Hurricane damage is nothing new to the Louisiana outdoors, but as Hurricane Laura came barreling through, it left a swath of destruction more widespread than many have ever seen or imagined.
Hurricane Laura made landfall at 1 a.m. on Thursday, August 27, 2020, as a category 4 storm with 150 mph winds with sustained winds. Laura’s winds tied with the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest land-falling hurricane in Louisiana history, and was the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to make a continental U.S. landfall.
The storm’s impact was felt from the Gulf of Mexico in Calcasieu Parish across the state to the Arkansas state line and all in between. Sustained winds were over 50 miles per hour and included 75-80 miles per hour gusts as far north as Ruston and Monroe, downing trees, damaging property and affecting wildlife and fisheries all along the way. The depth of destruction from Laura across the state was noted by the fact that the two parishes with the largest number of storm related power outages were Calcasieu on the Gulf coast and Ouachita in the northeast portion of the state.
The hardest hit outdoor area in the state was the 1,087 acre Sam Houston Jones State Park along the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles. The park, covered in majestic pine forests with trees up to 45 years old, saw more than 900 of those acres seriously damaged or completely wiped out. The damage is so severe that the only buildings at Sam Houston left undamaged were the entrance station and one guest cabin. The park is now closed at least through the end of 2020.
The second heaviest damage was reported at the Jimmie Davis State Park on Caney Lake. Cabins were still undergoing repairs from a destructive tornado in the spring of 2019. The park’s popular Main Bath House was dissected by a giant pine tree.
Five other parks — Chicot in Ville Platte, Lake D’Arbonne in Farmerville, Lake Faussee Point in St. Martinville, North Toledo Bend in Zwolle and South Toledo Bend in Anacoco, are closed through the middle of September at least.
The good news for state parks is that, thanks to a week of 14-hour days by park employees and others, a majority of state parks will be open for the Labor Day weekend.
“Many of our State Parks lost power, large trees were downed over powerlines, but great efforts were made to keep campers safe and clear the debris in time for Labor Day weekend. If ever there was a time for us to gather with our families and show the world we are Louisiana Strong, this is it,” Lt. Gov. Nungesser said.
A complete list of state park availability is listed at the end of this story. Visitors should be aware that there could be some changes if problems occur with power or other failures following storm cleanup.
Obviously fishing, preparing for hunting season and other outdoor adventures were affected. At the Living the Dream Guide Service on Toledo Bend, fishing trips had to be cancelled for more than a week due to the hurricane. Not only were the guides and Toledo Bend affected, many of their scheduled fishermen were as well.
“Due to all the power outages and all the damage, a lot of people have had to cancel trips,” said Jerry Thompson, who has owned and operated LTD Guide Service for 20 years and has fished Toledo Bend the better part of his life. “Our guides haven’t had power at their homes. A lot of our people come from the Lake Charles and Lafayette areas and they haven’t even had power. Most of us still don’t have power as of today (Sept. 3), but we’ll survive. In fact, we’ve seen this before and when things settle down after a major storm, things actually get better. We’re planning on that this time.”
Thompson issued a word of warning to people coming fishing at Toledo Bend or any other major reservoir.
“Things aren’t the same out there right now,” he said. “I’ve been on the water one time since the storm and we are seeing a lot of floaters out there in the lake. These are huge trees that were cut back in the 1980s and were on the bottom, but the turbulence caused by this storm has dislodged them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them in the boat lanes.”
Toledo Bend had eight and 10 foot waves in many areas and in water up to 20 feet deep, it caused major disruption, he said.
Switching over to hunting, several groups that were planning dove hunts on opening weekend found their sunflower patches and other agricultural areas totally blown to the ground. Thompson is one of those.
“We always have a youth hunt for doves, but after the storm, the fields are destroyed and there are just not any doves here now,” he said. “They either got blown away or knew something was coming and got out of here. In fact, we aren’t seeing any kinds of birds at all, hardly not any wildlife at all.”
At least one major fishing event went on as scheduled after the storm. The American Crappie Trail had a national qualifier on the Ouachita River Friday and Saturday after the storm. Practice was halted by the storm, but Oklahoma angler Robert Carlile caught an amazing two-day total of 14 crappie weighing 27.97 pounds to win the $26,000 first prize. A total of 130 anglers from 11 different states fished the event, many of them sleeping in their trucks because there was no power in Monroe/West Monroe through the weekend.
Damage to the state’s Wildlife Management Areas is still being assessed at this time, according to a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The storm’s aftermath should not affect any hunting seasons, although many of the areas will be affected by timber damage and secondary road issues.
“Although it is still too early to assess all impacts, Hurricane Laura certainly affected fish and wildlife resources and Department property,” reported Ed Pratt, Press Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. “The Department’s Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Cameron and Vermilion Parishes experienced land loss as surge and storm-driven waves battered the Gulf shoreline. Marsh management units within the refuge that maintained fresh marsh for wildlife species and waterfowl were inundated with high salinity sea water.”
Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge located in Cameron and Vermilion parishes is closed until further notice due to damage from Hurricane Laura. All public fishing areas, including piers and boat docks, will be closed for an indefinite period of time. Hurricane Laura also forced the closure of Woodworth shooting range in Rapides Parish, however it has now resumed operations.
Pratt also said that breaches in containment dikes will adversely affect refuge management goals for months to come. Additionally, refuge staff were displaced from their homes, offices, labs and support facilities were severely damaged.
“Even our White Lake Wetlands Conservation area in Vermilion Parish experienced breaches in marsh management units, which will adversely affect our management of fresh marsh ecosystems and the waterfowl that depend upon it.”
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries staff are investigating a fish kill in Lake Charles, in the wake of Hurricane Laura. Staff will be conducting an assessment to determine what species are impacted and the extent of the fish kill. Fish kills can be associated with large amounts of rainfall and stormwater carrying organic matter into bayous and canals connected to lakes. This organic matter may consume high amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water, thereby “suffocating” aquatic life. Additionally, high winds and rains of a hurricane can cause the varying cool and warm waters to mix too rapidly and deplete oxygen levels, which can also cause fish kills.
The State Parks System reservations vendor, Reserve America, is working to reschedule or refund all affected campsite and cabin reservations. People can call 877-2226-7652 for help with rescheduling if needed.
Louisiana State Parks Now Open
- Bayou Segnette State Park, Westwego
- Bogue Chitto State Park, Franklinton
- Chemin-A-Haut State Park, Bastrop
- Fairview State Park, Madisonville
- Fontainebleu State Park, Mandeville
- Lake Bruin State Park, St. Joseph
- Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, Delhi
- St. Bernard State Park, Braithewaite
- Tickfaw State Park, Springfield
Reopening on Friday, 9/4 for Labor Day Weekend
- Cypremort State Park, Cypremort
- Grand Isle State Park, Grand Isle
- Lake Bistineau State Park, Doyline
- Lake Claiborne State Park, Homer
- Palmetto Island State Park, Abbeville
- Jimmie Davis State Park, Chatham
Closed through mid-September
- Chicot State Park, Ville Platte
- Lake D’Arbonne State Park, Farmerville
- Lake Fausse Point State Park, St. Martinville
- North Toledo Bend, Zwolle
- South Toledo Bend, Anacoco
Closed through the remainder of 2020
- Sam Houston State Park, Lake Charles
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