Wetland park envisioned as one-stop spot for family fun

Fishing piers, sand volleyball courts and canoe, kayak launch highlight recreation facility

March 18, 2009 at 8:44 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

An artist’s rendering shows what the education portion of Wetland Watchers Park could look like when completed.
Courtesy Photo
An artist’s rendering shows what the education portion of Wetland Watchers Park could look like when completed.
Five years ago, St. Charles Parish set aside 28 acres in the LaBranche Wetlands and christened the area Wetland Watchers Park. Now, plans are moving ahead to turn that park into something the parish sorely needs - a one-stop spot for education and recreation that will include fishing piers, an outdoor classroom and a canoe launch.

As of now, the education portion of the park is in permitting, though it has already been designed. It will consist of an outdoor classroom and public nature trails to make the wetland area easily accessible. Along the nature trails, there will be learning pads with interactive activities, interpretative signage and self-guided tour pamphlets with facts about the area.

When finished, the trails and classroom will provide students, residents and tourists with an opportunity to learn about the coastal issues the region faces through first-hand experience.

Dow has already donated funding for the outdoor classroom, while Shell has helped with the fill material, according to Earl Matherne, the parish’s coastal zone manager.

The recreation portion of the project is still in the design phase, though the size of the area will be around five acres.

“On the recreation side, we will have a handicap accessible fishing pier and a canoe and kayak launch,” Matherne said. “There will also be picnic areas and sand volleyball courts.

“Besides the baseball and softball facilities, it will be the biggest non-team sport facility in the parish.”

Industries from around the parish have indicated that they want to chip in with the park’s cost, though Matherne said the parish has to get a complete design first and then figure out the total.

“We have a lot of sponsors who are just waiting on a dollar amount,” he said.

Though the 28 acres were donated to the parish five years ago, the idea for the park actually began to take shape 11 years ago. That’s when Harry Hurst science teacher Barry Guillot adopted land in the area so that he would have a place to take his seventh grade students. Pretty soon after Guillot began taking his class to the LaBranche Wetlands, the trip turned into one for all seventh grade students at Harry Hurst.

Five years ago, the land that Guillot first adopted was donated to the parish by the Pontchartrain Levee District and its president, Steve Wilson. However, the levee district didn’t just donate the adopted land, but added an additional 28 acres. The parish then named the park Wetland Watchers Park after Guillot and his band of students.

“The park was designed with the input from all of the volunteers at the park, members of the coastal committee, me, the architect, longtime wetland advocate Milton Cambre and Barry Guillot,” Matherne said. “A lot of this actually came from Barry’s head.”

Matherne said that when designing the park, the parish looked at what other facilities like this offered around the country.

“And we tried to include all of that,” he said.

The parish was also able to attain $190,000 in state surplus funds for the park.

“We hope to get started on the part of the park that that money will pay for this year,” Matherne said.

While Matherne said it’s still too early to put a completion date on the project, he is sure about one thing.

“Our goal is to construct something in St. Charles Parish that is truly unique.”

Parish President V.J. St. Pierre agrees, saying that the park will allow residents to enjoy the outdoors.

“Wetland Watchers Park will be a great tool to get children away from computers and out enjoying wildlife and our parish’s natural resources,” he said. “All citizens will be able to learn about our parish’s culture and history, which is something I think we all need to focus on as we continue to move forward.

“Not to mention, the park will continue to provide access to boating and fishing on Lake Pontchartrain, which is a major draw.”

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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