Sam Houston Jones State Park has lost 80% of trees and could reopen in spring

MOSS BLUFF, Louisiana (AP) – A park in southwest Louisiana closed since August 2020 by Hurricane Laura could open next spring but will have significantly fewer trees, said the director of state parks for the Louisiana, Brandon Burris.

Four-fifths of the trees in Sam Houston Jones State Park have fallen over or been damaged beyond repair, 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 cleared 80% of the 1,087-acre (440-hectare) park at Moss Bluff. Other works in progress include the reconstruction of cabins, water and sewerage systems, bathrooms, park entrance station, pavilion and other facilities.

Depending on the weather, the park could reopen in late March or early April, he said.

“We’re at a good pace now,” he said.

Burris said the state was paying to clean up felled and damaged trees while negotiating reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The insurance covered repairs to buildings and other structures, he said.

The rainy spring and summer have slowed deforestation, Burris said.

“It took really heavy equipment to clean it up, and it just didn’t work 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.”

About 20 state park employees who normally work on larger-scale maintenance projects in parks in northern Louisiana were brought in to help, Burris said.

The RV campground will be upgraded rather than just restored, with larger parking areas and a sewage system with hookups, Burris said. The RV zones in most state parks were designed decades ago and are not suitable for today’s RVs, he said.

Burris said the state was 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, as growers in Louisiana have been severely affected this year by Hurricane Ida, he said.

Ten new two-bedroom and one-bath cabins were already planned as part of improvements using $ 16 million of BP’s oil spill settlement money at five state parks in southern Louisiana. Concrete slabs for the cabins were poured a week before Laura landed, he said. Each cabin will have a full kitchen, screened porch with a fireplace, and televisions in the porch, living room, and both bedrooms.

“These will be the most beautiful cabins in our system,” he said.

A Facebook group called the SHJSP Recovery Initiative has drawn nearly 700 members interested in helping restore the park and sharing updates on the recovery.

Creator Tonya McKnight, an avid runner, said she regularly runs the trails at Sam Houston Jones State Park.

“I consider this place to be my sanctuary,” she said. “It was so heartbreaking to see all the damage.”

Volunteers can’t help clear the trees, but McKnight said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and other state park officials were delighted to hear about the group.

“They didn’t know that so many people love the park and want to help,” she said.

Burris said days would be set aside for volunteers to help clean up the park.

“We’ve had a lot of public inquiries about this,” he said.

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