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City Year Helps Build Wetlands with Bayou Land RC&D

October 13, 2011

By Michael Cohn-Geltner, Service Team Leader

As a second year corps member proudly serving as the Service Team Leader, I can say that wetland restoration is considered the holy grail of City Year’s physical service projects. I enrolled as a mid-year corps member last year, and while working on what I thought were enjoyable service projects such as sanding down a home with Rebuilding Together, fellow corps members would say, “This is good, but it’s not rebuilding the wetlands.”

Our Project Team Leader, Andrew Sheeley, a veteran of the Baton Rouge Corps but a newcomer to New Orleans, collaborated with Caitlin H. Reilly, the volunteer coordinator working for Bayou Land RC&D, to make this project happen for this year’s corps.

On September 30th we traveled over 100 miles through three different parishes to our service site on Elmer’s Island.  We traveled past sugar cane fields, cow pastures, and a two lane highway with wetlands on both sides. While driving over a bridge, one corps member from Utah saw a dolphin fin peeking through the waters of Bayou Ferblanc.             


Having not seen pictures of the service site, I was relieved to discover that Elmer’s Island looked more like a beach than a swamp. Otherworldly grasses dotted the beach. Offshore oil rigs noiselessly churned up oil. Hermit crabs crawled in the shallows.  Program Manger Ava Jackson reminded corps member to be vigilant, “There are sharks out here.”

We parked a mile away from the shore.  Members of the Bayou Land RC&D drove the corps in the back of a pickup truck to the beachhead. Corps members carried shovels and potted smooth cord grass to a tent over sand, which was too soft for the truck to drive over. Caitlin arrived and gave the corps a planting tutorial.

One group of corps members scoured the plants for weeds. Teams of two dug holes and planted the grasses in an empty stretch of beach. They left roughly a yard between each plant to allow the grass to grow.

It’s always shocking what a dedicated group of thirty people can accomplish. What started out as a stark beach  looked green and vibrant after only a few hours of work. The corps planted over a hundred plants. “It was great having hard working volunteers coming out here,” Caitlin said, as we headed back to our vans.

Louisiana loses a football field worth of wetlands every hour, and having the chance to combat that problem felt like a great accomplishment. The project definitely lived up to expectations.



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