Sabine Parish, La. -- Water spills over several man-made waterfalls, cascading over rocky steps, winding its way to the still water of an iris-filled bog. Along the way, a variety of wildflowers and flowering shrubs accent a forest of tall pines.
This remarkable forest garden has healed the scars of a rugged Louisiana landscape, stripped of all of its trees by lumbermen in the early 20th century, and mined for its rocks that built the Gulf Coast jetties at Port Arthur, Texas.
Hodges Garden park manager Kim Kelly says, "It was totally bare, there was nothing, no trees."
In 1937, businessman A.J. Hodges bought the clear-cut land, more than 100,000 acres. And he began a process of reforestation, experimenting with stronger, faster growing pine trees for timber, and creating a tree-covered garden surrounded by a man-made 225-acre lake.
"This was his passion," says Kelly. "His livelihood was timber and oil, and this was his passion."
Hodges turned nearly 5,000 acres into an experimental garden and wildlife preserve.
"It was private," says Kelly, "they hadn't opened it up then, and the rumors were flying about what's he doing behind those gates. So in 1959, he opened it up to the public to let them see what he had been doing."
The rock outcroppings are actually part of an old quarry that was here when Hodges bought the property. Now these rock walls have become part of the terraced gardens.
Water is pumped from the lake to the top of the rocky garden. Waterfalls carry the water down through three levels of flowers and tree-lined walkways. And then back to the lake, where a giant fountain provides a cool oasis on the lake's shoreline.
"Late in the evening and early mornings are the most calm quiet time," says Kelly. "And no matter how many times you walk it you'll see different angles, something different every time."
Five year ago, Hodges Gardens became a Louisiana state park. It's a quiet place to picnic, rent a cabin by the lake, canoe its gentle waters, or simply take in its beauty.
"It's pretty hidden in these hills," Kelly tells us. "It's a garden in the forest. It's a very, very peaceful relaxing place."
It's one man's vision of conservation that is now one of our state's natural treasures.
There is overnight camping and cabins for rent in Hodges Gardens State Park. For more information, go online to http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ihodges.aspx