Retired Couple Works To Clean Up Vermilion River

LAFAYETTE, LA (AP) — When Charles and Jan Wyatt moved to Lafayette from Houston, TX, almost a decade ago, their goal was simple: to be closer to their son and growing family of grandchildren.

         Both were retired. Charles was the former president and CEO of a company that manufactured dehumidifiers, while Jan had worked in communications for a museum.

         They could have settled into a slower pace, enjoying a life of leisure and family.

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         But the trashy Vermilion River galvanized them into action.

         The couple's neighborhood wasn't far from the river.

         Jan Wyatt got into gardening and helped create a medicinal garden inside the Vermilionville park attraction, overlooking the river.

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         What they saw on daily drives troubled them. A dirty, brown body of water that on any given day could yield tons of floating trash and debris, hiding the 70-mile waterway's natural beauty.

         "Enough small garbage was pulled from the river in Lafayette Parish to fill 1,100 55-gallon drums during clean-up efforts last year," Wyatt said. "Besides that, there were also stoves, microwaves, refrigerators and cars."

         Instead of just fretting, they acted.

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         They started by talking to the Master Gardeners group and the Garden Club and wrote up a proposal to preserve the local aquatic ecosystem. Charles said that proposal won first place in a national competition and that provided the seed money for the Bayou Vermilion Preservation Association.

         The Wyatts said they helped start the association because they have always been concerned about water preservation. In Houston, they volunteered with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, a nonprofit organization revitalizing and transforming Buffalo Bayou, one of Houston's most significant natural resources.

         "We're attracted to water," Jan Wyatt said. "The ocean and lakes, it's calming to me."

         Since its inception, the BVPA has grown to include a full board of directors, an advisory board and hundreds of members.

         The mission of the Bayou Vermilion Preservation Association, Inc., a nonprofit association, is to create awareness of the area's natural environment by providing education and outreach to the general community about ways to conserve, protect and enjoy the Bayou Vermilion Watershed.

         These days, the Wyatts spend countless hours working on numerous projects to accomplish just that. Including:

         —Helping to form an alliance that spans four parishes to publicize challenges facing the Vermilion River and to explore ways to clean it up.

         —Developing a map of access points for boaters.

         —Erecting mileage markers on all 75 miles of the river to assist recreational boaters, as well as those conducting environmental research and others marking significant historical sites.

         —Taking water samples from the river in four parishes to incorporate into a database for use in research.

         —Organizing and conducting symposiums based on educating and informing the public about the plight of the Vermilion.

         The couple is also focused on better ways to use what little funds are dedicated to keeping the river clean. The Wyatts point to the property tax millage for the Bayou Vermilion District that goes towards cleaning up the trash.

         About 75 percent of those revenues are dedicated to that task. But they say, that is money that could be better spent.

         "That money could be spent on projects such as placing riparian plants on bare spots along the river to help ease the problem of bank erosion," Jan Wyatt said. "And that would make the water of the Vermilion less muddy and more pleasing to the eye."

         While it may seem like a full time job, for the Wyatts, this second act of their lives is worth whatever time it takes.

         "This (polluted) image is not the one we want tourists who come to town to soak up local culture to take home with them," Charles Wyatt said. "Nor is it the one we want our children and grandchildren to grow up with."

         The Wyatts said the condition of the river has improved immensely since they started the BVPA, thanks to numerous cooperative efforts by the Bayou Vermilion District, Lafayette Consolidated Government, and the Vermilion River Alliance, which brings together leaders from Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Landry and Vermilion parishes.

         The Bayou Vermilion Preservation Alliance is currently holding a membership drive for those interested in helping preserve the Vermilion.

         Some might wonder why the couple, who are not originally from the Acadiana area, care so much about a body of water that currently is known for how dirty it is, rather than its recreational or utilitarian value.

         Charles Wyatt said the answer is simple.

         "We are just trying to leave the campsite a little bit better than when we got here."

         – by AP/ Reporter Kris Wartelle with The Advertiser

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