Hard Lessons of the '80s

While the 1970s were a very good decade, economically speaking, for the State of Louisiana as a whole and for the State Parks System, the past decade has been the reverse. Because the Louisiana economy depended heavily on the health of the petroleum industry and the current market value of the state's considerable oil and gas resources, it was particularly vulnerable to the fluctuations of the world oil market. The glut of world oil, beginning in the early 1980s, put Louisiana's economy in an ever-deepening sea of red ink.

While budget cuts began in 1982, the Louisiana State Parks System did not suffer publicly until 1985. That fall, all 22 of the state's commemorative areas closed for a period of 9 months. Subsequently, four of these sites were transferred to local units of government. The others reopened the following summer, and also that year, three new state parks that had been under development for several years prior to 1987 opened to the public.

However, this rosy time was short-lived, and budget cuts in 1988 forced the transfer of six commemorative areas, the closure of three, and seasonal operation of one state park. Acquisition of new properties had ceased two years before, and planning and development of existing holdings were limited to that which had begun prior to 1986. These types of projects had been funded largely through bond sales since 1975, and when the state's bond rating plummeted along with the price of oil, this source of money all but disappeared for the State Parks System.

The downward budget trend for the Office of State Parks ended in 1989. That year, the legislature approved a measure to dedicate the revenues from user fees to a fund solely for major repairs and improvements at existing parks (prior to this time, all revenues went into the State General Fund.) This important step provided a predictable source of funds for a function neglected by necessity for the past few years; however, it did not provide a much needed dedicated revenue source for general day to day operations.

An organizational change also occurred in the 1980s. The Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism was placed under the Office of the lieutenant Governor in 1986, and thus, the Assistant Secretary of the Office of State Parks became an appointee of that official; however, the members of the State Parks & Recreation Commission remained subject to appointment by the Governor.

Acquisitions, New Facilities and Improvements

The late 1990s and into the 2000s saw the beginning of a dynamic era for Louisiana State Parks. With Tourism becoming the second-ranked industry in the state, legislative funding and support favored Louisiana State Parks. Since 1995, the Office of State Parks has constructed more than $80 million worth of new facilities and improved facilities, investing in the $77 million worth of acquisitions since the mid-1970s.

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, acquired by the State in 1999.Two brand new parks opened over the next 15 years - Tickfaw State Park in 1999 and South Toledo Bend State Park in 2004 - while the Office of State Park acquired and began operations of three new properties - Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site in 1999, Poverty Point Reservoir State Park in 2003 and Hodges Gardens State Park in 2007.

In addition to brand-new parks, many existing parks received updated and improved facilities. The creation of the Central Reservation System in 2000 highlighted, for the Administrative Office, the popularity of Louisiana State Parks to overnight visitors. It became evident that additional overnight facilities would be welcomed. Cabins were built at parks that previously offered only camping, including Lake Claiborne State Park, Cypremort Point State Park and Fontainebleau State Park. Additional cabins were built at Chemin-A-Haut State Park and Chicot State Park. The number of overnight guests increased with each new addition; by 2002, Louisiana State Parks topped 2 million in annual visitation.

One significant change in the State Parks system was the change in designation of "State Commemorative Site" to "State Historic Site" through 1999 legislation. The Historic Sites of the Louisiana State Park system also saw a number of additions and improvements. In 2000, an Acadian Farmstead area opened at Longfellow Evangeline, interpreting the life of a typical Acadian family along Bayou Teche in the early 1800s. Over the next few years, brand-new visitor centers opened at Audubon State Historic Site, Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site and Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, complete with exhibits and interactive displays depicting the cultural and historical significance of the individual site.

Two Louisiana State Parks sites were placed on the National Register of Historic Places - Otis House at Fairview-Riverside State Park in 1998 and Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site in 2005. The addition of those two sites bring the number of Louisiana State Parks sites on the National Listing of Historic Landmarks to seven.

Hollywood South

With the institution of the 25% tax credits offered to production companies filming in the state, Louisiana State Parks sites hosted a number of production crews working on theatrical films, made-for-TV movies, national and local commercials, and documentaries. From the beach at Fontainebleau State Park serving as the English Channel for the 2008 Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett vehicle, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the popularity of Forts Pike and Macomb in “Expendables 2,” “GI Joe: Retribution,” and the television series “NCIS: New Orleans” and “The Zoo” on CBS and “Into the Badlands” on AMC, park sites have offered a variety of natural and geographical settings to film scouts and producers. Historic structures, including Otis House at Fairview-Riverside SP and the main house at Rosedown Plantation SHS, served as backdrops for commercials and catalogue shoots for nationally-recognized publications such as Toyota, Williams-Sonoma and L.L. Bean.