The Bayou Vermilion is approximately 72 miles in length and flows through three south central Louisiana parishes. The term “parish” is a civil geographic designation synonymous to the term “county” in all other states within the United States. The Bayou Vermilion is a special water feature of Lafayette Parish. Its meandering path takes it almost through the center of the parish for a distance of approximately 33.5 miles in length. The river originates at Bayou Fusilier in St. Landry Parish and winds its way through what is referred to as the “Bayou Vermilion Corridor” in Lafayette Parish. The stretch of bayou that passes through the City of Lafayette, nearly 8 miles in length, is referred to as the “Urban Corridor” with the remaining 25.5 miles called the “Rural Corridor.” Beyond Lafayette Bayou Vermilion travels through Vermilion Parish where it flows into Vermilion Bay and on into the Gulf of Mexico.
Legend has it that the Bayou Vermilion was named after the red color of the water, the result of floodwaters from the Red River. The Bayou Vermilion was formed as a tidal river meaning the Bayou Vermilion was created from the bottom up. As tidal waters flowed inland then returned to the Gulf the water returning formed the bayou. The water flowing down the Teche made its way at some point in history to meet up with the head of the Bayou Vermilion forming a true north to south flowing river. Early historical records indicate the bayou could best be navigated by structures of shallow draft. In its early beginnings the only point in the city where water transportation could be secured was at a site now known as the Pinhook Bridge on Pinhook Road. Consequently, property owners and businesses located there. In later years, steamboats traveled the bayou from Vermilionville (later renamed Lafayette) down to Abbeville. A problem with low water levels and submerged logs made boat travel difficult. Between 1840 and 1850 the Police Jury working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided $4,000 to have obstructions in the river cleared from Pinhook Bridge to Vermilion Bay. This made the travel easier with less obstructions.
In 1944 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to dredge the bayou, giving it a depth of 9 feet and a bottom width of 100 feet. This made recreational and commercial travel on the bayou more reliable. After the terrible flood of 1927 the West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee was built to protect the citizens and their property from the harmful flood of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the flow of water from the Atchafalaya River was reduced to such a volume that during dry periods the water in the Bayou Vermilion became stagnant. To resolve this problem the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater Project was constructed at an estimated cost of $39,700,000 to alleviate the negative water flow effects of the protection levees. The project became operational in May of 1983.