NEWS

Locks saved from budget cuts, regular schedule prevails

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter
The Gary J. Hebert Lockhouse, a centerpiece of the Plauqemine Lock State Commemorative site, will be open Saturday for the 100th anniversary celebration of the historic landmark.

Late in the recent session, the state Legislature restored funding for state parks and recreation, giving a last-minute reprieve for the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site among others.

“We’re all breathing a sigh of relief here,” said Park Manager Stan Richardson. “It was really a roller coaster.”

The historic Lock – Plaquemine’s premier landmark marking its 100th anniversary this year – will remain in operation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

“It’s going to be business as usual here,” Richardson said. “We’re going to be open seven days a week. We won’t have any layoffs. It looks like everything is going to be all right.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed a supplemental budget containing $2.3 million for the parks system.

The budget Jindal submitted had called for cuts to the Lock and 15 other historic sites around the state, including cutbacks in the days of operations from seven to two days a week (Fridays and Saturdays), and cutting 51 of their 423 Civil Service positions.

A maintenance employee at the Lock was one of 42 statewide to receive a pink slip on June 26, only to see it recalled an hour or two later later, Richardson said.

“The governor signed the budget. I think everything is safe now,” he said, adding that the work is “we’ve two more challenging years ahead of us.”

The lock has only three employees, including Richardson, who said it ideally would have six employees. He is hoping to hire an interpretive ranger to help take the pressure off the small staff.

“We just started a new fiscal year,” the manager said. “I’m treating it like a fresh start.”

He also hopes to reorganize the Friends of the Lock group, a band of 30 to 40 volunteers who kept the landmark open during the state’s last fiscal crisis and cutbacks. It adds to visitors’ experience to have someone local, an often someone with a connection to the lock, to present the site, he said.

Richardson said his goals for the historic site include increasing visitation by at least 10 percent.

The Lock got off to a good start Saturday with Plaquemine’s 4th of July celebration, he said.  There were more visitors than usual during a day when the heat index topped 100 degrees.

“Air conditioning was a big plus,” he admitted.

In April, the Lock had a big celebration of its centennial anniversary. Richardson said he hopes to follow that up with a program marking the 50th anniversary of the Lock’s “dewatering.” It was closed in 1949 for intricate repairs to the oak seals that kept the gates shut on the structure.

He also is planning a dedication of a pirogue-maker exhibit on loan for five years from a group in

Houma.

He also hopes to bring an old engine boat club -- with its putt-putt motors built in Plaquemine at Nadler’s Foundry – the state Main Street Program’s “Main to Main” cultural road show in November.

Like the two park managers before him, Richardson also wants to work with the state highway department to put up new signs on La. 1 advertising the site.

“Just having signage out there would increase our visitation,” he said.

The new tourist welcome center opening in Grosse Tete also should help raise interest in the historic site, he said.

“The best years of Plaquemine tourism are still ahead of us,” Richardson predicted. “We’re working on it one day at a time.”