Bruce Schultz, Russell, Markaye H., Shirley, Mark G., Hagan, Chad | 8/10/2009 9:50:42 PM
AVERY ISLAND, La. – Zachary Cecil, a 4-H’er from Vernon Parish, rode on the side of a boat one morning during a recent session at the LSU AgCenter’s Marsh Maneuvers program. It was his first time in the marsh, and he was enjoying the experience, even though he was soaking wet from wading in muddy marsh water.
“I could do this every day,” he said. “We don’t have this where I’m from.”
On this morning, the Marsh Maneuver participants literally immersed themselves in their studies, wading in the muddy marsh, pulling from a thriving shoreline vegetation to be replanted on the barren banks of Vermilion Bay.
Brett Rogers, also from Vernon Parish, said the work was good exercise.
“I feel like I’ve been a week at basketball practice,” he said. “Actually, it’s pretty fun.”
Markaye Russell, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent from Ouachita Parish, said the grass planting was a workout.
“I’m worn out,” Russell said. “That’s worse than the treadmill.”
It was her second time to attend Marsh Maneuvers. The program was held at Grand Isle her first time eight years ago.
Besides the education the 4-H’ers receive, Russell said, they also get a dose of what it’s like to work outdoors.
“They learn about the ethics of work,” she said.
4-H’er Herbert Leavitt is from Avery Island, so he is more than familiar with the marsh. But he said he was enjoying Marsh Maneuvers and found out there was a lot he didn’t know about the marsh.
“We’re learning a lot and doing new things,” Leavitt said. “It’s a cool experience.”
Ashley Coco of Concordia Parish said she had enjoyed the activities, but pulling cordgrass from the marsh was “pretty nasty.”
“But it was actually kind of fun,” she said. “I’m not even awake yet.”
Chad Hagan, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Vernon Parish, brought eight boys from the parish 4-H clubs. He joined the group to pull grass and replant it.
“I never dreamed I’d do anything like I did today, especially with an alligator in the water,” he said.
Hagan said one night, the group went to a weir in the marsh and saw a large group of alligators. “There were probably 70 alligators. All the kids thought that was amazing,” he said.
Marguerite Frentz, who works in Lincoln Parish for America’s Wetlands Conservation Corps and the LSU AgCenter, said the four days in the marsh had included a long list of activities.
“We dissected alligator eggs and picked bones out of fish heads,” Frentz said. “We learned about the life cycles of different marine life and watched the sunrise from a tower in the marsh.”
Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter coastal resources agent, said the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources helps fund Marsh Maneuvers.
“Marsh Maneuvers is just one of several activities and projects that are funded through our cooperation with DNR,” Shirley said.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries also provides assistance with housing at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, and the McIlhenny Co. at Avery Island assists with boats and personnel, he said.
Shirley said the program teaches 4-H youth about the biology of the coastal environment, the life cycles of marine organisms, the commercial importance of alligators and seafood and conservation practices.
A total of 16 4-H’ers attend each of the four sessions each summer, and parishes are rotated so that a parish will be represented every four years. Participants are selected by 4-H agents.
“It’s the first time for many of them to see the coast, hold crabs, see alligators and crawl in the marsh mud,” Shirley said.
A video crew from the Japanese network TV Tokyo came along on this outing to shoot footage for a piece being done on U.S. alligator farming.
“We came here to cover the gator industry because of the recession,” said producer David Dreyfuss. “The gator farmers are suffering from unsold products.
“It’s a very interesting story for us in Japan,” he added. “The luxury market has gone down in Japan. A lot of women want gator bags.”