Hemelt: Wetlands patron continues his River Region impact

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation announced a host of awards this week and, not surprisingly, our River Parishes’ own Barry Guillot was in that number.

The Harry Hurst Middle School teacher was named Conservation Educator of the Year for 2016.

Guillot, a science teacher by trade and wetlands evangelist by passion, was recognized for his work as the founder and coordinator of the nationally recognized LaBranche Wetland Watchers, a school-based, service-learning program that has educated more than 40,000 students about the importance of Louisiana’s wetlands.

The project was expanded in 2016 to include a wide array of student volunteers from 10 public and private schools for yearly outreach events.

Wetland Watchers planted 600 trees in the LaBranche Wetlands, and more than 600 students attended wetland field trips.

Guillot also served as the St. Charles Parish coordinator for the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup.

It’s a wonderful and well-deserved honor for Guillot, who began Wetland Watchers nearly two decades ago.

He grew up on the West Bank of New Orleans and spent much of his time in the wetlands around Lafitte before moving to St. Charles Parish 24 years ago.

As a lover of all things outside, Guillot told me he was shocked to find out there were no public nature trails in his new home.

Well, he decided to do something about it. That something (which turns 20 in May) grew into a full-fledged movement

“The Wetland Watchers project took off,” he said. “Kids were so excited to be involved with all of our activities. One of the things that I love about the program is we have such a diverse group of students who volunteer with everything. They really work as a team to accomplish all that we do.”

Those efforts kick into overdrive Wednesday for the group’s annual Wetland Watchers Celebration.

The event includes all 800 fourth graders in St. Charles Parish visiting interactive stations throughout Wetland Watchers Park in Norco. Stations are facilitated by Hurst eighth graders and Wetland Watchers partners, representing federal, state and local agencies, as well as universities, corporations, businesses and non-profit agencies.

Guillot said the group’s long time partner fiddler/singer Amanda Shaw will be performing for students all day.

“It is a fantastic day of education and entertainment,” he said. “I have run into students who are over 30 years old that can tell me memories about their time in Wetland Watchers like it was yesterday. That feels good.”

Fittingly, Guillot is set to receive his Louisiana Wildlife Federation trophy at 11 a.m. Wednesday is the very place he is inspiring our youngest generation to think globally while acting locally.

“We still do Wetland Watcher nights, but now we have student volunteers from about 10 different schools as presenters,” he said. “We have averaged speaking to over 70,000 people through outreach events every year. I have a corn snake that has been presented to over 3 million people in its 20 years as my pet.”

Guillot might not have set out to start a huge project but in looking for a way to get his students more interested in science, he certainly made it real for them to see what was learned in class could be so valuable in life.

“I still enjoy it as much as I did at the beginning,” he said. “Every year I have students that return to volunteer, but I also have a whole new set of students involved in presenting and a whole new set of students that we are presenting to.”

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.