Archive for July, 2009

Week 8

Journal entries compiled from the volunteers for week 8 of the summer program, July 20 – 24.

When I began this job, I was ready to leave on account of “late pay.” Now there is only one week left before my term ends, and I don’t want it to end. I am just now beginning to get to know my fellow co-workers, and when this ends I may never see them again. Though one thing is for certain, this experience will forever hold a place in my mind & in my development as an adult.

Eric Gill, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

I like my job a little bit because it has been easier since when I first got here. I like the people I work with even I wish my friend Eddy was still out here.

D’Marcus Griffin, WIA Summer Youth

We chipped wood and helped clean up around the pavilion and put picnic tables out. We put wood chips out and around the picnic areas and fixed the dock.

Kyle Hicks, WIA Summer Youth

Week 8 we chopped up the different wood piles. And then I finished painting the trailer. But we just have ta few weeks left working here. I am going to miss everyone here. But just believe in God.

Leigh-Anne Hopper, WIA Summer Youth

More coming soon…


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Lately, with all of the construction and trail building going on throughout Bryan Park, debris of all kinds has been piling up, particularly discarded branches and brush. Last week, the volunteers (including the newest volunteer, Cooper, pictured below) went out and used Downsville Mayor Reggie Skain’s chipper to create wood chips. The chips will be used later to create zones around the picnic tables after the grills arrive and are installed.

In the image above, Cooper and Leigh-Anne behind him are gathering discarded branches to move to the wood chipper nearby. And below, Kyle, Leigh-Anne in the background, Parrish and Jeff “Boss Man” Bryan are putting branches into the machine. Because of the high risk involved in using such machinery, “Boss Man” is the only one allowed to actually put the branches through the wood chipper – the other volunteers simply move the debris closer to him. Safety is an important factor in everything that we do in the park.

On the other side of the park, another project of sorts was underway last week – painting the supply trailer. The trailer itself is an old refrigerated one, originally part of the old Bryan Sausage factory and then brought onto the property for storage. It was very rusty and hardly appealing to the eye, so the volunteers decided to give it a basic paint job to help it look better and blend a bit with the surroundings. Leigh-Anne and Parrish were in charge of painting the entire trailer brown (at first, camouflage was considered but eventually scrapped to save resources).

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Many of the picnicking tables and benches have been set throughout the park in the most picturesque and calming of places. Last Friday, Leigh-Anne and Jaymes had a picnic of their own, enjoying the lovely, breezy wealther beneath a white oak.

The volunteers are also working on building campfire areas – below, Cooper and Kyle talk about roasting marshmallows by the pond.

All of the volunteers look forward to seeing other people in the community and visitors enjoy these peaceful places throughout the park.

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Steve Hotard, the Louisiana Agricultural Extension Agent for Ouachita Parish, came to the park and walked with Shelby McDuff and I around the main trails, identifying the native plants as he went.

I marked down the ones he pointed out, including brief notes or interesting facts about several. Here are the extent of my notes, as they appear, in the form of a list with comments to the side (also, these are in the order that we saw them on the hike):


Post Oak

  • leaf looks like a cross
  • Red Mulberry

  • big leaves, usually in three very distinct shapes (on the same tree!)
  • Sweet Gum

    Southern Red Oak

  • Droopy leaves with a bell bottom (or rounded) base
  • Sassafras

    Winged Elm

  • Leaves has a bizarre wing formation
  • Cork-like bark
  • White Oak

  • Bark is scaly (?)
  • Red Maple

    Pawpaw Trees

  • shrubbish understory
  • has little banana-like, mangoish fruit that’s edible
  • American Sycamore

  • flaky bark that sheds and leaves a smooth trunk
  • American Plum Tree

    Loblolly Pine Trees


  • aligator, blocky bark
  • VERY tasty fruit!
  • Sweet Bay Magnolia

  • grows in wet areas
  • leaf has a silver back (trick to compare to Roman or Red Magnolia)
  • Red Maple

    Black Cherry Tree

  • literally, little red hairs grow on the back of the leaves!
  • Cherry Bark Oak

    Devil’s Walking Stick

  • has very thin trunks, like a walking stick, and thorns all over it
  • Mocker Nut Hickory

  • compound leaves
  • Carolina Buckthorn

  • more of a shrub
  • grows nonedible berries
  • Rhododendron

    Black Gum

  • one of the fastest trees to turn colors in the fall
  • Eastern Red Cedarstrong

    Sand Post Oak

    American Holly

    American Beauty Berry


    American Allegheny Chinkapin (or Chinquapin)

  • has prickly nuts that open up and can be roasted and eaten
  • unfortunately, chinkapins highly vulnerable to dutch elm disease, so they often die and regrow and therefore aren’t commonly seen anymore
  • Dogwood

    Button Bush

  • native wetland species
  • Winged Sumac

  • rhus copalina (?)
  • Beech Tree

    Elderberry bush

    Water Oak

    Wax Mirtle


    Before he left, Steve encouraged us to continue to identify native flora throughout the park, and especially to mark the ones that need to be either noted on the trails with a sign later or need to be preserved. He pointed out that the park has a lot of diversity – wetlands, bog, uplands, etc. He also mentioned how he believed the park was going to be lovely.

