Archive for the ‘Gateway to Green Living’ Category


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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    Lately, much has been said about “green communities” and the call to Americans in neighborhoods of all shapes and sizes to measure their impact on the world and take steps to improve the quality of their lives and their communities. The goal is environmental stewardship and better, healthier living vis-a-vis “green living.” The EPA (the government’s Environmental Protection Agency) and their environmental-awareness efforts are one of the reasons the entire Bryan Park project as a whole, as well as efforts throughout the village of Downsville, have been labeled “Gateway to Green Living.”

    Downsville may be a small country community, but the local people possess the skills, the drive and the know-how to set an example for larger communities across Louisiana and the rest of the country.

    The EPA’s goals for communities are as follows, and can be found here on their website. I’m going to outline each and how, as of Summer 09, Downsville is currently meeting or planning to meet the criteria.

    “Comply with Environmental Regulations”

    Every effort is being made in the community to comply with Louisiana and federal regulations. Downsville was incorporated on April 10, 1972, after petitioning to then Governor McKeithen. At the time, the village of Downsville (then called “Lower Pine Hills”) had to meet various zoning, infrastructure, and population regulations in order to be recognized as a village and municipality. The village continues to strive to meet all regulations put forth by various levels of government, especially environmental regulations. Downsville has always been a farming community with environmental preservation and stewardship at the forefront.

    “Practice Waste Minimization and Pollution Prevention”

    Green Programs (recycling, composting, water catchment, native plant preservation) are currently being taught to village and municipality residents, particularly at the local Downsville High School. Students have already started to develop a compost, plant and maintain a small garden, and use recycling receptacles. The next step is to expand these practices to homes and farms across the area, though many citizens have already taken it upon themselves to develop private gardens and compost. It’s just more practical in such a sparsely populated area. Rather than waste the gasoline to travel to any nearby, larger communities, Downsville-area residents are finding it more economical and satisfying to harvest their own produce, herbs and spices.

    “Conserve Natural Resources through Sustainable Land Use”

    The project at Bryan Park has a partnership with Louisiana Tech University, and Tech is researching the park’s eco-systems and impact as they develop the main pavilion on the grounds. Natural resources are also being monitored and managed with the help of state departments, particularly Louisiana Office of State Parks. Several park developers and rangers, including Aimee Robert (State Naturalist from the Office of State Parks) and John Witherington (conservationist from Lake D’Arbonne State Park) has been on-site and provided invaluable guidance to the Bryan Park project. (Both Ms. Robert and Mr. Witherington are pictured below, as they showed Bryan Park Volunteers how to properly mark park trails during a training day at D’Arbonne Park.)

    “Promote Mixed-Use Residential Areas which Provide for Open Space”

    Even before the EPA’s checklist was compiled, Downsville has been making use of mixed-use, economical housing. One such building in the area used to be the Bryan Sausage Factory (owned by the same prominent local family who donated the land for the park and helped write the grants). After the factory fell out of use, the late and beloved Sue Bryan converted the entire building into several apartments. The building also has a small theatre, an art studio and a library! Outside, Sue installed a koi pond and aesthetic garden, surrounded by lovely glass art and stone boundaries.

    Downsville’s local 501-C3 (called the “Downsville Area Enrichment Association) is also focused on local beautification and multi-use spaces. The town council is involved in this effort as well.

    “Actively Involve Citizens from ALL Sectors of the Community through Open, Inclusive Public Outreach Efforts”

    Thanks to the tireless efforts of Shelby McDuff, several grants were written and accepted, and both WIA (funded by the latest economical recovery plan) and AmeriCorps*VISTA have gathered a troop of young adults from across Union and Lincoln parishes to work on Bryan Park, with some of the volunteers taking part in the local 501-C3 as well. The entire blog is dedicated to these volunteers and their efforts, so I won’t elaborate much on that front.

    I will go on, however, and add that efforts have been made to involve students from the local high school in these park and beautification efforts. They have been creating recycle bins and collages for the park and learning through various green-living programs how to improve the community. Moreover, the village has come together in an unprecedented way to develop Bryan Park. Even local Mayor Reggie Skains has lent his machinery and expertise to the project, and many prominent council members and citizens are involved in the 501-C3.

    “Ensure that Public Actions Are Sustainable, while Incorporating Local Values and Historical and Cultural Considerations”

    The entire Bryan Park project and local 501-C3 (Downsville Area Enrichment Association) are dedicated to providing sustainability that take all of the cultural and historical elements of the village and municipality. One of the buildings potentially being moved onto the Bryan Park property, the Hester House, is an historical southern home that will hopefully be turned into a welcome center and quazi-museum. If all goes according to plan, it will feature relics of Downsville’s rich history and some more modern features, such as displays by local artists, from folkloristic crafts like needlework to collages from the high school students.

    “Create and Maintain Safe, Clean Neighborhoods and Recreational Facilities for ALL”

    Aside from local beautification and neighborhood watch programs which keep the roads clean and safe, Bryan Park will offer the ideal recreational spot for locals and visitors alike. Fishing, hiking, equestrian trails and picnicking will be available for all. There will also be educational programs on the site, as well as a “Green Festival” upon completion of the park.

    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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