Camp goers immerse themselves in marsh

Linda Benedict, Schultz, Bruce  |  9/2/2009 8:31:35 PM

Zachary Cecil, a 4-H’er from Vernon Parish, rode on the side of a boat one morning during Marsh Maneuvers camp at Avery Island, La. 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 July morning, the Marsh Maneuvers 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.

“That’s worse than the treadmill,” Russell said.

It was her second time to attend Marsh Maneuvers. The program was held at Grand Isle her first time eight years ago.

Though 4-H’er Herbert Leavitt is from Avery Island, 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.”

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 the group went to a weir in the marsh one night and saw alligators. “There were probably 70 alligators. All the kids thought that was amazing,” he said.

Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter coastal resources agent, said the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources helps fund Marsh Maneuvers, which is a summer 4-H camping experience in its 19th year. 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.

Bruce Schultz

(This article was published in the summer 2009 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
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