Heart of Louisiana: Sam Houston Jones State Park
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It has taken nearly two years to bring a southwest Louisiana state park back to life after it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Laura. Sam Houston Jones is now set to reopen.
There are still some patches of beauty in this Louisiana state park that has years of healing to go through. In 2020, Sam Houston Jones State Park in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles, took a direct hit from Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Louisiana.
“It was utter devastation,” said Brandon Burris, director of state parks. “We had a complete loss of pretty much every asset we had on the park. So every three to six feet, we’d have to cut a pine tree, push it off to the side, go to three to six feet, cut another pine tree. It took a couple of days just to be able to get to the area we’re standing here in the day-use area.”
When asked if there was a point during his first trip here after the storm where he felt this place was done, Burris said, “Definitely. I mean, the devastation we had those first moments when you realize what happened. Yeah, I mean, it was definitely the initial punch in the gut of what are we gonna do.”
Prior to the hurricane, this state park was a heavily forested longleaf pine savannah with towering pines along the Calcasieu River. Hurricane Laura changed that for decades to come.
“We have roughly 1,100 acres, and we know 98% of those trees are gone. It’s in the tens and tens and tens of thousands,” said Burris.
The crushing hurricane was followed by weeks of springtime rains that continued to hamper the recovery.
“Because of all the damage and destruction to the area, it was tough to find contractors to come in and have that capacity. So we eventually pulled all of our maintenance people from north Louisiana and brought ‘em down here, and they just started by hand going through it and clearing trees the old fashioned way,” said Burris.
Nearly two years after the hurricane, Sam Houston Jones State Park is reopening, but the landscape is a lot different. Most of the trees are gone. The new campground with 31 paved sites and full hookups has no trees.
“We had begun building new cabins here, 10 new luxury cabins right before the storm. We’ve been extremely happy with the way the cabins have come out,” said Burris.
The park’s lagoon with surviving cypress trees is being refilled with water from the nearby river. The hiking and nature trails are open and so is the day-use area with a new pier, hundreds of feet in length along the riverfront. You can still picnic under the trees. Children can play, and you can enjoy the river view and fishing. The park will also add educational signs and markers explaining what the hurricane destroyed and how the area is being restored.
“Reforestation is not a pretty process,” said Burris. “You know, it kind of looks like you’re not taking care of the property, but the forest must go through a process of healing and of regrowth to get back to where it was. And we’ve done our part to help with that. We’ve planted nearly 20,000 trees on the state park.”
And those who come back to the state park will now be part of that healing process as the scars of a hurricane are gradually erased by people and nature.
Sam Houston Jones State Park reopens Monday, May 30. For more information about the state park, click HERE.
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