National parks, national forest reopen in Louisiana

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


"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.