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LICI is Participating in Planning for Improvements to Nature Conservancy's Grand Isle Properties

May 7, 2021 Grand Isle, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has been invited to participate in the planning for proposed improvements to be done at the Nature Conservancy's properties in Grand Isle, La. The planning involves multiple groups with an interest in seeing that the properties offer the best experience possible for out of town visitors and local residents that use the trails. They hope to raise enough money to extend the boardwalk, removal of invasive plant species, rebuilding the trail system and adding educational, historical and directional signage.

LICI had prevously committed to work with the Grand Isle Garden Club to increase the number of Louisiana irises growing on the properties.

The first planning meeting was held on Friday May 7, 2021 in Grand Isle. The group toured two key properties with Nature Conservancy's property manager, local historian and community activist, Jean Landry leading the way after a lunch meeting at a local restaurant.

Photo: There is a trail system that connects the seven Nature Conservancy's properties in Grand Isle. There is currently no signage on any of the trails to help trail users find their way. The main east/west trail has historical significance because it was the path that residents on the island used back in time to get from one end of the island to the other before the highway was built. The majority of the trails are unimproved dirt tracks that are in disrepair with many low spots that hold water. This causes hikers to create new paths around the wet spots, which can compact the soil around the tree roots.

LICI has an on-going Louisiana iris project on the Griletta Tract of the Nature Conservancy’s Grand Isle properties. Joining LICI board member Gary Salathe on the tour and at the meeting was LICI’s board member, Paul Christiansen, who was also representing the Town of Grand Isle. "We are excited to be a part of this effort to enhance these special properties, which are the last remnants of the live oak/hackberry forests that once covered Grand Isle", Salathe said.

Photo: Irises planted by LICI blooming this past April on the Griletta Tract of the Nature Conservancy's properties in Grand Isle, La. Photo by Paul Christiansen.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the tracts of land on Grand Isle because the forests are some of the last remaining undeveloped property on Grand Isle that are extremely important to migrating birds. The birds land on the trees to rest and feed after flying across the Gulf of Mexico in the spring or as they prepare to cross it again in the fall on their way south.

Photo: Nature Conservancy's on-site property manager, Jean Landry, (on left) points out various plants growing in a fresh water bog on the Griletta Tract to Hilary Collis. Hillary is Associate Director of Philanthropy for the Nature Conservancy. Louisiana irises planted by LICI can be seen in the photo growing among the wildflowers to the left of the boardwalk. The plan is for this boardwalk to be extended to cover an area at its end that holds water after a rainstorm.

The two bird migration seasons bring huge numbers of bird-watchers to the island. The live oak forests on Grand Isle offer them a chance to see numerous species of birds all in one spot as the birds pass through heading north or south, depending on the time of year.

Part of the plan for improvements to the properties is to increase the number and diversity of Louisiana native plants growing there. "This is where the Louisiana iris comes into the picture", LICI board of directors member, Paul Christiansen says.

Photo: A section of the trail is shown that passes through a portion of the Landry/Leblanc Nature Conservancy property. It is a highly improved sand path created by the Town of Grand Isle when they needed somewhere to place sand that was covering sections of Hwy 1 after a hurricane hit the island last year. This is only a small stretch of the long trail system what winds through the seven properties. When the other sections of trails are improved they will not be as wide as this trail.

Paul has worked with Ronnie Sampey, president of the Grand Isle Garden Club, to have LICI's rescued Louisiana irises planted in the Nature Conservancy properties and at other locations on the island. Ronnie attended the meeting on Friday and told the group of the garden club's plans to propagate native plants and wildflowers that are found on the island to use in their projects. He offered to include some of these plants in the effort to increase the diversity of native plants on the Nature Conservancy properties.

Photo: Irises planted by LICI blooming this past April on the Griletta Tract of the Nature Conservancy's properties in Grand Isle, La. Photo by Paul Christiansen.

LICI and the Grand Isle Garden Club have begun discussions on a joint project to set up an iris holding area on Grand Isle to use for planting irises into containers from some of LICI's iris rescue events. The irises will strengthen up in these containers before they are planted out in the field in the garden club's projects.

Native Plant enthusiast groups are growing almost as quickly as are bird-watching organizations. According to those present for the meeting and tour, eco-visitors like this are becoming an important part of the Grand Isle tourist industry, so its a win/win situation for all involved to see that the Nature Conservancy's properties on Grand Isle are maintained and accessible.

Photo: Seth Blitch, Louisiana Coastal and Marine Conservation Director for the Nature Conservancy, talks to the group about the need to have all of the trails in a usable and safe condition so that the public can access the properties to experience and learn about the plant and animal life found there. He said the Grand Isle properties are only one of three, among the thirty tracts of land they own in Louisiana, that are open to the public.



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