    Everyone is grateful for his help, suggestions and wisdom.

    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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    Both Americorps*VISTA and WIA volunteers have been putting in over 40 hour weeks apiece on average, and this tremendous collective effort has paid off! Stage 1 of the park’s development is near completion.

    Many trails are set – most of this week has been spent trimming up and down the pathways, ensuring that they meet regulations and are clear to walk through. The bush hog, pictured below with Kyle in the driver’s seat, has been a major help with smoothing out any rough edges.

    But the question is – what’s next? Various small projects throughout the park still need to be completed – boat repair, installation of picnic tables and grills, and painting a few structures on site (to name a few). Still, the atmosphere and tension that volunteers have been having is much more relaxed. Below, Jeff “Boss Man” Bryan is being goofy as he carries chain saw and an axe back to the tool shed.

    Small projects aside, it feels good to see things coming together.

    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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    In Downsville, a 501-C3 was created and authorized by the state to oversee and organize enrichment programs and projects for the rural village area. It should be noted that 15 – 20% of the people in Union Parish are below the poverty rate, and many of the areas like Downsville are sparsely populated, with most retired locals or farmers residing there. That’s why it’s necessary to have the 501-C3, in conjunction with the city council, to help the municipality improve and set an example vis-a-vis the “Gateway to Green Living” goal and mantra. If you are unsure of what exactly a 501-C3 is, think of it as an entity that can accept donations and start projects, but it nonprofit in nature and completely nonpolitical.

    The 501-C3 is called the “Downsville Area Enrichment Association,” and current projects include annexation of city limits from Ouachita and Lincoln parishes, Bryan Park’s development, and moving the Hester House.

    The mission statement is simple, but encompassing the long-reaching goals of the 501-C3: To preserve, protect and restore our region’s cultural and natural resources, mindful of local environment, history and community aspirations that lead to a green, sustainable future.

    Preservation, “green living,” and community development are major goals for the Downsville Area Enrichment Association.

    Members of the 501-C3 include
    Walter Ballard, president
    Bill Bryan, vice-president
    Cathy Butler, secretary
    . . . and board members Mike Toft, Anne Ballard, and Reggie Skains. Shelby McDuff also sits in on meetings as a representative of AmeriCorps*VISTA, with the interests of the Bryan Park project in mind.

    Goals for the 501-C3 include:

  • Develop/Design a website for marketing our green community (Summer 09)
  • Develop a Master Plan for the Village – La Tech Architecture (2009-10)
  • Write Grants for Hester Home, Bryan Park (2009-10)
  • Attend Green Conferences, Seminars, Workshops (2009-10)
  • Programs and Future/Current Projects include:
    (a) the Sports Complex, (b) Hester Historical Home/Museum, (c) Alternative Energy, (d) Bryan Park (of course!), (e) Green Building, (f) Community Center/P.O., (g) Hwy 151 Trail, (h) Recycling, and (i) the local School

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    Hester House

    One of the goals at Bryan Park is to be able to move an historic dogtrot-style home (the “Hester House”) onto the grounds and use it as a welcome center and local quazi-museum. The building requires some level of restoration and adjustments to make it “up to code” with modern federal and state laws.

    It’s a delicate balance, because ideally the building should stay as true to it’s era (mid 1800s) as possible, but on the other hand, modern comforts such as air conditioning would be missed.

    Back in November of 2008, Bill Bryan and Shelby McDuff, two of the main supervisors on the Bryan Park site, went with Walter and Anne Ballard (both descendents of the Hesters who once lived in the dogtrot) and Dr. Susan Roach, a folklore professor at Louisiana Tech University.

    Walter Ballard, Dr. Susan Roach, Bill Bryan & Anne Ballard

    Walter Ballard, Dr. Susan Roach, Bill Bryan & Anne Ballard

    The group explored the old home inside and out, evaluating the viability of the building for a potential move to the Bryan Park site. Reports of some termites, minor weather damage here and there, but overall many believe that the building is not only capable of being moved, but also of being rennovated and put to good use at the park.

    The house aside, the Hester family is prolific in Downsville history. According to The Gazette, Centennial Edition (October 9, 1939, Section 5) in their article entitled “Downsville named for General Downs,” J.T. Hester was actually one of the first to settle in the Lower Pine Hills region in 1843, when he came with his family from Alabama. While the Hester house is actually a bit younger than this 1843 date, the fact remains that the Hesters were still one of the oldest families to settle in the region.

    More coming soon . . .

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