Friday, June 7, 2013

Port Hudson and Audubon State Parks cut open days to five

     Two significant and popular state historical sites in West Feliciana Parish (Louisiana) have cut their operating schedules to five days a week.  The Port Hudson and nearby Audubon State Historical Sites are now only open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday.  They are closed Sunday and Monday.  (See companion story about increases in fees to visit Audubon State Historical Site.)
     A tight state parks budget forced the two-day a week closing and staff at the two facilities picked which days to close, said Jacques Berry, communications director for Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne.
     Port Hudson State Historic Site encompasses a significant portion of the battlefield, where in the early summer of 1863, more than 30,000 Union troops repeatedly attacked an entrenched Confederate force of 6,800 troops fighting to keep Rebel supply lines across the Mississippi River open.  Unable to breach the Rebel defenses by force of arms, Union troops resorted to a siege, cutting off all supplies to the beleaguered Southerners.  After 45 days the starving Confederates, reduced to eating rats and mule meat, were forced to surrender.
     The defeat at Port Hudson, along with the fall of the fortress upriver at Vicksburg, MS to Union General U.S. Grant the week before, secured Union control of the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in half, turning the tide of war in favor of the Union.
     (The cut in the park's hours of operation comes on the 150th anniversary of the siege; May. 23-June 9, 1863.  The siege at Port Hudson, LA is the longest siege in American military history.)
     The park has a fine museum describing the significance of the battle, a timeline of the battle and how the troops held up under the stress of war.  A section of the original 4.5 mile-long earthworks built by the defending rebels has been preserved.
      Six miles of well maintained crushed stone trail leading to existing Rebel fortifications winds up and down the many ravines in the well-shaded 909-acre park.  The trails are popular with hikers looking for a shady place to walk in warm weather.  A lack of understory growth in the park makes for fair to good birding.  A list of bird species found in the park is available at the park museum.
     Audubon State Historic Site is also known as the park with Oakley House, the plantation home painter John James Audubon briefly lived in the summer of 1821.  The over 200-year old West-Indies style "big house" and surrounding out buildings have been restored and are open for tours which run on the hour.  On the surrounding grounds are well-shaded picnic areas, a formal garden and a short nature trail.
     Hired to teach drawing to a child of the plantation's owner, Audubon drew inspiration and sketched many of the birds found in his famous "Birds of America" while living there.
     Both sites are south of St, Francisville, the parish seat of West Feliciana Parish.
     For more information about Port Hudson call 888-677-3400.   For Audubon State Historic Site call 888-677-2838 or 225-635-3739.

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