Friends of Oakley work to keep state parks open _lowres

Photo provided by Tracey Banowetz -- St. Francisville's Audubon State Historic Site's Friends of Oakley board members met with a state parks official in February to discuss recent budget cuts. Gathered, from left, are board member Melvin Harvey, Office of State Parks Assistant Secretary Dwight Landreneau and board members Winnie Byrd and Dwight Singer.

Dwight Landreneau, newly appointed assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of State Parks, was the guest speaker at the February meeting of the board of directors for the Friends of Oakley at Audubon State Historic Site in St. Francisville.

A $1.5 million budget reduction for the remaining six months of the fiscal year has led the Office of State Parks to terminate 108 park employees and cut $800,000 in maintenance and construction projects, Landreneau said.

Operating expenses have been further reduced by limiting the days and hours some facilities will be open, Landreneau said.

With the potential for additional cuts in the next fiscal year, many options are being explored to avoid closing facilities, he said.

Landreneau expressed his commitment to keeping state parks and historic sites open in spite of continued budget cuts, describing a number of ways that private industry and local governments can work together to make sure these facilities remain open and continue to provide positive economic impact to their surrounding communities, Tracey Banowetz, Friends of Oakley chairman, said.

“For example, corporate donations could be used to sponsor a park or its buildings or to underwrite educational displays and exhibits and things such as school programs,” Banowetz said. “The donation of in-kind services and job-sharing agreements with other public and private agencies can also be a successful strategy for avoiding closures.”

According to publications from the Office of State Parks, the economic activity generated by Louisiana state parks and historic sites has a significant impact on both state and local economies, returning 40 cents on every dollar invested in the system, and creating jobs in rural areas of the state where jobs are needed most.

Expenditures by state parks and their visitors for goods and services, labor, land and other materials enhance both the local and state economies and tax bases, Banowetz said.

“It is estimated that the operations of Audubon (Oakley Plantation) and Rosedown State Historic sites result in over $1.2 million directly reinvested in local and state economies,” Banowetz said.

This investment is further multiplied by the economic contributions that result from tourists who visit these facilities.

According to the Office of State Parks, Audubon and Rosedown State Historic Sites combined have more than 38,000 visitors per year.

“Assuming many people visit both sites, this represents on average over 68 people per day visiting West Feliciana Parish and adding to the local economy by dining, shopping and/or staying overnight,” Banowetz said.

She said Friends of Oakley recognizes the importance of Audubon State Historic site to the state and West Feliciana economy and is grateful to be in a position to offer support when needed.

One example was the recent approval by the board of Friends of Oakley to underwrite the costs associated with the care and feeding of the farm animals at Oakley Plantation, Banowetz said. “The Friends donation has made it possible for the park to retain this popular attraction for their visitors.”

Also, Audubon has partnered with Dixon Correctional Institute in East Feliciana Parish to use inmate trustys to periodically help with site repairs.