06 July 2006

moronic governor still out of touch with reality

it should come as no surprise to anyone in louisiana to learn that our inept and incompetent governor, today, has signed yet another waste of taxpayer money bill (hb658 by jackass joe salter) into law. if anyone would like to see how the state runs something look no further than the defunct hot wells resort at boyce, louisiana. hot wells is a place that is under the control of the louisiana department of health and hospitals of all people. its a place that has storied "healing" mineral waters. its a place that could be a real benefit to the people of this state and region because of those "healing" mineral waters. if you go out to hot wells today its closed and has been closed for years. the old hotel is falling down. this is how the state of louisiana operates things. see also Taxes and No-Good Politicians Spending Them by the conservative cajun

Repair cost the snake in the garden

Capitol news bureau
Published: Jul 6, 2006

FLORIEN — Once one man’s oasis, Hodges Gardens in the rolling hills of Sabine Parish has become a “millstone” to the foundation that runs it.

The retreat lost more than half-a-million dollars last year. It costs $1 million a year to run. It needs millions in repairs.

Soon, the sparsely attended tourist attraction will become the state’s problem.

The A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges Foundation is donating the gardens to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism after months of negotiation.

The foundation will keep thousands of acres of surrounding timberland as well as the oil, gas and timber rights that have been keeping the gardens in the black.

The state will get the gardens, a lake and a family home that needs at least $2 million in repairs.

Speaker of the House Joe Salter, D-Florien, sponsored the legislation that empowers the state to accept the donation.

The gardens are a few miles from Salter’s Florien home. His sister’s sister-in-law runs the gift shop.

Salter said his relative only recently began working for the gardens. He said family ties did not factor into his support for the donation.
He acknowledged that the state could end up losing money every year on Hodges Gardens. However, he argues that the people residing in and visiting his district are entitled to government services.

“Most of the park operations in the state probably don’t cash-flow,” Salter said. “I look at it like it’s a service.”

The state has set aside $1.5 million, including startup costs, for the gardens. Officials believe it will cost about $1 million a year to run the attraction, including six more employees.

The property has the potential to become “the crown jewel of the state park system,” said one of the descendants of Hodges Gardens’ founder, A.J. Hodges Sr.

The state is better suited to at least break even on the gardens because of its advertising and management resources, said Andrew Jackson Hodges IV, a Baton Rouge lawyer and Hodges’ great-grandson.

Hodges admits that the gardens are being given away because no one is willing to buy them.

In the rolling hills of Sabine Parish, the garden in the forest is midway between Shreveport and Lake Charles on U.S. 71. The highway once was a main thoroughfare. The construction of Interstate 49 took away much of the traffic and visitors.

On a recent sunny, midweek summer afternoon, most of the activity on the highway was related to construction work on the roadway. There was not a vacationing family in sight.

Visitor traffic is so slow that a sign on the snug gatehouse directs guests to honk to alert the attendant to their presence.

“In this day and age, people are more interested in quick, fast, glitzy entertainment,” Hodges said. “A stroll through the park is old times.”

A hidden paradise
Andrew Jackson Hodges Sr. did not originally intend to invite the world into his gardens.

The Shreveport oilman developed an interest in forestry after making his mark in oil and gas exploration. He bought more than 100,000 acres of timberland in Sabine and Vernon parishes, beginning in the 1940s.

Hodges focused on reforestation. He planted nearly 40,000 acres of pine seedlings and stumbled across an abandoned stone quarry.

The quarry became Hodges Gardens.

Hodges fashioned the quarry into a 225-acre, man-made lake surrounded by flower gardens, fountains and foot bridges. He built a 13,000-square-foot island home. An 8-foot fence topped with barbed wire encircled his little piece of paradise.

This was Hodges’ retirement retreat. He could fish, play his clarinet and entertain family and friends.

“He built the lake so he could fish,” his great-grandson Andrew Jackson Hodges IV said. “He built the house so the Hodges family could get together for holidays.”

All of the activity worried the locals, according to Andrew Hodges IV. They speculated that Hodges was conducting secret military operations or maybe even building nuclear bombs.

