Reboot: March Maneuvers returns after two years away

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East Carroll 4-H member Milton Ross helps load smooth cordgrass plugs onto a boat during a marsh grass planting project at Bayou Petite Anse. Photo provided by 4-H Youth Wetlands Program.

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes, Marsh Maneuvers, a coastal education summer camp program, returned in July for its 33rd session. Marsh Maneuvers was started in 1987 by Mark Shirley, an LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant Extension agent, and more than 1,800 youth have participated in the program.

“Marsh Maneuvers is a fantastic opportunity for youth across the state, so we are thrilled we were able to bring it back,” Catherine Fox, assistant specialist for the Youth Wetlands Program and co-director of Marsh Maneuvers, said.

Marsh Maneuvers offers four sessions throughout July. During each session, youth explore the economic cultural, and environmental value of Louisiana’s coast.

“There was never a dull moment through the whole trip,” Madyson Campbell, a 4-H member from Catahoula Parish, said. “And I left with more knowledge of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.”

One of the program’s specialties is providing an educational experience that will stick with 4-H members for the rest of their lives.

“Youth are engaged in the learning process on all levels: listening to speakers, seeing things firsthand and actually doing related hands-on activities,” founder and co-director Shirley said. “This experiential learning process helps youth retain this knowledge long-term.”

The participants agree that the experiential learning process is part of what makes Marsh Maneuvers a fun and rewarding opportunity.

“When you have an educational program that teaches students in a way where they can grasp the material and where it will also hold their interest, the benefits are immeasurable,” Acadia

Parish 4-H member Branson Melancon said.

Even though Marsh Maneuvers returned, there were still adjustments as Louisiana continues to rebuild after hurricanes Laura and Delta.

“We had to relocate since Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is still rebuilding, so we were able to add in new activities that better fit our temporary relocation to Intracoastal City,” Fox said. “We had the opportunity to tour Omega Protein’s menhaden processing plant, visited the Coast Guard Cutter Amberjack where we talked to active-duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard, and we added in a canoe float trip.”

Of course, Marsh Maneuvers staples — crabbing, marsh grass planting and marsh volleyball — were still there.

“My favorite activity was getting to plant smooth cordgrass and, of course, playing volleyball in the marsh,” Lafayette 4-H member Shaohannah Martin said.

For some 4-H members, their experiences at Marsh Maneuvers spark an interest in future educational and career possibilities related to the environment and Louisiana’s coast.

“It was a lot of new experiences with understanding how Louisiana works as a whole, and it showed me a lot of opportunities to help contribute to the United States just by working in Louisiana,” Union Parish 4-H member Kason Hicks said. “It showed me a job opportunity as a mechanical engineer and how it could help protect the things I love about Louisiana.”

Marsh Maneuvers is not just for the youth. The 4-H agents and volunteers who chaperone the camps also enjoy the experience.

“Marsh Maneuvers has been the single most professionally and personally satisfying experience as a 4-H agent,” Lafayette 4-H agent Paul Bongarzone said. “The blend of teamwork, responsibility, fun, deliciousness (food!), higher education and career pathways was superb.”

It takes more than just a collaboration between Louisiana Sea Grant and Louisiana 4-H to make Marsh Maneuvers happen.

“The success and popularity of the program would not be possible without the support and cooperation of agencies, corporations, and individuals,” Shirley said.

Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, McIlhenny Company, Omega Protein, Shucks Seafood Restaurant and Gulf South Seafood all contribute to make Marsh Maneuvers a rewarding and valuable experience for Louisiana 4-H members.

Praise for Marsh Maneuvers

■ “It was a fun and memorable week where I got to meet new people, along with learning new and valuable things that have made a huge difference on my life.”

■ “I absolutely loved it. This camp constantly gave me a fresh and meaningful wealth of knowledge and experiences. I truly think this was one of the best 4-H experiences I’ve ever had!”

■ “Had lots of fun laughing, fishing, crabbing and shrimping. I cut open a fish head and crawled in the marsh! I came way out of my comfort zone. 10/10 would recommend.”

Two people ride down a marsh in a boat.

4-H members watch as another airboat goes by during their airboat tour of brackish marsh. Photo provided by 4-H Youth Wetlands Program.

Three canoes with two people each row down a river.

4-H members paddle down Coulee Kenny in Abbeville, Louisiana, to observe the area’s habitat and wildlife while building teamwork skills. Photo provided by 4-H Youth Wetlands Program.

Four people ride in a boat, with two sitting in front and two sitting in back.

4-H members Wilson Guthrie, Kason Hicks and Vincent Winston take a boat ride to tour various wetland management projects at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.

A group of teens plays volleyball across a net while waist-deep in a body of water.

4-H members play a game of marsh volleyball after successfully planting smooth cordgrass along the bank of Bayou Petite Anse. Photos provided by 4-H Youth Wetlands Program.

Two teen girls plant grass in the sand while a teen boy walks away.

Remi Larson, of Iberville Parish, and Alyssa Keowen, of West Baton Rouge Parish, plant grass along the beach of Joseph’s Harbor at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge as part of a coastal restoration project.

3/13/2023 2:33:05 PM
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