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Archive for the ‘Bulletins’ Category

July 27th, gravel was laid down on the main park road. First an 18-wheeler dumped the gravel down on the dirt road, and then the bulldozer ran it over several times, spread out the gravel, and evened out the surface.

Now the park has a lovely entrance, and when it opens vehicles will easily pass back and forth.

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At noon today, three AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers, along with the Downsville Mayor Reggie Skains, travelled to West Ouachita High School to see Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sign three bills into law, two of which dealing with career diplomas and one extending regulations between teacher-student correspondences outside of school.

The volunteers who went included myself, Fabrice Tchouba and Ali Schmierer. While the purpose of the signing wasn’t directly related to the project in Downsville, the bills dealt with K-12 student education, which will ultimately affect several of the other volunteers on-site. Moreover, we wanted the opportunity to remind the Governor about the project at Bryan Park and the dedication of the volunteers.

Jennifer Reed and Reggie Skains meet Gov Jindal at Ouachita HS Inside Ouachita High School were all sorts of elected officials, from school-board members to representatives in Congress. After an extended period of shmoozing, we were corralled into a newly-built “shop” classroom, complete with buzz saws, high-powered hoses, safety posters, etc. The room, in spite of the lack of AC, was ideal for the signing of the two career diploma bills. Hopefully, the bills will enable at-risk students to choose more technical and professionally-geared classes, especially since the GED program isn’t as successful as everyone had hoped.

Regardless of what people think about the bill or the politics surrounding it, it was still an effort by many in the Louisiana legislature to help students get a high school diploma, rather than drop-out and have trouble entering the workforce.


Downsville Mayor Reggie Skain, LA Governor Bobby Jindal, Fabrice Tchouba, Ali Schmierer, Jennifer Reed

Downsville Mayor Reggie Skain, LA Governor Bobby Jindal, Fabrice Tchouba, Ali Schmierer, Jennifer Reed

After the signing of the three bills, we had the opportunity to talk to him about the Bryan Park project. He seemed very excited, and said in passing that he was proud of our hardwork and desire to improve Northern Louisiana.

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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June 26th, the temperature was in the high 90s and a burn warning was out for the Union Parish and surrounding areas, forbidding anyone from even starting a control fire and warning residents that there was an increased risk for forest fires.

That day at lunch, we were all having a meeting about pavilion construction on the park grounds. Suddenly, Jeff Bryan and Downsville Mayor Reggie Skains sniff around, saying they smell smoke. At first we dismissed the comments, but soon Reggie started calling his friends working up the road, asking if they were burning anything. Finally he got a call from his daughter who was driving home for lunch – “The fire is coming from Bryan Park!” she told her father.

Reggie repeated what his daughter said, and without even thinking about it, we all took off in the direction of the blaze. Some ran, some hopped in vehicles – everyone was in a panic. In those dry conditions and in an area where we had cleared brush, even the slightest pick up in the wind could have set the entire park ablaze.

When we arrived on the site, the area by the park entrance was blazing. No one was working in that area that day, but it could have been a passerby discarding a lit cigarette. It would have smoldered all day, theoretically, and then started to really roar when it hit in the wind and dry debris. Either way, we were facing a serious and dangerous problem.

Moments later, the architecture students from the nearby pavilion site, and they tossed everyone a shovel or a metal rake. Reggie Skains gave the orders, directing people to go to various areas that were at risk of spreading because of the direction of the wind. Braving the extreme heat and smoke, the volunteers tossed dirt over the edge of the blaze, creating a makeshift fire wall.

What mattered most was getting the perimeters of the fire under control, otherwise it could easily spread further and perhaps endanger a volunteer or more of the wildlife and flora in the area.

Ms. Shelby called the local volunteer fire dept from Walnut Lane, Ward 5. They pulled up shortly after the call (some still dressed in PJs, having just slipped on some cowboy boots) and got right to work. They are impressed by the firewall that was already put up, and all that was left was to drench the smoldering piles in the middle of the decimated area to make sure that nothing was still smoking and capable to starting another fire.

In 2 hours, the ordeal was over. We slowly made our way back to our various places and finished our work for the day. The whole time, however, we couldn’t get past how close we came to see all of our hard work, all of that beautiful land go up in smoke, literally.

Fires are beyond destructive, and they are unpredictable in extreme weather conditions, such as the intense heat and drought we were having that day. I don’t recommend ANYONE taking the action we did – it should be noted, all the volunteers present that day were adults and aware of the dangers.

We are all just so happy that everyone was safe, and the fire only managed to burn 50 by 50 feet of land.

Stay safe,
Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Park benches and (soon) bridges are being installed, making it easy for even those who aren’t physically involved with the development of Bryan Park to lend a hand.

Joe Richardson of Ruston is building our benches for the park. You can purchase one to dedicate to a friend or family member.

Joe Richardson of Ruston is building our benches for the park. You can purchase one to dedicate to a friend or family member.

You can purchase a park bench to dedicate the structure to a friend or family member. At the moment we are working out all the intricacies of this, including how much of a pledge or purchase is needed to make a dedication. If you have your heart set on helping us as soon as possible, please post a comment here. I’ll figure out a way to get in contact with you and coordinate any donations/dedications.

These dedications will help us on two fronts – aside from the monetary assistance, it helps us narrow down the number of structures we must name, haha! On a serious note, though, we appreciate any and all assistance.

Many thanks,

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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