If anyone was going to protest the clearing of trees to make way for a golf course at City Park — and do it by sitting in one of them for days on end — it was Jonathan “Lloyd” Boover.
The Gentilly homeowner is an old hand at sleeping in trees, having initiated the habit a few years back while touring the country on his bicycle.
“I needed some air and space in my life and so decided to do it on my bike,” he said, describing an eight-month journey that took him to Washington, D.C., Washington state and down the Pacific Coast Highway.
In treeless territory, he would sleep underneath roadways in metal drainage culverts. But, he said, “Whenever there was a really great tree, I’d climb up with my hammock and mosquito net. It’s the best thing in world, bonding with nature.”
Last month, Boover ended up in a tree for a very different reason, as part of small uprising against City Park’s golf course plans. He spent 12 days there before taking a spill and a trip to the hospital. An ally, identifying himself only as “Beaux,” spent three days in a similar perch last week.
Part of a local movement called “Wild Is Free,” the pair argue that a new, 383-acre course will ruin what has become a happy side effect of the flooding that inundated the park in 2005: a rare wild enclave in the middle of a city.
Last month, a separate group called the City Park for Everyone Coalition filed a lawsuit against the City Park Improvement Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in federal court, alleging, among other things, that FEMA incorrectly deemed that the new golf course would have “no significant impact” on the environment.
Christopher Lane, one of the coalition’s leaders, wrote an op-ed in The New Orleans Advocate saying that other area golf courses are losing money and predicting that the City Park course will prove to be a similar boondoggle if it opens, as planned, in late 2016.
City Park has shown no sign of backing down. John Hopper, the park’s chief development officer, said an independent analysis of the new 18-hole course showed that it will be financially viable. “Location, location, location,” Hopper said, insisting that the park’s board would not have approved the endeavor if its financial forecasts weren’t strong.
Regarding the lawsuit’s environmental claims, Hopper said the project has had “no shortage of reviews,” most recently an archaeological review required by FEMA.
“We firmly believe that we have the permits from FEMA and the Corps of Engineers to do what we’re doing,” he said.
Nor will the new course — dubbed the Bayou Oaks Golf Complex — serve only as a means of entertainment, Hopper said. The nonprofit Bayou District Foundation will manage the course, using a portion of the proceeds as a revenue stream for social services and education at Columbia Parc, the nearby mixed-income development that replaced the former St. Bernard public housing complex.
“The reason we got involved in the park was the holistic model we’re doing at Columbia Parc on Bayou St. John,” foundation Chairman Gerard Barousse Jr. said.
The second man who attempted to block City Park crews from clearing away brush for the course called himself Beaux, but his real name is Ian Bowers, 21. His aunt called City Park officials to identify him.
While he did not respond to requests for an interview, he left something of a record of his three days in the tree by posting sporadic video snippets online, on topics that ranged from nature lectures to fiery jeremiads against the golf course.
In each, he wore a knit mask that covered his face up to the eyes. Occasionally, he used a stage whisper so as not to disturb nearby wildlife, like the mallard duck that flew in beneath the live oak in which he had perched.
At one point, Bowers ran into technical difficulties, unable to catch enough sunlight for his rechargeable solar batteries. He had to wait for the surrounding sheriff’s deputies to leave so he could scamper down for a charge.
“Today’s been a really good day so far,” he told viewers on his second day, pointing out how the backhoes that City Park had been using to clear brush nearby seemed to have retreated. “So there has been no destruction today whatsoever. Thank you everyone involved! No destruction! We stopped the machines for at least a day. That to me is worth all of this.”
Bowers also displayed the book he’d been reading during his arboreal sojourn: “Memories of Freedom,” a classic in anarchist circles, which was published a few decades ago by the Western Wildlife Unit of the Animal Liberation Front.
It gives an account of protesters from groups like Earth First! that pioneered the practice of scaling trees as a form of civil disobedience during the 1980s.
“It’s extremely powerful. I’m not backing down from this,” Bowers said. “This is the fight. Earth liberation. Animal liberation. Human liberation. And it’s all tied together. Without plants and animals, we wouldn’t exist. Obviously. I don’t understand how the elite doesn’t get that.”
By about 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office had persuaded him to come down, pledging that he wouldn’t be arrested for trespassing or for the smoke bomb that he hurled at deputies at one point.
A favorite tree
When Boover decided to protest the golf course, he knew exactly where to do it.
After his bicycle journey, he had returned to Gentilly, making money by renting out two spare rooms in his house through Airbnb, the online vacation-rental service.
He did not give up the habit of relaxing in trees, though. Whenever he needed to kick back, he headed to a wild part of City Park.
“There was a favorite tree,” he said. “It was a live oak tree that bent over a lagoon. I would put my hammock over the lagoon and listen to the birds. They were always happy, chirping. I felt like I could unwind from city life. I felt like that was my special place in the city.”
But when he arrived at the park in mid-March, furious over the golf course plans, Boover discovered that his favorite tree already had been chopped down.
Heartbroken, he instead chose a large cypress that had an egret nest in it, he said. He hadn’t want to protest alone, so a young woman named Heart climbed up with him.
They strung up a banner that said, “Wild Is Free.”
About a week into the protest, Heart left, taking an offer of amnesty.
But Boover wouldn’t budge. “I felt like it was my last chance to do it, so why not go out with a bang?” he said.
At first, reporters were able to get to the tree and conduct interviews. Supporters came with provisions.
After Heart descended, though, the situation got more serious. The New Orleans Police Department issued a warrant for Boover’s arrest. Sheriff’s deputies cordoned off the area to stop people from delivering food and water, he said.
Boover also claims there was a concerted attempt to wear him down. Park officials said the large floodlights they provided were a safety measure for deputies working in a wilderness area, but Boover said the lights and the generator powering them were so close that the heat and fumes started to bother him. He also said deputies played music at full blast.
Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment.
In any case, Boover said, sleep was fitful. Food and water also ran low.
Then, on his 12th day, in the afternoon, he fell to the ground. “I was exhausted, light-headed and nauseous,” he said.
A sheriff’s deputy stayed with Boover while he was treated at the hospital, then took him to Central Lockup, where he was processed, booked on counts of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, and released.
That evening, contractors moved in and cut down his cypress tree.