Mark A. Schexnayder, Hardesty, Amanda, Morgan, Johnny W. | 12/21/2006 4:02:49 AM
Working with volunteers to restore New Orleans’ City Park has become an ongoing labor of love for two LSU AgCenter employees.
On Dec. 8-9, LSU AgCenter hurricane recovery coordinator Mark Schexnayder and Amanda Hardesty, the recovery volunteer coordinator with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant program, worked with nearly 500 volunteers to restore plant material that will improve water quality in the lakes at City Park.
Schexnayder said the volunteers were members of a group who were in town for the Restore America’s Estuaries national conference. "We were contacted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the local arm of the organization, to help in coordinating this restoration effort," he said.
The plan for the volunteers was to plant vegetation around the lakes in the park that would stabilize the shoreline and improve water quality. They also would provide additional fish habitats so the aquatic life could be improved in the area. He said the volunteers were helping to restore nearly 5,000 feet of lakeside shoreline in the park.
In addition to putting in new plants around the lake, Schexnayder said the timing couldn’t have been much better for the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department when the agency supplied more than 200 pounds of fingerlings to help build up the fish population in the lakes.
Schexnayder said he has been involved in restocking the lakes for the past three years, but all of that work was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
Since the storm, he has helped the park secure a Wallop-Breaux grant through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that has allowed faculty members at the University of New Orleans Biology Department to monitor the salinity of the water and estimate how much the fish population decreased because of flooding.
He said the lakes are being restocked with redear and bluegill sunfish, largemouth bass and white crappie.
"We’re hoping that this and future restocking efforts will put us about five years ahead of where we would have been without it," Schexnayder said.
Hardesty recently coordinated 60 volunteer students from Michigan State University during the week of Dec, 17. The students helped with restoration of the Pelican Greenhouse where wetland plants will be propagated to continue restoration of the park’s lakes.
Hardesty works with a variety of groups and agencies to make sure plant numbers are sufficient and with park personnel to make sure locations are correct.
"We also work with the park to secure a grant to construct a wetland plant production facility to meet the long-term needs of the park and other local waterways in need of rehabilitation," she said.
Besides the damage caused by saltwater flooding after the Katrina levee breaches, Hardesty said, another consideration was to help control erosion in the area that was once part a golf course where heavy mowing damaged a large section.
In addition to the Michigan volunteers, a group of students from the University of Missouri at Columbia will be under her guidance beginning Dec. 30.
"These students will work with the fishermen down in St. Bernard Parish, helping them to get back to where they can have soft-shell crab production facilities back on line in the spring," she said. This work is being partially funded through www.marketumbrella.org through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation.
Schexnayder says volunteer coordination is an ongoing process that helps get the city back up and running at a faster pace. The next big project is having a freshwater well put in to help keep the lakes’ salinity levels low.
"We already have a group that we’re working with on funding for this project. We’re just waiting right now for the green light," he explained. "Once this is done, we will be on our way to full fisheries management and habitat improvement for City Park’s lagoon system, the natural bayous and Bayou St. John."
The next step will be to restart the environmental education programs that were in place before Hurricane Katrina and expand them to meet the needs of the community.
Persons interested in volunteering should call (504) 838-1170 or visit the Web site www.we-kare.org.
To learn more about the variety of LSU AgCenter programs related to hurricane preparation and recovery, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.