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Eastern Kentucky University Recreation Club students recently spent a week making Louisiana an even more beautiful place.

Jacqueline Cantrell and Brittany Viars, both from Irvine; Dylan Bogard of Elsmere; Christopher Bundy of Richmond and Geena Neustat of Lexington travelled to Grand Isle, Louisiana, where they worked with Grand Isle State Park and the Nature Conservancy on habitat restoration.

The students raised money to go on the trip and applied for funds through the Student Government Association (SGA). “The students worked hard to raise the funds, completed the SGA application and went on the trip entirely on their own accord,” said Dr. Michael Bradley, assistant professor in EKU’s Department of Recreation and Park Administration.

During their time in Louisiana, the students helped clean up the Gulf Coast shoreline by picking up trash that had been left behind or washed ashore. They also picked up trash at the state park and helped with trail maintenance by clearing hiking trails and the main trails connecting popular activity sites.

At the Nature Conservancy, students removed invasive plants, repaired and replaced damaged signs and fencing and planted over 50 native trees and shrubs. They helped clear and performed minor maintenance on the primary hiking trail on the property as well. They also did significant work to natural areas to restore necessary habitat for local wildlife.

On their final day in the state, students worked on the local butterfly sanctuary to improve its appearance and usability. They removed invasive plants, trimmed trees and carried out necessary repairs and cleanup.

“These students are incredible,” Bradley said, praising the group’s work. “The motivation and dedication to helping better the world we live in warrants much merit. The students raised the money to go, then took a week out of their summer vacations or jobs to travel to a different state and volunteer their time to leave a place better than they found it.”

By interacting with local residents and visitors on the trip, students became more familiar with issues facing gulf coast communities.

“The students learned much about conservation, ecology and habitat restoration,” Bradley said. “They also learned much about visitor use and land management for visited natural areas. The discussions about how the coastal community was and is affected by invasive species, shrimp industry changes, fishing tourism and the BP oil spill provided some insights and learning experiences as well.”

The week wasn’t all work and no play. On the way to Louisiana, they stopped in Memphis, Tennessee, and visited cultural hotspots related to the food, history and music of the city, including Central BBQ and Graceland. While in Louisiana, they sampled Cajun food and visited well-known sites in New Orleans such as the French Quarter, Jazz National Historical Park, Jackson Square and the riverfront area. On the return trip, the group stopped in Birmingham, Alabama, to learn about the history of that city.

Faculty and students both agreed the trip was fun and beneficial.

“This trip allowed me to grow as an individual,” Bogard said. “Service trips like this allow me to experience new cultures and areas, while also being able to learn about issues facing that area. Serving in them allows me to give back and make a difference in the world. This service work not only helps me grow as an individual, but (it) can help me stand out when applying for jobs.

“I would recommend that anyone take part in a service trip. It is a great way to give back, travel and meet some awesome new people.”

Bradley said “it was a special time to bond with students and watch them grow through this experience. I look forward to similar experiences in the future.”