Sunday May 3 – Our Louisiana Master Naturalist Northeast group met by ZOOM due to the need for social distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic and it was great to see people’s faces again and rather interesting to see people at home in our own respective habitats!

A new volunteer signs up to help clean-up Ouachita Parish with Ouachita Green at Director Stuart Hodnett's table.
A new volunteer signs up to help clean-up Ouachita Parish with Ouachita Green at Director Stuart Hodnett’s table at the Black Bayou Fall Festival.

This quarterly presentation was made by our member Stuart Hodnett of Ouachita Green, he’s a ‘ can-do’ guy and what he can do is making a massive difference to the quality of the local environment. He gave a PowerPoint presentation on his Non-Profit Organization Ouachita Green, explaining its mission, what they have accomplished in the area recently and inviting all to participate through volunteer activities.

The organization is named after the Ouachita River which itself was named by local Native Americans as ‘Bright Water’ and ‘Rich Hunting Ground’ and aptly named it is! The Ouachita runs from Arkansas into Louisiana and here flows between the ‘Twin Cities’ of Monroe and West Monroe. It is fed by many tributaries and Stuart began his talk by stating the bald fact that almost all the litter, garbage and waste that goes into streets and ditches ends up in our scenic waterways and most of these feed into the Ouachita.

He explained that Ouachita Green is registered as a 501c3 non-profit group, it’s strictly volunteer-based and all their actions are executed by small groups of willing individuals under various sub-banners such as “Keep Ouachita Beautiful”, “Keep Monroe Beautiful”, “Keep West Monroe Beautiful” and also the Ouachita Parish Business Bureau.

One of Ouachita Green's signs with two Bluebirds perched upon it., part of the ongoing litter abatement campaign.
One of Ouachita Green’s signs, part of the ongoing litter abatement campaign. The Bluebirds approve! K. Paxton image and joint copyright with Ouachita Green.

Stuart explained that while he is currently pre-occupied with planting 320 Pond Cypress trees in the I20 corridor, their actions fall into four different categories that all concern the improvement of the local environment:

  • Litter abatement — Ouachita Green has done 8 clean-ups since January 2020 despite COVID disruptions! The first on January 18th removed 5000 lbs of litter! HOA of West Lakes cleared 350 lbs! On Jan. 25th over 250 volunteers helped litter-pick West Monroe’s Restoration Park, in a cooperative event in partnership with the park, First West Bank and H2Go, event volunteers collected 2,070 lbs of waste. There were 21 volunteers from local schools taking part as well. Clean-up events also took place on Feb 4th, 9th, 29th and March 7th before COVID gave him a well-earned rest. On March 7th, 75 people swooped upon the trash in Sterlington and collected 1000 lbs of litter in three hours! Wow! There are also systematic actions, like deployment of cigarette butt recepticals in strategic locations by Ouachita Business Bureau and trash cans beside Cheniere Lake to keep all manner of waste out of the water.
  • Recycling — Ouachita Green recycles litter from collection events and roadways, also Christmas trees. The recycling Center in West Monroe is currently open and happy to take your materials on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 am to 5 pm. CLICK HERE FOR RECYCLING INFORMATION BROCHURE Recently ULM has come on board and various local schools and businesses too, so there is a growing sense of social momentum! School kids collected 1500 lbs of litter and recyled 250 lbs of plastic over a two month period! You know how much a plastic drinks bottle weighs, so you can imagine the volume! High schools are involved through 4H programs.
  • Beautification — the litter pick-ups qualify under this heading too of course, but Ouachita Green also runs improvement campaigns such as landscape gardening and tree-planting projects. At the junction of Highways 15 and 165 they’re planting forty native Pond Cypress trees. In partnership with Advantage employees they beautified the Lea Joyner bridge area and also the Desiard Bridge area. They also made the Stella Mill Blue Star Memorial Project.
  • Environmental education Stuart often appears in the local news and is an active and engaging spokesman for the local environment. He also makes presentations (like this one for us) to teach people about how to help protect the local environment and engage people with environmentally sound activities and volunteering opportunities.
Restoration Park in West Monroe is a fantastic example of clean-up and re-use. It was once a garbage dump, now it is a great asset to wildlife, locals and visitors alike!
Restoration Park in West Monroe is a fantastic example of clean-up and re-use. It was once a garbage dump, now it is a great asset to wildlife, locals and visitors alike!

Certain key events repeat every year and there is literally nothing else like them for improving the local environment. Take the Free Household Hazardous Waste collection event for example, the next is scheduled for November 14th, 2020 at Monroe’s Civic Centre from 0900 to 1300 hrs. People can bring a whole range of hazardous house-hold waste including: white ware – fridges, air-conditioners etc., tires, medications, electronics, solvents and cleaners, pesticides, paints, old fuel, old engine or cooking oil, monofilament, etc. Even reusable furniture and unusable furniture. Please bring it along, don’t dump it in the woods or water please, folks.

Ouachita Green collected 101,346 lbs in their 2019 event, that’s up from the 80,957 lbs in 2018.