New Orleans Youth and Elders Share Fishing History, Nature Experiences at Sankofa Wetland Park

By Kay Bolden, Grant Writer – Sankofa Community Development Corporation

Sankofa Wetland Park, located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, has developed a yearly calendar of events to engage children and families in outdoor learning and environmental education. These programs offer a variety of experiences that focus on natural history, gardening, recreation, health and wellness, art, and local traditions. Participants not only explore nature and learn key concepts, but also do so in a fun, engaging way that allows for important quality socialization and family bonding time.

Supported by funding from Restore America’s Estuaries and Citgo through the Caring For Our Coasts Grant Program, over 300 children and youth participated in nature experience programs, ecology education projects, and intergenerational fishing events during the summer of 2022. The Wetland Park is a valuable green space in a low-income, urban environment; these programs provide youth with a connection to nature – often for the first time – as well as a chance to view local wildlife, and learn about the importance of wetlands in protecting the fragile Louisiana coast.

Family fishing events created multigenerational outdoor experiences for youth and elders, centered around fishing and wildlife. Youth participants received guidance, years of wisdom, and colorful local history about fishing; elders received an opportunity to bond with and mentor local youth, and revitalize historical fishing traditions.

Additionally, upper elementary and high school youth participated in field hikes, and learned about water quality, pond life, wildlife habitats, wetland animals, and wetland habitats. They examined various wetland animal skulls, tested the pond water, collected pond life specimens, and built a model of a wetland habitat to understand the benefits wetlands provide with regard to storm protection.

The 40-acre Wetland Park was formerly a freshwater marsh; the marsh was destroyed when the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) allowed saltwater to intrude and kill the protective trees and vegetation. The destruction of the wetland ultimately culminated in the complete inundation of the Lower Ninth Ward by floodwaters during the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005.

To date, Sankofa has restored 8-acres of wetland area with the development of bioretention ponds and the plantings of over 400 native irises and 1,000 bald cypress and water tupelo trees. These efforts resulted in the retention of 1.8 million gallons of water, increased wildlife diversity within the park area, and increased access to nature play space for local families.