Coastal Louisiana, according to recent measurements,
has 4,572 miles of canals. This network can be divided into
five types; drainage and reclamation, trapping, logging,
petroleum and transportation. All of these were constructed
in response to a particular economic interest and provided
access to the resources in the marsh-swamp complex. These
channels, consequently, would not be a landscape feature
had it not been for the wetland resources.
Historic maps indicate marsh and swamp drainage
ditches were excavated as early as 1720. These watercourses
helped drain agricultural land and remove swêunp cypress.
From this beginning, planters have continued to drain and
reclaim land to increase their agricultural output. In
the early 1900’s, marsh-drainage channels were excavated
in an attempt to reclaim this land. The projects generally
failed, but the canals are still used as local transportation
The trapping ditch, or trainasse, provided coastal
dwellers with quick access to their traps and an easy way
to move furs and other supplies. The chcuinels are important,
because they allow individuals to trap over a large area
and, since land owners never placed restrictions on the
number of “trails” built, trappers had complete freedom to
dig as many canals as needed to work their land efficiently.
Hence, the most intensive trapping networks develop in
muskrat and nutria feeding areas.
In order to remove cypress from the swamp systematically,
the lumber industry built navigable connecting
canals, toward which “pull-boats” drug timber, leaving
visible scars. As the cypress was depleted, this practice
was terminated, leaving only the canals as evidence of this
Which conclusion of the logging period, the oil
industry began to discover petroleum and natural gas along
the coast. In their exploration programs, canals were
constructed to simplify the problems of drilling,
maintenance and logistics. These channels have become an
integral part of the landscape and, due to the constant
addition of well sites, the system continues to grow. This
canal network — partly by design — has become the
principal transportation system, in every regard, in the
state’s oil-rich marsh and swamp.