The Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission (NHDDC) discussed some great outcomes on events that occurred in the last month at their meeting Thursday, March 18. Members of the Commission are in full business planning mode now that plans are becoming more concrete as pandemic restrictions are more flexible than they were last year. The first item on the agenda was a report on the oak trees that bring so much beauty and identity to the Natchitoches downtown riverbank and Front Street.
As part of the master plan for the district, they have been taking a serious look at these trees that will be monitored closely for the next four weeks. The oak trees have been very stressed as a result of the severe weather conditions the area has seen recently. The trees have lost leaves but thankfully no large limbs. The goal is to see positive growth and healing by mid-April, then will look at future recommendations at that point. With their protection vital to the downtown area, Sharon Gahagan will coordinate with Jeff Carbo of CARBO Landscape Architecture for a meeting soon for further evaluations.
Chair Vanner Erikson, also Director of Recruiting at Northwestern State University, shared that NSU is going full force with the summer orientation sessions in person. The dates for those are May 20-21, May 27-28, June 3 and July 8-9 (An additional session may be added for capacities sake). Numbers are good when it comes to recruiting, up at 7%. Many students are taking care of business when it comes to putting down housing deposits and orientation reservations. June 6-9 and June 13-16 are the dates for the summer cheer camps. There will be other traditional camps, but they have not announced final decisions. Erikson also commended the turnout at CAPA on the Cane March 13 on the riverbank, held beside Bloomin’ on the Bricks.
“CAPA on the Cane went great and everyone was really excited about it,” he said. “It was so cool to see a little bit of normalcy. For a lot of these students, it was their first or second show of the entire year.” NSU is also having a busy spring when it comes to sporting events, with some days seeing five separate games.
Jill Leo of the Natchitoches Historic Business District (HDBA) and Main Street Program shared several events to look forward to in the spring and summer months, but not before telling members about the great turnout at Bloomin’ on the Bricks last Saturday. The Mayor’s Fitness Council joined forces with 4-H on Front Street and brought fun, fitness activities throughout the event.
“It was a good day to be downtown last weekend,” said Leo. “CAPA on the Cane just complemented all the other activities. It’s one of my favorite days of the year.” In 2020, Bloomin’ on the Bricks was the last usual event that occurred right before everything was shut down due to the pandemic. Leo also wished to bring attention the private weddings on the riverbank and Beau Jardin. These areas will not be accessible to the general public during private weddings. There are several dates for weddings booked, but two dates Leo wants brings to the public’s attention are March 27 and April 24.
Other events in the coming months include the NSU Steel Band Concert April 16 on the riverbank, Farmers Market is from April 24-July 31, the British Brass Band Concert May 2 on the riverbank, Sale on the Trail May 7-8, Natchitoches Jazz Festival May 22, the Natchitoches Parish Library Reading Program on the riverbank throughout June and July, Lady Bass Anglers Tournament June 17-19 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Inductions June 23-26 and Aug. 25-28 with free Friday night concerts on the riverbank. Fall events are still in the planning stages.
Arlene Gould, Executive Director of the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they are working on plans and programs for National Travel and Tourism Week, May 3-9, which will be announced soon.
Carrie Mardorf with the National Park Service said their memorial illumination events in late February, early March at Magnolia and Oakland Plantations were very successful. Their children’s fishing event March 13 was also successful. Mardorf said they are letting the dust settle, literally and figuratively, after their move from the headquarters on Rapides Drive to the former Eagle Building. The next phase of the move is the train depot project, seeing construction drawings in the next few weeks and hopefully construction bids in the summer. “We are pushing as fast as we can to get the depot rehabilitated,” said Mardorf.
They are also partnering with the Cane River National Heritage Area (CRNHA) on a contractor to do some facilitated community meetings for input on their interpretive exhibits in the depot, which dates will be announced soon.
Rebecca Blankenbaker, Director of the CRNHA, commended the memorial illumination events by the park, sharing that they were poignant and moving. Tours have been picking up as spring break begins. They are also working on several preservation projects, including the train depot project and the Roque House. Blankenbaker said they noticed a great need for local contractors to understand the challenges of working with historic homes and how to update these locations to modern conveniences while keeping their character. They are planning a one-day workshop for local contractors on educating them on this topic.
The CRNHA is also working with the city to upgrade the MLK triangle on Texas Street to bring new lighting, plants and a new sign. The Melrose Arts and Crafts Festival is set for April 17-18, and there is an open house for APHN members and guests Saturday, March 20. Folk Festival will have some modifications this year, with plans for a series of concerts and crafting opportunities at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in the summer.
Laura Lyles, President of the Natchitoches Chamber of Commerce, said the Natchitoches Young Professionals did a great job with the Pub Crawl, with 350 people registered and businesses in the district getting involved by providing specials. The Home and Garden Expo will be Saturday, March 27 at the Events Center from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Chamber recently had their first luncheon for the first time in one year, Picnic in the Park, and is planning for the next one to be April 14 on the GeauxFame AMT Program.
The second cohort of Leadership Natchitoches had their opening session recently, which Erikson and Blankenbaker co-chairs. The second session will be on the history and culture of Natchitoches.
Hannah Wenninger with the City of Natchitoches touched on the island curb on the north end of Front Street that she mentioned at last month’s meeting. Construction will begin this upcoming week, weather permitting. Two picnic tables and a trash can will be coming to the Jefferson Street Park soon.
A small business seminar will be Saturday, March 20 from 10-11:30 a.m. Another project coming up is at the Texas, Second Street intersection to combat water buildup. The city will install pervious concrete, which has fibers inside of it that allows water to pass through to a basin to help with the drainage. It will be implemented in the coming months.
Parish President John Richmond joined in on the meeting to clarify on a topic that was brought up at last Monday’s Parish Council Meeting. “It’s been a contentious week in Parish Government,” said Richmond. “There’s a lot of misinformation going on around town about a vote coming up April 24. It will not affect the city at all. I’m bringing it up because those that live outside of the city limits of Natchitoches will be asked to go to the polls in April and vote on the renewal of a tax that we’ve had for 30-40 years that takes care of the solid waste removal. That’s the trash bin sites around the parish so people can drive to the bin sites and they don’t have to go to the landfill to dispose their solid waste. This is the only funding available across the entire rural parts of the parish that allows solid waste to be picked up and moved to the landfill in a safe and sanitary way. It’s been going on for years, and some of us are old enough to remember what it was like to drive from Alexandria or Shreveport and try to make it into Natchitoches and along the way, see people burning their trash in the ditches, in their backyards, and it just wasn’t safe or sanitary. It was just an eyesore. [The tax] is for the trash. It is not a road tax. It is a renewal for what [rural residents] have been paying for 30 years. It’s nothing new.”