FLORIEN — The Friends of Hodges Gardens State Park are asking for help from the public to keep the state park open.

FLORIEN — The Friends of Hodges Gardens State Park are asking for help from the public to keep the state park open.

This is not the first time the park has been threatened with closure. It came up last year, too, as lawmakers navigated their way through deep budget cuts.

The Friends group is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization, consisting of approximately 75 members from around the state. They have been integral in helping to keep the park afloat, and gardens thriving, throughout years of budget woes and cuts to state parks.

Hodges Gardens State Park operates under a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the A.J. and Nona Triggs Hodges Foundation.

The Office of State Parks has received a notice of default from the Foundation in anticipation that the park will not be funded adequately for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

"Millions of dollars of state capital improvements to the Park are at risk, as well as severe damage to the economy of Sabine, Vernon, and Natchitoches Parishes," reads a statement from Friends of Hodges Gardens.

Representative James K. Armes, of Leesville, said the state has enough money to keep the park open through June. The state's attorneys have been looking into the issue, in order to come to an viable solution to keep the gardens open, he said.

"I know for a fact the employees and the many volunteers have worked so many hours, and a lot of times, having to beg for money and donations from businesses and individuals of this state to get the grounds back in shape," Armes said. "They have absolutely done a magnificent job with what money, not to mention the pride they have in this state. Many people from all over the state and the world visit the gardens. We will worry about the funding during this next session when the legislature meets in April to fund Hodges for next year, if the foundation will maintain their agreement to the state."

There has not yet been an official announcement of a closure from the Lt. Gov. Billy Nungessor, who oversees the Office of State Parks. The legislature convenes on April 10, and final adjournment is no later than 6 p.m. on June 8.

Historical Background

The Gardens lie within a tract of about 107,000 clear-cut acres purchased by A.J. Hodges, Sr., in the late 1930's. 

He replanted 39,000 acres in pine seedlings as the reforestation movement gathered momentum in Louisiana and across the South.

Hodges and his wife, Nona, saw the multi-use opportunity that the land provided and began developing the gardens. They were opened to the public in 1956.

In 2007, the Hodges Foundation donated the 948 acres to the State of Louisiana to become a state park. In addition to the formal and natural gardens, a 225-acre crescent-shaped lake provides a place to fish, canoe or kayak. The 5.3-mile loop road, with its hills and curves, is a challenge for bikers and walkers.

Within the park there is an abundance of wildlife, including white tail deer, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, otters, snakes, beavers, geese and ducks.

In 2015, Hodges Gardens was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This action was the result of a volunteer effort.

Community Opinion

Since hearing about the potential closure of Hodges Gardens, people have been reminiscing about their experiences at the state park, as well as expressing concern over the possible loss. 

"Those of us who live in this area are just devastated," said Mary Brocato, member of the Hodges Gardens board of directors. "It's a huge economic blow to our area, and it's an emotional blow to those of us who grew up visiting the gardens all our lives," she said.

Benjamin Livsey said he loves Hodges Gardens.

He wrote on Facebook, "[It] provided refuge to me, and peace, before and after deploying to Iraq." Livsey feels Hodges's Garden is state treasure and should be made into a national park.

"It's really bad," said Melanie Lyons, of Hornbeck. "They have almost no employees as it stands. Volunteers are managing a big part. In spite of the state, there are grants for projects both current and future. It breaks my heart to see it so under-appreciated."

Monette Cole Mathews, of Stonewall, has a lot of family history connected to the park, as her paternal side of the family hails from the area. "This park was an important part of all of our lives," she said. Mathews hopes someone will step up to save "this treasure," as she called it. 


An urgent community meeting has been called by Many mayor Ken Freeman,to discuss what the community can do to hopefully prevent the closure of Hodges Gardens State Park. The meeting will be held at the old Sabine Theater at 5:30 p.m. on March 23.

"There's a clause in the agreement between the State and the Hodges foundation that permits the foundation to take the land back if the state does not properly fund the park. I don't know what can be done to stop the closure," Brocato said. She said the purpose of the upcoming public meeting is to learn about what can be done, and try to develop a plan to keep the park open. 

Contact information for local legislators, and suggestions about how to communicate concerns over the possible closure of Hodges Gardens, can be found atwww.hodgesgardens.net.