Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hodges Gardens State Park, Florien, Louisiana

Visitor Center and Gift Shop, Hodges Gardens
 Hodges Gardens State Park is a fairly new addition to the Louisiana parks system and is located in western Louisiana about an hour's drive from Natchitoches. The gardens were created in the 1950s by a businessman, A. J. Hodges, who  made his fortune in the oil and gas industry. Mr. Hodges hired Hare and Hare, a landscape architecture firm noted for designing municipal parks in the Midwest, to turn a site that included an abandoned quarry into a garden that took advantage of the irregular terrain. The property was part of a large tract of land Hodges had purchased in the 1930s. At the time, the tract was in sad shape following years of unsustainable logging. Hodges applied principles of modern forestry to restore the pine forests and then, after World War II, turned his attention to the gardens site. The gardens opened to the public in 1956, but were in private ownership until 2007 when the Hodges Foundation transferred the park to the state of Louisiana.
Observation tower, which isn't really a tower. but an overlook perched on top of a hill. 
The gardens  have a distinct mid-century modern feel. The Visitor Center and the observation tower (designed by the architectural firm of Walker and Walker, Shreveport, Louisiana, along with other structures such as a lakeside stage) are typical of the era, as is the rock work throughout the park. Materials used for walkways, bridge piers, retaining walls, and stairways are natural but not rusticated. The gardens are showing their age and the effects of what is no doubt a tight budget. Deferred maintenance was obvious in a few places, some water features were shut down, and there were locations were water was seeping over a sidewalk or down a stairway.

This staircase is an example of deferred maintenance. It's a double staircase with a water feature between the two sets of steps. The cascade was dry, but one stairway was blocked off and water was trickling down the steps, making it clear there was a plumbing problem somewhere. 

Nonetheless, the gardens with their numerous water features are lovely. The water for the numerous cascades is pumped from the lake, cycles through the gardens, and is used for irrigation as necessary.There is water running everywhere, over artificial waterfalls both big and small and through and through ornamental ponds close to the lake.

The gardens occupy about 700 acres of land; the park as a whole is about 4,700 acres. Today, the park includes a 225-acre lake, formal gardens, natural gardens, hiking trails, tent camping, and rental cabins. There is no area for RVs, and hopefully there never will be. There are numerous RV parks and national forest campgrounds close by that are open to RVs; Hodges Gardens remaining RV-free isn't going to inconvenience anyone.

The camping area and cabins are located on the opposite side of the lake from the gardens so campers would not be disturbed by tourist traffic to the gardens during the busier seasons of the year or for special events (this past weekend, for example, the park was showing the movie "The Lorax" on a lakeside stage). The trail system seems extensive (at least on the map) with varied terrain (the area is hilly) so people who like to hike or mountain bike would probably enjoy the park, the lake is open for fishing, and the park rents kayaks and canoes.


  1. It looks lovely, if the bugs don't get you.

  2. No bugs at this time of the year. We've never noticed much in the way of bugs when we've been down here on the Louisiana-Texas border, but I've heard mosquitoes can be an issue in the summer. Ditto ticks and chiggers.

  3. Sounds and looks heavenly. You should write blurbs for the parks that you love so.

  4. Looks very nice and well thought out. Not overdeveloped.

  5. A friend of the family managed the hotel that was on-site for some years. It looks like the hotel is closed now, the whole place I suspect was getting rather run down during the past couple of decades, like a lot of Louisiana. It makes me sad to go back to Louisiana nowadays because so many places that I remember from my youth are just run down and ugly now, and mostly not replaced by newer better things.

  6. Tourism shifting west to Toledo Bend probably didn't help. Hodges Gardens opened to the public in 1956, the Toledo Bend dam was begun in 1963. Once the reservoir filled, resorts began popping along the lakeshore up to compete with Hodges Gardens.

    A year or two ago I read an interesting article that said (in essence) a major flaw in Americans is that we're real good at building stuff but lousy at maintaining it. Louisiana isn't the only state that has problems with neglect and decay, and Hodges Gardens isn't unique in having obvious deferred maintenance. But I agree - it's hard to see places you remember from when they were in their prime looking seedy or neglected now. And it is still a lovely park - if we were visiting this area as ordinary tourists rather than visiting our daughter, we'd happily rent one of the cabins for a few days.

  7. Building is good politics. Maintaining is boring and no one cares. Same with governments everywhere.

  8. BlogFodder, Hodge's Garden got run down under private ownership. My guess is that the foundation created to run it simply ran out of money.

    Nan, one of the things that was fascinating when I moved out here to the Bay Area of California was the fact that there's so many older buildings that have been lovingly restored to better than their original glory, and where they haven't been, the older buildings were torn down and replaced by newer ones. In Louisiana, they just start a new ring of suburbs and let the previous ring degrade into ruin. Part of that is geography I'm sure, the Bay Area is a narrow strip of land surrounding the bay that is in turn surrounded by largely-unbuildable mountains, so there was no real choice once the flat land was built out. But it really leads to a bit of shock at how shabby much of Louisiana has become when I go home to visit family...


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