Seven years ago, the Pontchartrain Levee District donated 28 acres of land in the LaBranche Wetlands to St. Charles Parish in the name of the Hurst Middle School Wetland Watchers Service-Learning Project.
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 an outdoor classroom, nature trail, and a grand pavilion.
The educational portion of the park consists of an outdoor classroom and public nature trails to make the wetland area easily accessible. The Dow Palmetto Outdoor Classroom is mostly complete, while 900 feet of the trails have been constructed. Along the nature trails, which will eventually span 3,000 feet, there will be learning pads with interactive activities, a bayouside outdoor classroom, a 10-foot marsh overlook, interpretative signage and self-guided tour pamphlets with facts about the area.
Dow donated funding for the outdoor classrooms, while Shell-Motiva has donated funding for the boardwalk nature trails and has helped with the fill material.
The Parish Council recently voted to add a 2,000-square-foot pavilion to the park. The pavilion will add $212,000 to the $329,000 contract with Echo Ventures of Norco. Echo Ventures will also build roads, parking and nine picnic areas
Though the 28 acres were donated to the parish seven years ago, the idea for the park actually began to take shape five years before that.
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.
“I am so excited to see the work going on out at Wetland Watchers Park,” Guillot said. “We have talked about it for so long, and to see the actual construction taking place is incredible.”
Guillot was impressed with the finished outdoor classroom and said that students will begin using it in March.
“We will also begin having workshops for teachers throughout the region so that they will be able to bring their students out here,” he added.
The main draw to the park is that residents will be able to travel three miles into the wetlands without owning a boat.
“Wetland Watchers Park will provide an accessible area for families to enjoy the lakeshore and the wetland while having picnics or playing on the playground,” Guillot said. “It is already one of the best areas for crabbing and fishing, so it will provide more facilities for the fishermen when they come out, including a new 50-foot fishing pier where the lake meets Bayou LaBranche. I see Wetland Watchers Park as a destination for families throughout our region, a living laboratory for students, and a perfect stop for tourists to visit and learn more about the scenic St. Charles Parish wetlands.
“It is going to be beautiful and something that all citizens of St. Charles Parish will be proud of.”