Gulf of Mexico Foundation Works with Texas Conservation Corps to Train Youth, Plant Marsh Grass

Conservation group plants marsh grass in pairs
By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON | Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2014 11:44 pm
GALVESTON — Planting marsh grass isn’t necessarily a hard job. But it is a two-person one.
And when you have 1,000 plants to get into the ground, it’s better to to have a team with you.
This weekend, about a dozen members of the Texas Conservation Corps worked in pairs to plant marsh grass on the shores of Eckert Bayou.
One team member used a dibble to make a hole in the muddy soil of marshland and another would put the plant, spartina alterniflora, into the ground, then mash the soil back into the hole. “It’s not for everyone,” said corps crew leader Erica Keller, as her team walked through the mud and tried to ignore the pounding Texas heat. “Sometimes it’s about going outside your comfort zone.”
That hard work does pay dividends.
Alice Anne O’Donnell, whose property was the site of the planting project, said the Corps was a “godsend.” The marsh plants helped protect her house from the debris when the waters rose 7 feet during Hurricane Ike.
The marshes also provide crucial habitat for birds and other animals to live and feed in. O’Donnell said a similar project had been completed in the past, but years of natural erosion and fishermen walking through the marsh from a nearby boat ramp had destroyed part of it.
Members of the Conservation Corps, which is affiliated with the AmeriCorps program, are used to tough work. They camp out on tops of mountains and in pine woods, restoring nature trails and habitats
and performing disaster recovery and mitigation work across the state’s varied landscapes.
Many of the participants in the program are college-bound or recent college graduates, looking for a way to help pay for the cost of school. This week, however, the corps did more than just manual labor.
During their two-week deployment to Galveston, the conservation corps also participated in classroom sessions aimed at teaching the participants more about the technical aspects of conservation work and policies.
“We are a crew that usually does hands-on work,” Keller said. “We have had the opportunity this week to begin to learn about the other side as far as things like permitting and outreach. The stuff kind of besides the physical labor.”
The corps activities were organized by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, in corporation with groups like the Galveston Bay Foundation. Mikell Smith, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s program director, said Texas is on the verge of
beginning a large number of conservation projects, and there will be a critical need for well-trained, well-informed people to help complete them.
That’s what the foundation hopes to do by establishing a training program in Galveston.
“Any time that you’re doing any kind of work, no matter how labor intensive it may seem, it’s really important to get it right,” Smith said.
That’s why making sure that the people who would be leading conservation projects — the kind of people who might belong to the Conservation Corps — are well trained and ready to lead.