Pontchartrain’s park with a purpose

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 6, 2010

By David Vitrano


NORCO – After eight long years the biggest undertaking of the Harry Hurst Middle School-based Wetland Watchers Club was finally unveiled this weekend.

A large park featuring a playground, a pavilion, fishing piers and a nature walk has literally risen from the depths of Lake Pontchartrain since the club acquired the land from the levee district.

Barry Guillot, who heads the club and has been instrumental in making the park a reality, pointed to a spot yards offshore where the waves were breaking.

“That was the coastline in 1940,” he said, adding the park has re-established the coastline on that section of the shore to its 1976 level.

“Where we’re standing right now was all water,” Guillot noted.

The Wetland Watchers was started 14 years ago as a way to raise awareness about the plight of the coastal wetlands and the wildlife that lives there. Guillot said he was inspired to create the park because the nearest location that families could go to enjoy what nature has to offer in southern Louisiana is Jean Lafitte National Park.

The new park, he said, offers families the opportunity to come out and enjoy nature without having to worry too much about mud and some of the other inconveniences one might encounter at the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

“We needed to make it accessible for everybody to come see this,” he said.

There is an ulterior motive behind the construction of the park that goes beyond mere recreation, however.

“We’re also going to sneak in some education,” Guillot said.

The park was funded entirely through donations and grants, with Motiva and Dow donating nearly a quarter of a million dollars combined, and built with countless volunteer hours.

Said Guillot, “It’s 100 percent a community effort.”

The opening day festivities included a performance by the Hurst choir, which sang a modified version of “We Are the World” and routines from the dance team and cheerleaders. Amanda Shaw, who has been a partner of the organization for years, also performed under the pavilion.

Various organizations donated food that was sold at the event for $3 per bowl, with all proceeds benefiting the Clearwater Animal Rehab, which helps animals affected by the oil spill.

The afternoon also featured speeches from some of the people who made the park possible, Guillot, Milton Cambre, Steve Wilson of the Pontchartrain Levee District and Tommy Faucheux of Dow, as well as some St. Charles Parish officials, including Councilwoman-at-Large Carolyn Schexnayder, who said to Guillot, “Thank you for your dedication to our future, our land and our children.”