MOSS BLUFF, La. (AP) — A southwest Louisiana park closed since August 2020 by Hurricane Laura could open next spring but will have far fewer trees, Louisiana State Parks Director Brandon Burris said.
Four-fifths of the trees at Sam Houston Jones State Park either toppled or were damaged beyond recovery, Burris told The American Press.
“It’s going to look different, but we’re going to work to tie the history of the area back to where it was,” he said.
Burris said crews have cleared 80% of the 1,087-acre (440-hectare) park in Moss Bluff. Other continuing work includes rebuilding cabins, water and sewer treatment systems, bathrooms, the park’s entrance station, the pavilion and other facilities.
Depending on weather, the park could reopen by late March or early April, he said.
“We’re at a good pace now,” he said.
Burris said the state is paying to clear the downed and damaged trees while negotiating for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Insurance covered repairs to buildings and other structures, he said.
The rainy spring and summer slowed tree clearing, Burris said.
“It required very heavy equipment to get it cleaned up, and it just wasn’t working in the mud,” he said. “We had to wait 10-14 days for it to dry, only for it to rain again once we got the equipment back out there.”
About 20 state park employees who normally work on larger-scale maintenance projects at north Louisiana parks have been brought in to help, Burris said.
The recreational vehicle campground will be improved rather than simply restored, with larger parking pads and a sewer system with hookups, Burris said. RV areas at most state parks were designed decades ago and are not fitted for today’s recreational vehicles, he said.
Burris said the state is working with The Nature Conservatory, an environmental organization, to plant 5,000 new trees, covering about 20 to 25 acres (8 to 10 hectares), in early spring. The park is lucky to get them, since Louisiana growers were severely hurt this year by Hurricane Ida, he said.
Ten new two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabins already were planned as part of improvements using $16 million in BP oil spill settlement money at five south Louisiana state parks. Concrete slabs for the cabins were poured one week before Laura’s landfall, he said. Each cabin will have a full kitchen, a screened front porch with a fireplace, and TVs in the porch, living room and both bedrooms.
“They will be the nicest cabins in our system,” he said.
A Facebook group called SHJSP Recovery Initiative has attracted nearly 700 members interested in helping to restore the park and to share updates on recovery.
Creator Tonya McKnight, an avid runner, said she regularly ran the trails at Sam Houston Jones State Park.
“I consider that place my sanctuary,” she said. “It was so heartbreaking to see all the damage.”
Volunteers can’t help with clear trees, but McKnight said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and other state park officials were excited to hear about the group.
“They didn’t realize so many people love the park and want to help out,” she said.
Burris said days will be scheduled to let volunteers help with the park’s cleanup.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries from the public about that,” he said.