Bring back the paddle: Teche area kids take on the bayou

Members of the St. Bernard Elementary School Paddle Club, above, get behind an effort to clean up their natural playground, the Bayou Teche. The kids have taken on the project of tagging Breaux Bridge storm drains with warning signs furnished by the TECHE Project. Helping are Dane Thibodeaux of Cajuns for Bayou Teche, left, club advisor Brent Miller, right, and trainer/coach Cory Werk, back row right. Below, St. Bernard fifth-grader Kaydence LeBlanc explores a swollen Bayou Teche during her regular practice with the school’s paddle club. (Photos by Ken Grissom and Dane Thibodeaux respectively.)

By KEN GRISSOM
Adults of a certain age, not just here but all up and down Bayou Teche, remember summers when the bayou was their playground. In it they fished, they puttered around in small boats, and they even swam.
Rather than be cheated of that legacy, as a couple of generations have, this crop of kids is determined to reclaim the bayou. They are learning to paddle on it, and even to race one another. And they are helping to clean the bayou up, increasing the ranks of the TECHE Project and its brown-water navy, Cajuns for Bayou Teche.
Exemplary of this movement is the St. Bernard (Elementary School) Paddle Club, a couple dozen kids who have come together under the supervision of Brent Miller, a parent of two of the students, and several of the teachers, and the tutelage of Cory Werk, owner of kayak livery conveniently located right next to the school.
A big attraction for the kids and their parents is the chance to compete with each other and others in organized meets, and not just on Bayou Teche.
The first annual Gator Bait Hatchling kids’ kayak race was held last weekend at Lakeshore Park in Brandon, Miss. Gator Bait Hatchling is a kayak race for paddlers ages 5-17. The course length is tailored to each age group and ranges from 250 yards to one mile.
Right here in Breaux Bridge, the Petite Tour du Teche – at just three years old the granddaddy of them all – will be held on Bayou Teche at Parc des Ponts on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 2 and 3, this year. Distances range from 250 yards to 1 mile. Prizes are trophies and certificates.
And for the first time the Kiwanis of Pointe Coupee are presenting the False River Open Paddle Challenge featuring three-mile and 10-mile events for kids and adults. Start is on False River at the public landing next to Satterfield’s Landing, New Roads.
You don’t have to be a member of a paddle club to participate in these events, but Miller, who is active in the TECHE Project, is hoping school-based clubs will catch on.
“We purposely call them ‘clubs’ and not ‘teams’ because we want the parents to know this is a more relaxed sport, not like you have to be a practice or you lose out,” Miller said.
“We’re teaching water safety, paddling technique and environmentalism, but we’re all having fun doing it.”
Miller said anyone interested in forming a youth paddle club – whether it be school- or neighborhood-based or sponsored by an organization – is welcome to contact him for help in getting started. He can be reached at Brent.W.Miller@pfizer.com or (225) 772-5015.
For more about Petite Tour du Teche, go to www.tourduteche.com.
You can learn more about and sign up for the False River Open Paddle Challenge at www.webscorer.com/STER?RACEID=21375.
For info on next year’s Gator Bait in Mississippi, go to:
www.gatorbaitrace.com/#!services/component_71401.

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