Cassidy Park to reopen Friday: Ribbon cutting set for 10:30 a.m.

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2016

It was a Friday morning when Bogue Lusa Creek rose up and roared across Cassidy Park. The March 11 floodwaters ripped massive holes throughout the park, carried buildings away, destroyed museum artifacts and playground equipment. The damage was so severe, the park gates closed and they did not open for five months.

But the floods didn’t sink the park, and this Friday it will open once more, more or less put back together.

Landon Tims, Bogalusa’s director of parks and recreation, said resurrecting the park required a concerted, planned and focused effort.

“So after the storm I just knew that the city, as a whole, we had an uphill battle,” Tims said. “Not even specifically Cassidy Park, but the city. My job is to worry about the park, but as a citizen of Bogalusa, you kind of felt for everyone going through it, because it affected the whole city.”

The first thing Tims said he had to do was document the damage. Documentation could qualify the city for federal reimbursement through FEMA. Tims said the city had experience dealing with FEMA from prior storms, so before an inspector arrived, the city’s engineer prepared a lengthy itemized list of every bit of damage, so the inspector could simply check everything off and wouldn’t miss anything.

According to Tims, the list came to a cost of $2.2 million to replace everything. So far, FEMA has not yet reimbursed the city for anything it has lost. There is still some confusion about whether the city owes the state anything from a Katrina loan, though Tims knew the FEMA money would be slow in coming. Nevertheless, Tims said he couldn’t wait for the funds.

“We kind of knew that if we wanted to get the park open in a timely manner we’d have to do it on our own dime and not wait for the FEMA money. Because if we

were waiting for the FEMA money, we’d still be waiting,” he said.

Then months away, the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival loomed large. After that, Christmas in the Park, another annual tradition, was scheduled.

But Tims said it was the day-to-day park goers who were his biggest motivation to repair the facility.

“Every weekend, all four pavilions are booked for birthday parties,” he said. “Every weekend there’s kids with bags of bread for the ducks. The park is a very high trafficked area of the city.

“We have many walkers who are in there from 4:30 in the morning until dark. It’s a place we have to have available to the public.”

Tims said the park itself also means something to the city.

“From the beginning I felt like Cassidy Park, and I’ve said this a million times, is the crown jewel of Bogalusa,” he said. “It is the place all people in Bogalusa can gather for recreation in the city. I felt like it is our responsibility to have that place open. To me, it was the No. 1 priority.”

However, the city did not have $2.2 million ready to spend at the park.

“Since we had no money, we couldn’t have contractors come in,” Tims said. “So the city would do it with our own people and on our own dime and we got into a program with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and they sent us six employees that they would be paying. The city wasn’t paying them.”

Tims said the workers were themselves made unemployed by the March flooding, and, as of this week, they are still working on the park. That team, plus two city employees, meant that on any given day, the city had an eight-person crew working in the park. But even they were not always enough.

“We had one day where every single employee for the city was in there working,” Tims said.

The first step was making the park safe for the workers.

“There were massive, massive craters in the ground. We have hauled over 12,000 yards of dirt and sand into the park to be able to fill up these craters,” Tims said.

From there, the city began repairing the electrical systems that had all been flooded, and repairing the road inside the park.

In addition to fixing the broken parts of Cassidy Park, Tims said the workers also did more. There are now additional wooden fences that act as barriers and as benches, and all the pavilions have a fresh coat of paint. In addition, the flagpoles will now be set behind the wooden fences so car bumpers don’t hit them and the city will now fly 12 flags at the park — each one a flag that at one time flew over the area.

However, the park is still missing playground equipment. The playground at the rear of the park, near the creek, is cordoned off from visitors and the museums have moved to Avenue F.

Tims said he doesn’t know if the museums will want to return to the park and the costly playground equipment will likely require FEMA money to replace, but once that comes, Tims said he believes Bogalusa will come out ahead.

“If we get the reimbursement money then it’ll be like we never spent a dime and the park will be better than it was before. That is a fact. The park is better now than it was before,” he said.

Visitors will get a chance to see the newly repaired park at a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning. The event is set to kick off at 10:30 a.m. and Tims expects the park will be officially opened at 11:15 a.m.