Tour reveals swamp

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / May 13, 2000

GRAMERCY – Ever since he was a child growing up in Metairie Chris Reggio has been in love with the swamp.

“I was always finding ways to go back there,” he said.

For five years he’s turned his love and his hobby into his work. Owner ofAirboat Adventures tm., Reggio runs tours out of Gramercy in the oldLutcher-Moore Swamp.

While working in sales, Reggio already owned an airboat he used for duck hunting. When the opportunity arose he left the suit and tie world, slid into apair of wading boots and started his company. Donnie Miculek, a retired gamewarden, joined up and with two airboats they’ve been exploring the swamp ever since.

Leasing his touring rights from the owners of the 64,000 acre swamp, Reggio heads into the swamp often three times a day introducing people from all over the world to the beauty of the Louisiana swamp environment.

On a Monday 10 a.m. Tour Reggio loaded a group visiting Louisiana into theairboat and headed off for a two-and-a-half-hour tour. “If you see anythingyou’re curious about holler, and I’ll stop,” he said.

Throughout the tour Reggio seemed as curious about the swamp as those who have never seen it before. “Every day you go into the swamp it looksdifferent. Sometimes the water lever changes the scenery, so it’s never thesame,” he explained.

As a first stop Reggio cut the huge engine-driven propeller and slid in beside scraps of old railroad timber. Stepping out of the boat he waded through themud to pull up old cypress scraps used in the railroads which hauled large cypress out of the swamp for the Lutcher-Moore Lumber Co. After adetailed explanation of the history of cypress logging in the swamp Reggio pulled free from the mud and headed farther back into the swamp.

Spanish moss hung in curtains over the bayou as the tour idled farther back into the swamp in search of its natural inhabitants. Stopping again for alarge barred owl perched high up in a cypress, Reggio helped everyone spot the camouflaged bird tucked away in the trees.

“There’s a baby that we saw come out on Saturday; hopefully we’ll see him today,” Reggio said, peering into the branches just as interested in finding him as those touring.

The Cottonmouth, or water moccasin, one of the countries most venomous and aggressive snakes, is found all through the swamp, Reggio explained, pulling his waders up to the top of his leg. “I’ll be right back,” he said thenext moment, and with a small stick he headed into the brush.

“Almost 98 percent of the time I can find a snake within five minutes,” Reggio explained.

Bare-handed and undaunted by the possibility of getting bitten, he casually pulls all forms of snakes out of the swamp for his tours.

On through the swamp he guided the airboat, stopping often for the group to examine large hollow cypress trees and the creatures. Carryingmarshmallows and chicken, Reggio lured alligators up to 10 feet long to the boat, while the rest of the company held their breath in excitement. Whenone alligator was hesitant about approaching Reggio told one of the riders with a smile and a wink, “Drop your foot over the side and wiggle your toes in the water.”Toward the end of the tour a group of small alligators was spotted rushing for the safety of the water. Reggio swung the bow over to the shore andinstructed the forward members of the tour to reach in and grab them. The10-inch baby alligators were fast though and slipped out of reach as Reggio waded back in. His fingers searched under brush piles and sunken logs, butthe little reptiles were elusive and disappeared.

At the end of the tour, Reggio headed out of the swamp, the airboat weaving around the turns and sunken logs. Startled egrets and herons took off downthe channels and the tour followed right behind, cameras catching the birds in flight.

“The airboat is the least significant part about the tour,” said Reggio. Notselling the boat ride, he hoped the visitors came out of the experience with a feeling for the true beauty of the swamp, the mystic scenery and ecology and a sense of the important role the swamps play between Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.

Reggio comes away from the experience with a love for the diverse area.

“One of the best moments I had was when an alligator hatched out of its egg while it was in my hand. For the visitors that was a one-time life experience.They were really excited,” Reggio said. A stand-off with a 10-foot alligatorwas also thrilling. “He didn’t want to get out of the way, and I had no otherdirection to go but past him. He bit the hull and a tooth snapped off into theboat,” he added.

A tour with Reggio and Miculek, whether those joining are local or from far away, is an adventure. Michael Schmitz, a helicopter pilot from Rome, saidthe tour was very exciting.

“I loved the plants and the trees. It was all very beautiful. Also, since I fly ahelicopter at home, I got the same feeling from the airboat,” he said.

Seating around seven people, Reggio’s tours are very unique and personal.

Reggio may be at work, but it seems as he’s on his weekend, excitedly exploring the dark pathways through the swamp. His excitement lends agreat deal to the tour, enticing the visitors to see what maybe hidden around the next bend.

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