Mark Shirley, Schultz, Bruce | 4/13/2007 11:51:09 PM
HOLLY BEACH – More than 85 4-H Club members spent a day of their spring break at the beach – but, unlike the usual day in the sun, they were busy planting marsh grass to help fight coastal erosion.
The students from 4-H clubs in Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes planted a marsh grass called bitter panicum along a two-mile stretch between Holly Beach and Constance Beach.
The project was funded by Coca-Cola through a grant obtained by the LSU AgCenter, which operates the 4-H youth development program in Louisiana.
The students placed the plants in rows along wooden erosion fencing installed on the beach by the state Department of Natural Resources last fall.
Vermilion Parish high school student Austin Mouton of Erath said he enjoyed spending a day of his spring break by working at the beach.
"It doesn’t seem like a lot of work," he said while working on what turned out to be a dreary and rainy day. "It’s more like fun, and you get a feeling of pride."
Jared Broussard, an Abbeville High School junior, shoveled scoops of sand out of the beach every few feet. He said the day at the beach was more fun than work.
"We’re having a blast," he said. "We’re working to keep the sand, so the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t hit Highway 82."
Following behind Broussard was Garrett Nash, a seventh-grader from Linwood School in Lake Charles, who placed grass sprouts in the holes Broussard was digging for the plants. The project was especially meaningful for Nash.
"I live right by here in Sweet Lake," he said.
Like the others, Kane Vest, a sixth-grader from Bell City in Calcasieu Parish, said he understood the importance of "planting to avoid coastal erosion" and that he was getting satisfaction out of the project "because you realize you could be saving homes and the ecology."
LSU AgCenter 4-H agent Nancy Cronan of Calcasieu Parish worked with agents in Vermilion and Jeff Davis to obtain the grant. Cronan and other LSU AgCenter agents said planting marsh grass is just a portion of the environmental education 4-H students are receiving.
"This is just one part of what we’ve been doing with service-learning that focuses on the environment," said Shannon Waits, LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Vermilion Parish. "All year we’ve been building up to this."
Some of the students were wearing T-shirts with a slogan that borrows from the popular Las Vegas television advertisement: "What happens in the environment, stays in the environment."
The bitter panicum was started in the fall and grown in greenhouses at Abbeville High School and J.H. Williams Middle School in Abbeville, Waits said.
Waits also said she was pleased with what she saw among the young people braving strong winds and occasional rain to do the work. "There’s some great teamwork going on," she said.
Troy Mouton of Vermilion Parish, and volunteer 4-H leader and a guidance counselor from Dozier Elementary School in Vermilion Parish, said the students came up with the idea of working on an erosion control project.
"It was an idea from the (4-H) Junior Leaders of the three parishes for a service-learning project," Mouton said. "They brainstormed different ideas."
Mouton said the large group has expanded the students’ opportunity for learning. "It opened up their eyes, and they can see the impacts of Rita," she said. "We were all hit by the hurricane, but it affected all of us in different ways."
Likewise, Alyssa Watkins, a ninth-grader from Lacassine, said the project started coming to life when 4-H Club members from Jefferson Davis, Calcasieu and Vermilion parishes got together.
"We want to save the coast," she said. "We thought it would be a good service-learning project to come out here and do what we can."
Taking a long-term perspective on their work, Mallory Nicholson from Dolby Elementary in Lake Charles said the project could be important in the future.
"We’re planting to block the next hurricanes," Nicholson said.
Mark Shirley, a coastal specialist with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant, said the vegetation planted by the students will work in conjunction with the fencing installed by the Department of Natural Resources.
"The fencing is already trapping sand," Shirley said. "The bitter panicum we are planting will help hold the sand together and build a sand dune."
Shirley said members of the America’s Wetlands Conservation Corps also assisted in the planning of this event.
"This planting project ties in with the Youth Wetlands Week (April 16-20) being held throughout the state by the LSU AgCenter," Shirley said. "Wetlands Week is an effort by the LSU AgCenter to involve youth across the state in learning about the importance of wetlands."
For more information on the 4-H youth development program or a variety of other LSU AgCenter work on issues ranging from the environment to nutrition and health, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.