“The only way to dispel (the talk) was to open the gates and let them in,” said Len Musick, general manager for Hodges Gardens.

The gates opened in 1956. Andrew Jackson Hodges Sr. died 10 years later. Upon his death, the A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges Foundation, run mostly by his descendants, assumed ownership of the gardens and the surrounding property.

Long in decline
At one time the foundation’s holdings included a hotel and golf course across the highway from the gardens’ entrance. Those were sold long ago.

The gardens hit their peak, according to Musick, in 1978 with 78,000 visitors. Last year visitors turned into the gates 35,000 times to enjoy the lush beauty.

By comparison, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx draws about 500,000 visits a year.

Musick traces the decline in visitors to I-49 luring motorists away from U.S. 71.

However, the remote location was a drawback even in A.J. Hodges Sr.’s day. Hodges put in an airstrip for friends who wanted to fly in rather than make the drive from Shreveport.

A few years ago, the foundation built cabins and an RV park to encourage visitors to stay overnight. The foundation also looked into fixing the sprawling island home.

The house features a fish-fry room, seven bathrooms, eight bedrooms, an elevator, music room and movie screen.

An engineer determined five years ago that the structure itself was sound, Musick said.

However, the wiring needs to be replaced and water damage resulted from a tree toppling through the roof, Musick said.

A state report had a different interpretation of the engineer’s findings.

“The largest liability is the island home,” the state’s report says. “This structure has been neglected for many years and is unsafe. Public access would be difficult to monitor, so immediate action would need to be taken.”

The state cannot afford $2 million to restore the home, said Angele Davis, secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Davis hopes to persuade a private investor to turn the island home into a corporate retreat or conference center.

Broken and beautiful
Time and the weather have taken their toll on the gardens.

Close to the center of the lake is another island, Flag Island, now blocked off to visitors.

Steep steps once led to a fountain at the top of the island. The wind whipped the water into the air, prompting Hodges to fill in the fountain and create a monument to the Louisiana Purchase.

But he poured the plaza surface on top of dirt. The dirt shifted, riddling a floor map of the states in the purchase with cracks and cavities.

Hurricane Rita tattered the flags of the Louisiana Purchase states that once framed the monument. Only two flags remain, their fabric twisted in knots that the staff has been unable to unravel. Several of the benches surrounding the monument lean backward.

A small section of the monument floor has been redone. An expert laid in a sample of new flooring and gave an estimate for replacing the entire surface. The foundation rejected the repairs because of the cost, Musick said.

It was cheaper just to close the island to the public.

The greenhouses and arboretum need attention. Rita battered the outdoor stage where sunrise service is held at Easter.

The plants are in good condition. The grass is kept mowed. A three-person garden staff tries to keep the weeds in check. An overlook allowing a view of Texas is breathtaking. Deer scamper through the woods. Ducks are at home in the lake. The overall setting is serene.

Taking a different direction
The beauty of the place has not made the gardens self-sufficient.

Eventually, the foundation decided to sever the gardens from the money-making forests, Musick said. The idea was to “get rid of the millstone,” he said.

It is costing nearly $1 million a year to run the gardens with a bare-bones staff of 20 employees. From Sept. 1, 2003, to Aug. 31, 2004, the gardens generated about $335,000 in income. Money from the nonprofit corporation’s other holdings fills the gap.

The foundation — established by A.J. Hodges Sr. and directed by some of his descendants — wants to pump money into scholarships and other philanthropic pursuits, Musick and Hodges’ great-grandson said.

The state initially wanted the foundation to donate 4,700 acres and keep the mineral and timber rights. The foundation agreed to donate about 800 acres — essentially the gardens — while retaining the mineral and timber rights and the surrounding property.

The state was the ideal candidate for the exquisite but expensive enterprise, Musick said.

“The state is in the business of losing money,” he said.

Story originally published in The Advocate

related posts:

  • more fees
  • hb259 salter's spidery windshield scheme pt2
  • salter's still scheming hb731
  • jackass joe salter sticks it to the little guy again hb649
  • hb259 jackass joe salter's spidery windshield scheme advances