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Clearing New Paths for the Future
Motiva, Valero and Dow chip in assistance
By Staff Report -   Mar 23, 2006

Hurst 7th graders Paige Duplantis and Renee Walsh wait in line to get some well-deserved hot dogs and chili after a hard morning's work.
Hurst 7th graders Paige Duplantis and Renee Walsh wait in line to get some well-deserved hot dogs and chili after a hard morning's work.

When St. Charles Parish teachers Barry Guillot, Craig Howat and Daniel Martin along with local environmentalist Milton Cambre surveyed the damage from Hurricane Katrina to their proposed site for the region's first public nature trail, they were encouraged by the lack of erosion from the tidal surge.

The land was donated by the Pontchartrain Levee District to St. Charles Parish. The Hurst Middle School LaBranche Wetland Watchers service-learning project was held in that place by a breakwater wetland restoration project Milton Cambre has been coordinating for the past five years.

Unfortunately, the wind damage was quite extensive knocking many of the large trees down across the paths that made the area so unrecognizable, the original trail could only be found using GPS coordinates.

Through the broken limbs and upturned roots of fallen giants, the pristine beauty of the area still shines through. Ten-foot tall palmettos that are estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old still reach for the sky. All types of flowers have begun adding color to the surreal background. Animal tracks are seen throughout the area. The trees that withstood Katrina will probably be there for quite a long time. The area was by no means a total loss. The planned trail was rerouted to avoid the largest of the fallen trees.

A quick call to the local industries resulted in a planned day for the community to come together to not only get the trees off the path, but to haul out all of the trash that was washed deep into the swampy area.

Valero St. Charles Refinery, Motiva Norco Refinery, and Dow St. Charles Operations responded by sending teams of men with chainsaws into the area at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

Within 3 hours, most of the cutting was done. Beginning at about 10 a.m., over 200 people converged onto the area to assist in any way that they could. Volunteers included nearly 60 Hurst Middle students and volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds and places working together with one goal in mind. Volunteers from Norco, Destrehan, St. Rose, and Luling, were joined by an extended community of volunteers from Kenner, Metairie, Baton Rouge, Hammond, LaPlace, Covington, and Slidell. Groups such as the Mardi Gras Clean-up Krewe were represented as well volunteers from California, New York, and Nebraska who were in town working with the group Common Grounds. Groups of volunteers from local Boy Scout troops, Monsanto, Entergy, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Gulf Coast Harp Society were also there to lend a hand.

The once submerged area was now flooded with people wearing bright yellow volunteer t-shirts. Thanks to the outpouring of support, the site of the future nature trail looks better than it ever has. "It has been a week since the event and I am still in awe of the volunteer response," Milton Cambre smiled and said. "I never in a million years could have imagined so may people coming out for this."

Hurst Middle school 7th grader Paige Duplantis remarked "I knew that coming out here would involve a lot of work. I didn't realize it would be so much fun!" Hurst teacher and LaBranche Wetland Watcher coordinator Barry Guillot is still overwhelmed with the excitement everyone had about the event and the plans for the area.

"I kept telling everyone I expected to have about 200 people out there, but you really don't know how many will respond to a volunteer event like this. If there is ever a time that I wonder why we are putting so much effort into getting this project complete, all I have to do is picture the smiles from the hundreds of people out there last Saturday.”

“It is amazing and it really shows that this is a project everyone is excited about. We just received an award in San Diego a few weeks ago recognizing our excellent community partnerships. It is so fitting that only a week later we have a perfect example of why the award is so well deserved.”

“Our local community and extended community, as well as the dedication of the local industries gives me so much hope and excitement for this area and all of St Charles Parish, because I believe this type of coordinated effort is the future of education everywhere and the key to the future of our state. The outpouring of people from so many areas working together makes me believe that we were clearing new paths for the future in more ways than one."

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