Traveler: Loving Louisiana
Eco-tourism, or volunteering while on vacation, can be done right here in the Pelican State for those who want to staycation with a purpose
Eulizabeth Nehrbass of Lafayette watched news reports of the Louisiana coast disappearing for years, viewing the aerial shots of land loss in newscasts and slipping into fatalistic thinking that a problem that immense will never have a positive solution.
Then Nehrbass discovered Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and its volunteer opportunities through its Habitat Restoration Program. CRCL has organized 14,500 volunteers since its beginning — including Nehrbass and her daughter — to plant trees and dune and marsh grass plugs. To date, the organization has helped restore more than 4,500 acres of coastal wetlands.
“You begin the day (as a volunteer) in one of those places where you can see the loss firsthand, some fragile marsh or a swamp or a beach, but you end the day looking back at hundreds of trees or thousands of plugs of grass that are planted there now that weren’t there when you arrived,” Nehrbass said. “When you’re working with all those other people, it’s possible to imagine that you might be able to actually make a difference.”
CRCL has paused its volunteer arm due to the COVID pandemic but hopes to reinvigorate its coastal restoration efforts soon. However, there are many ways people looking to make a difference may enjoy Louisiana’s natural beauty while making the world a better place.
And you might just have the time of your life.
“Yes, it’s fun, and yes, I’d recommend it,” Nehrbass said. “You can’t mind getting wet and dirty, because you will. But that’s really all part of the fun — mucking around in the mud or sand, playing in the earth like we used to love when we were kids.”
The following are a few ways to get involved, mud and muck included.
Volunteers with the Pontchartrain Conservancy have planted 70,000 trees in South Louisiana, most along the coast, to restore the trees that have washed away in recent storms or died due to environmental issues. In addition, the organization relies on volunteers to perform regular cleanups on Lake Pontchartrain.
This May the group will host the sixth annual Storm Sweep. In the past — previously known as Spring Sweep — the event consisted of a day in May where volunteers would meet at the New Canal Lighthouse to work and enjoy a picnic. This year, because of the pandemic, the event will stretch through the entire month of May without a formal gathering. Volunteers can sign up on the organization’s website and participate on a date of their choosing.
Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana continue to rebuild after the horrific damage by 2020’s hurricanes Laura and Delta, but so much remains to be done. Both national and regional nonprofit and faith-based organizations have arrived to remove debris and “mucky and gutting,” mold and water damage and assist in rebuilding said Sara Judson, executive director of Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana.
“We still have a need over here and if [volunteers] can only come for a day, we can still use people of all skill levels,” Judson explained. “And you don’t have to be a professional roofer. There are a lot of ways to help.”
National organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and All Hands and Hearts — what Judson calls “well-oiled machines,” — will offer volunteer training, materials and guidance so it’s only a matter of joining their efforts. Many area restaurants, hotels and casinos have reopened, so a visit to the Lake Charles area could also double as a chance to give back and enjoy a fun-filled vacation, with the latter helping to strength the southwest Louisiana economy.
“Volunteers have a nice place to stay and relax in the evenings,” Judson said.
There are a variety of Louisiana-based organizations volunteers can work with to help with everything from Coastal restoration to hurricane recovery.
A few others to consider