Several years ago, West Feliciana Middle School teacher Heather Howle pursued the idea that an existing pond behind the school could be used as an outdoor classroom for a wetlands lesson, so she contacted the LSU Agricultural Center for assistance. Her idea grew into an annual event for students.

The format of the event has changed some but has become a successful tradition in West Feliciana Parish, according to André Brock, LSU AgCenter associate county agent and West Feliciana 4-H agent.

“The LSU AgCenter has actually used the outdoor wetlands model for a program that we now conduct in several parishes throughout the state,” Brock said, who notes that due to the importance of wetlands to Louisiana, the AgCenter has dedicated a Youth Wetlands educational branch within 4-H, as well.

“Wetlands provide hurricane buffers, seafood and waterfowl production, an inlet for oil and gas production, and numerous other benefits to our state,” he said.

LSU AgCenter Youth Wetlands Program Manager Ashley Mullens, also a St. Francisville resident, organizes the annual Youth Wetlands Day in West Feliciana.

“Though West Feliciana isn’t a coastal parish, there are wetlands here, such as Cat Island and numerous creeks,” Brock said. “It’s important that our youth learn about these wetlands and other environmental concerns if we’re to continue enjoying the outdoors in future generations.”

Brock, Mullens and AgCenter 4-H Agent and Youth Wetlands educator Heather Egger had the opportunity to illustrate those points recently at West Feliciana Middle School.

Eighth-graders attended Wetlands Day with science teachers Brian Cutrer and Deigh-Anna Ingram, who brought the students to the pond in small groups.

Brock and Mullens taught lessons about specific adaptations wetlands animals have to survive, complete with a show-and-tell of alligator skins, animal furs and baby alligators, which had their mouths taped shut so the students could hold and touch them safely.

Egger had a separate station on the pond’s dock where students dip-netted the muddy water, finding species such as crawfish, dragonfly nymphs, minnows and more, Brock said.

“By finding those species, it’s an indicator that the pond’s water is in good health,” he said. “This annual outdoor wetlands experience teaches students the value of our state’s wetlands, and through hands-on learning, gives them an experience they will remember for a long time.”