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Friday, October 31, 2014
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National parks, national forest reopen in Louisiana

Last Modified: Thursday, October 17, 2013 6:36 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — National Park Rangers Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and Matt Hampsey resumed their midafternoon concerts illustrating history with music at the Old U.S. Mint, one of three New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park sites, as the federal government fully reopened Thursday.

Other rangers returned to the six south Louisiana sites making up the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve and the two central Louisiana plantations comprising Cane River Creole National Historical Park.

The U.S. Forest Service reopened offices and recreational areas in all five ranger districts of the Kisatchie National Forest, which covers 604,000 acres in seven central and north parishes — Rapides, Grant, Natchitoches, Vernon, Winn, Webster and Claiborne.

The National Park Service's French Quarter sites, including the headquarters of the park named for pirate Jean Lafitte, were as busy as usual, said Nigel Fields, chief of interpretation and education for the 10-person Jazz park.

But there weren't many people out on the forest, bayou, swamp and marshland trails and boardwalks of what is usually Jean Lafitte's busiest site, the 23,000-acre Barataria Unit in Marrero. It tallied 15,162 visitors last October, or an average of 500 a day — nearly half the park's 32,943 total for the month and more than the 11,843 at all three Jazz sites.

About 20 people had stopped in the visitor center by midafternoon Thursday, said Ranger Jack Henkels, one of 65 Jean Lafitte employees. About two-thirds of them are interpretive or law enforcement rangers, said Ranger Kristy Wallisch, the park spokeswoman.

"It may be that people don't know we're open again," Henkels said. "Many of the first visitors this morning were actually foreign tourists who may not have even been aware there was a government shutdown."

The park also includes the Chalmette Battlefield, commemorating the Battle of New Orleans, and cultural centers in Lafayette, Eunice and Thibodaux.

Like other units, Barataria — previously closed only on Christmas and Mardi Gras — had cut back to five-day weeks in August because of the 20 percent cuts imposed earlier in the budget battle that partly closed the federal government for 16 days.

At Cane River, chief of interpretation Nathan Hatfield said about a dozen visitors had stopped in. "Considering it's the middle of the week, it's been pretty steady today," he said.

Cane River gets 27,000 to 30,000 visitors a year, he said, and had remained open seven days a week in spite of the earlier cuts.

"One couple didn't even realize we were affected by the shutdown," he said. Another couple, from New Mexico, knew that parks were closed. "They were happy their visit to the Cane River area happened to fall on the day we reopened," he said.

The reopening also coincided with the regular ranger-led concerts at Jazz, which are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It probably will be sometime next week before the park can reach musicians who usually play on other days, Fields said.

Hampsey, who plays guitar and banjo, and Barnes, who plays accordion, piano and percussion, talk about spirituals and other origins of the Lower Mississippi Delta's jazz and blues, singing and playing the songs. They're also prominent on four CDs produced by the park: Songs of the Mississippi River, Songs for Junior Rangers, Freedom is Coming, and Songs of the Lower Mississippi Delta.

Local music fans may not have heard about their day job but know them from their off-hours gigs in Barnes' band, Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots.

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