As the flagship university of Louisiana, it may not be surprising to hear that campus was once bordered by acres of swampland. In 1933, the surrounding swamp was donated to the University under the stipulation that the land be converted into a series of lakes and public pathways. This resulted in the LSU Lakes.
However, unless proper action is enacted quickly, these idyllic bodies of water might tragically revert to the swamp from which they came.
After decades of neglect, the lakes are on the verge of an ecological collapse. Fortunately, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF), a local non-profit dedicated to the improvement of public life, is spearheading a campaign to rescue the lakes from its quickening decline.
BRAF’s efforts are undeniably a long-awaited victory. However, scientific studies suggest the lakes’ condition is pressing. With the project set to begin in 2021, the attempt at restoration is long overdue and may be too late.
The six lakes that flank the eastern edge of campus are iconic, time-honored landmarks that have served as the scenic backdrop for generations of students. I remember the tingling nerves I felt driving along the lakes on my way to orientation. The lakes were the first glimpse of campus I saw as a full-fledged college student, and I will never forget that.
Their contributions to University life go far beyond the nostalgic musings of students and alumni. The lakes, although often appreciated aesthetically, are rarely thought of in the context of their cultural and commercial significance.
In a recent Reveille news article, reporter Lara Nicholson laid out many of the less explicit roles the campus lakes perform for the University’s benefit. She mentioned the enviable locale of Sorority Row, the rowing team’s daily practice routine and even former LSU president F. King Alexander’s use of the lakes as a recruiting device.
Nicholson went on to describe the lakes’ predominant ailments as sediment buildup, causing decreasing depth, rampant algae growth, suffocating fish and creating appalling amounts of pollution. Moreover, the University has been aware of these deplorable conditions for a long time, but has neglected to take significant action.
“All these problems combined have caused the once eye-catching, natural University landmarks to return to the murky swamp it was before. These issues have been mostly ignored since 2008, when the Army Corps of Engineers recommended in a report that the lakes be dredged,” Nicholson wrote.
With the University evidently turning a blind eye, BRAF stepped in with a $1 million plan to dredge the lakes and finally put an end to their toxic, swampy downfall.
BRAF’s intervention signals an irrefutable triumph for the health of the lakes, but an embarrassing defeat for University leadership. The fact that an outside organization needed to intervene on behalf of the University’s own campus is absurd. The situation is reminiscent of the Campus Mounds on Dalrymple, another priceless LSU landmark left unguarded without any serious attempts at preservation, needlessly deteriorating.
It is disheartening to see the University continue to neglect the historical and environmental treasures of its campus.
However, the work BRAF plans to begin in 2021 is immensely important, and should be applauded as the long-anticipated redemption for some of the University’s most valuable and beloved assets.
Evan Leonhard is a 19-year-old English and philosophy major from New Orleans, Louisiana.