NHDDC talks events, projects as COVID restrictions lessen in Natchitoches Parish

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By Hannah Richardson | Lifestyle Editor

The light is at the end of the tunnel, folks. As we are finally approaching a time where restrictions due to COVID are starting to ease up, Natchitoches is gearing up for a great summer and an even greater fall season full of events for residents and visitors to take part in, as well as a few new exciting projects. One interesting project to keep an eye on is a new monument, which will be proposed at Monday’s City Council meeting. This monument is of folk artist Clementine Hunter, proposed for the circle on north Front Street.

The Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission (NHDDC) met for the first time in person in over a year at the City Council Chambers on Second Street Thursday, May 20. After pleasantries were exchanged on how nice it was to finally meet in person again, members got down to business discussing the return of festivals and other events in the city.

Payne Williams had an update from Sharon Gahagan, who has been overlooking the progress on the trees downtown that have seen damage from the ice storm several months ago. She and Hamilton Bynog have been looking after the trees and reported that several of them have been doing much better, with two that need closer attention, but are hopeful they will make a full recovery.

Rebecca Blankenbaker said they have been working with several area publications to advertise the GoNatchitoches application now that more events are moving forward as planned. They are also working with the City to put out QR window stickers and yard signs at Parc Natchitoches due to the uptick in visitors at the weekend tournaments. The QR signs may also be seen on the windows of downtown businesses.

As Van Erikson has finished his term for the NHDDC, the executive committee proposed that Jill Leo would take over as the new chair next month, with Blankenbaker as the Vice Chair and Williams staying on for another year as treasurer. The vote will take place next month.

Erikson, Director of Recruiting for Northwestern State, was not present at the meeting as the university’s Freshman Connection was taking place on this day. Summer camp information can be found at nsudemons.com and nsula.edu.

Sandra Dickens with the Historic District Business Association (HDBA) talked about the Natchitoches Car Show returning Oct. 1-2 on the riverbank, Front Street and Second Street from Amulet-Church, with a fish fry that Friday. Planning is already underway for the Christmas Festival, but there are still some “ifs.” Fireworks for Christmas weekend will be Friday, Dec. 24. There might also be fireworks Friday, Dec. 31 for New Year’s Eve.

Blankenbaker gave a joint report for the Cane River National Heritage Area (CRNHA) and the National Park Service (NPS). The two organizations are partnering for a project on the Train Depot, which is the new Cane River Creole National Heritage Park (CRCNHP) headquarters. They invite the public to participate in a community conversation and planning session for the Texas & Pacific Railway Depot at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 25 at the Ben Johnson Auditorium, 400 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. This is the first of several for the summer.

Grand Ecore will reopen June 2, hours being Wednesday-Saturday from noon-4:30 p.m. Walking tours downtown will change for the summer, with just one tour Wednesday-Saturday at 10 a.m.

The Sports Hall of Fame will also be hosting tours of the American Cemetery on the first Friday of the upcoming months from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. The park service will host a painting workshop at Magnolia Plantation May 29 at 10 a.m. They will also host a yoga class June 19 at 2 p.m. The park is also recruiting a facilities intern for this summer.

Arlene Gould, Executive Director of the Tourism Commission, mentioned Jazz Festival this Saturday and the first Sports Hall of Fame induction is June 24-26, and the second will take place Aug. 26-28. National Travel and Tourism Week was celebrated May 2-8, with a celebration May 7 to recognize partners such as the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN), Natchitoches Historic Foundation (NHF), and the Service League of Natchitoches for their assistance in the Blush and Bashful Weekend. Merry Jo Grayson was also recognized for her volunteer work.

Gayle Howell with the APHN said turn out was good for the Arts and Crafts Festival in April, in spite of the gloomy weather prior to that weekend. The first juried Melrose Folk Art Festival is set for Oct. 9-10. Jill Leo with Main Street said spring has gotten off to a busy start, with a good sense of normalcy downtown. The city has seen several out of town visitors in previous weeks. This Saturday’s Farmers Market will be moved to the south end of Front Street due to Jazz Fest.

The Memorial Day Program will take place May 31 at 10 a.m. on the riverbank. They are planning to revamp a Destination Downtown project for July, kicking off July 3 with the Fourth of July fireworks and live music. Live music will continue to be found downtown on the following weekends.

There will also be Food Truck Fridays, and a partnership with the Folk Festival to bring unplugged sessions to the Sports Hall of Fame. More details to be released soon. Zydeco Festival might also take place Sept. 4, and TappedTober will return Oct. 9. Plans for the Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival have not been confirmed. Gould followed up on the amount of visitors Natchitoches has seen as of late. According to her, their office has a recorded 700 plus visitors in April, from 41 states, and they hope to see the numbers keep climbing. Laura Lyles, Chamber of Commerce President, said they were also happy to have a busy spring. They are looking forward to the Louisiana Young Professionals Conference July 9, which typically sees around 100 participants.

Hannah Perot-Wenninger brought up the traffic triangle project on Lafayette, beside the Sports Hall of Fame Museum. With the near constant rain lately, there needs to be at least five days of no rain to begin the project. New chairs will be ordered for the Fleur de Lis stage. The Church Street Bridge will be repainted, and will hopefully be completed by the end of next week.

This weekend will see a 45-team tournament at Parc Natchitoches, one of the largest of the year. Perot-Wenninger also encourages everyone to sign up for the Natchitoches Regroup app. Details can be found on natchitochesla.gov, which will alert the community on street closures, boil advisories and more.