louisiana's most treasured waterways is not the typical conservancy center.

Unlike the traditional ground facilities, the new Atchafalaya Conservation Center is on water.

A ceremony Oct. 25 commemorated the dedication of the facility, which is comprised of two 800-square foot buildings atop floating barges on Little Tensas Bayou near Bayou Sorrell.

The facility extends approximately 120 feet – almost half the length of a football field – and can be relocated accordingly.

The meeting barge and sleeping barge will provide opportunities to engage with landowners, on-the-ground stakeholders, scientists and researchers, according to Bryan Piazza, director of Freshwater and Marine Science for TNC in Louisiana.

"It's very important that we continue to promote collaboration and open communication among all of those who are working towards the conservation and restoration of the Atchafalaya River Basin," he said.

The project was set to open earlier this year, but high waters forced delay of the dedication, according to Keith Ouchley, state director for the Nature Conservancy in Louisiana.

"This is the culmination of several years of work to allow scientists and research to study the waterway," he said. "This will enable us to do outreach, bring graduates from all over Louisiana and even outside Louisiana to do research on the waterway."

"We created this center to bring people together and help us figure out what we can do to help preserve and improve our state's natural resource system," he said.

The barge – which was built at a price tag of $500,000 – includes a meeting room, as well as four bedrooms and fully equipped kitchens. The vessel was built locally and used local construction crews, Ouchley said.

"We remain steadfast in support of this very unique and important project to the Atchafalaya Basin," said Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso, who was unable to attend. "We congratulate all of you for taking this from a dream to a reality."

Congressman Garret Graves, who also spoke at the event, said the project represents a work from the state and federal government to save the Atchafalaya Basin.

"When we say, "save it," we mean for generations to come," he said. "This basin is really incredible. We know we're much better than Florida – and not just in football – but I'm talking about the Everglades, and how amazing and productive it is.

"But this is much, much bigger . . . we're talking about over a million acres, the largest bottomland hardwood swamp in North America," Graves said. "This is an incredibly diverse ecosystem we have here, with everything from energy activities to fisheries to recreation, and hunting trails."

The change and hydrology – and lack of attention in the past – has made it imperative for the state and federal government to make certain it remains a productive waterway.

"We have to make sure this remains the most productive river basin, where we secure more than 22 million pounds of crawfish a year," Graves said. "We need to make sure this continues building land down at its delta in the Waxlake Outlet and at the bottom of the Atchafalaya River, versus the loss of land we're seeing everywhere else along Louisiana's coast."

This million-acre swamp forest is of critical significance to a huge array of wetland and aquatic wildlife species. As one of North America's premier wetland systems, the Atchafalaya represents TNC's greatest opportunity to affect freshwater and forested wetland conservation in Louisiana.

"The Atchafalaya Basin is a true wilderness, the largest bottomland hardwood forest swamp left in North America." says Keith Ouchley, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. "There is a special way of life in the Basin, and we are interested in connecting science with that local knowledge to help preserve and restore this landscape."