|Hodges Gardens State Park|
A view of A. J. Hodges Island.
|Location||Sabine Parish, Louisiana, United States of America|
|Area||approx. 700 acres (2.8 km2; 1.1 sq mi) |
|Governing body||Louisiana Office of State Parks|
Hodges Gardens State Park, previously known as Hodges Gardens, Park and Wilderness Area, is located on 4,700 acres (19 km2) between Florien and Hornbeck, near the Toledo Bend Reservoir of the Sabine River in Sabine Parish, in west central Louisiana. The park is located on U.S. Highway 171 some fifteen miles (24 km) south of Many, the seat of Sabine Parish. The facility offers walking trails, formal gardens, arboretum, the Azalea Overlook, waterfalls, and a visitor center. Originally, privately developed during the 1940s and opened to the public in 1956. The park was formally dedicated on May 1, 1959 and transferred to a non-profit foundation in 1960. In April 2007, it became part of the Louisiana public parks system. It is the largest horticultural park and recreation area in the United States and with the acquisition Hodges Garden became the newest park in Louisiana.
The area was once home to bands of Indians, Spanish and French Explorers, and Highwaymen that were prominent during the time of the Neutral Strip (Louisiana). A road known as the El Camino Real, or the King's Highway, passed through what became Hodges Garden, and across the Sabine River at Gain's Ferry. It originated in Natchitoches, crossed west central Louisiana, through Texas to Mexico City.
Andrew Jackson Hodges, Sr. (1890-1966), a native of Cotton Valley in Webster Parish, purchased more than 100,000 acres (400 km2) of cut-over barren land and replanted 39,000 acres (160 km2) in timber. The land included an old quarry. Hodges and his wife, the former Nona Trigg, planned a scenic garden around the natural rock formations. The quarry had been used to supply rocks, stones, and sandstone to build, among other things, the jetties in Port Arthur. Work began on the jetties in 1898; material from the quarry was delivered by wagon that would have been at least a six-day round trip. Water from a 225-acre (0.91 km2) lake created in 1954 is pumped through the gardens to waterfalls, pools, a geyser, fountains, and to the watering system before it is recycled back into the lake.Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, head of the Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Department, said that the state signed a transfer agreement with the Hodges Foundation. Landrieu, who left the lieutenant governorship in May 2010 to become mayor of New Orleans, noted that A. J. Hodges "took a barren 700-acre (2.8 km2) stone quarry and turned it into a thriving tourist area. The state's takeover of the park will restore the garden's original beauty, upgrade accommodations, and ultimately add value to this economic asset."
The park includes 925 acres (3.74 km2) referred to as Hodges Gardens, and features 60 acres (240,000 m2) of gardens, a 225-acre (0.9 km2), that includes a lighthouse, bass fishing lake, hiking and biking trails, and RV and wilderness camping.
Many plants and flowers are grown in tropical greenhouses on the property and some flowers like tulips, hyacinths, & daffodils were imported to add variety for visitors. Flowers were planted on one level above another. Views of water lilies, Neoregelia, Holly Berries. In December, 2007 a reported 600 Rose bushes were planted. Easter Sunrise Services, Shakespearean Plays, concerts, 4 July Fireworks and more are planned.
There are walkways, foot bridges, streams, waterfalls, overlooks including the lookout tower, and more. From the overlook Texas can be viewed that is over 14 miles (23 km) away. A dual stairway has a cascading waterfall down the center, many fountains spewing water into the air, and trees adorned with Spanish moss.
After a half century of operations, the gardens and cabins were refurbished by the state and opened to the public on March 20, 2008. Camping facilities became available a few months thereafter. But after nine years, the state, with a tight budget, chose not to continue to operate Hodges Gardens. Instead, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism and the Office of State Parks will effective October 1, 2017, return ownership to the A. J. and Nona Triggs Foundation. The state and the foundation have been since 2008 operating the park through a cooperative endeavor agreement.
Mayor Kenneth Freeman of Many and private preservation groups have sought to preserve Hodges Gardens, which Freeman indicated that he has visited several times a year since 1964, when he was eight years of age. "Every time I go I see something new and beautiful. I don't want to lose that for future generations, not to mention the economic impact it would have on our local economies," Freeman said. He urged area residents to patronize the park on a regular basis.