Every day, the Student Union Building is bustling. Whether it’s students walking to their classes, organizations hosting events or friends going to eat lunch at the cafeteria, there is always activity in the heart of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus. In that heart is a flourishing natural ecosystem that every student that graduates from UL has learned to appreciate: The Cypress Lake.
The Cypress Lake, often referred to as “The Swamp,” is home to various plants and animals that can be found in the swamps of Louisiana. Within the murky waters lives several species of fish, such as gar fish, bass, perch and grass carp.
“The grass carp help eat the muck and keep the water clean,” said Garland Rodriguez, the Assistant Director of Union Facilities.
Fish aren’t the only animals that call Cypress Lake their home. On any given day you can see the blue heron, white egret, squirrels, yellow-bellied turtles and even alligator snapping turtles. The snapping turtle is not seen as often as the other animals because it primarily stays up the surface of the water. However, Rodriguez said, “One had gotten out a couple years ago to try and lay some eggs.” When found, the biology department brought the turtle in to a controlled area to lay the eggs before releasing her back into the Cypress Lake.
As for the swamp’s most recognizable members, the alligators right now are between 2 to 5 feet.
“The last one that was pulled out was 2006 and that one was at 9 feet but it was very aggressive,” said Rodriguez.
The alligators do nest in the Cypress Lake, usually from March to July, which means they become territorial around their nests.
“Usually when we see a nest, we’ll block that area off so the public can’t really get there until the eggs hatch,” said Rodriguez.
The Student Union Division also keeps track of the cleanliness of Cypress Lake. They hire a wetland consultant that maintains the aesthetic of the lake, including the overgrowth and water quality. The university also uses fresh water from the city that is regulated by the water depth of the water level inside the lake.
“The university utilizes the consultant that is paid for out of the general fund that goes out there on a monthly basis,” said Rodriguez.
The student union also utilizes students to enter the Cypress Lake and pick up large pieces of trash regularly.
The Cypress Lake also has an intriguing history. Rodriguez said Cypress Lake was actually called Cypress Grove and was an area with Cypress trees where students would congregate until 1939. However, during World War II, they enclosed it, dug it down and filled it with water to make a reservoir. At the time, UL Lafayette was an ROTC university, hence, on the off chance that the Japanese bombed Lafayette, there would be a nearby water supply to put the fires out. Since then, they left the water there and later added drainage and planted vegetation to let nature take its course.
To this day, the Cypress Lake is the only swamp on a campus in the United States that has alligators. Thus, the university advertises the lake as a focal point on campus for visitors to see, free of charge.
“When the building was designed, the focal point was Cypress Lake. If you stand on McKinley Street and you look through the building, you can see the lake,” said Rodriguez in reference to the Student Union Building.