Two Scouts BSA troops got more than they bargained for this weekend when their canoeing trek across the Atchafalaya Basin was interrupted by Tropical Storm Barry. Instead of griping, the young men took the change in plans as an opportunity to help others.
The two groups — one from Pennsylvania and one from Missouri — were in the middle of overnight paddling trips on the Atchafalaya Basin with the Swamp Base BSA program when they had to be evacuated and moved into hotels in Lafayette.
The Swamp Base is a Boy Scouts of American program that exposes Scouts around the country to the ecosystem of the Atchafalaya Basin and educates them on environmental stewardship through expeditions, said executive director Ben Pierce.
The two troops from Missouri and Pennsylvania were in the middle of their respective 5-day, 4-night, 61.6-mile paddling expeditions when they were pulled from the water. While waiting for a bus to pick them up at Clayton Boudreaux Park in Catahoula, the Scouts decided to fill sandbags for residents, Pierce said.
In about 45 minutes the boys and their troop leaders filled roughly 200 bags, he said.
“These kids did not come down here to do this. They came here to have fun and explore the Atchafalaya, and here they are stepping up to help others in our community,” he said.
Troop 474 Scoutmaster John Macoretta said his troop was waiting for the Missouri team to come ashore when they saw the bags, piles of sand and an elderly couple making sandbags. They were off the bus within minutes.
“They were all tired, but nobody hesitated. Nobody said, ‘Let’s stay on the bus,’” Macoretta said. “I wasn’t really surprised when they did this. They frequently see people in need and want to go help in ways I don’t even think of. They regularly surprise me in a good way.”
The Pennsylvania troop filled bags for about 10 minutes before the Missouri troop arrived. The group helped the others bring in their canoes and then the two head scouts convened and decided they all wanted to stay to help longer. Even just off the water, the Missouri troop jumped right in to help too, he said.
Macoretta said the conditions on the basin were favorable but a little windy while the crew paddled Friday. Because it was still sunny, the boys weren’t fully aware of how serious things would get until they saw the elderly couple filling sandbags at the park.
It’s not anything they’ve experienced before, he said.
“I can tell you nobody in my crew had ever filled a sandbag before,” Macoretta said.
The scoutmaster said the troop visited New Orleans before making the trip to Acadiana and the Scouts took in the high river levels in the city and the importance of the levee system. He said the whole experience has probably given them a better grasp of the fragile relationship the community has with its bodies of water.
Pierce said it also shows that even when things are going well for you there’s always someone who could use a helping hand.
“There are natural disasters that happen all over the country that we aren’t even aware of down here. If anything, it shows them that people are vulnerable everywhere and there’s always somebody that can use a helping hand,” Pierce said.
On Sunday, as the rain and wind from Tropical Storm Barry lessened, Macoretta said the troop paddled out to a Swamp Base outpost in the basin where they planned to spend the night, before finishing the final leg of their trek Monday.