Briarwood on National List

By Dr. Strve Payne
Journal Correspondent


Briarwood cabin
There is more incentive than ever to visit and explore the Briarwood Nature Preserve soon. This birthplace of naturalist Caroline Dormon, located just off LA Hwy 9 a few miles south of Saline, was declared a National Historic Place in November 2016. Keilah Spann, Regional Historian of the National Park Service, and several others who had been associated with Briarwood worked to nominate and gain this new status for the preserve. Briarwood Nature Preserve is known to many residents from that area of the state and by those who are aware of the history of Caroline Dormon. Many school children and adults have toured the preserve and participated in its learning activities over recent decades. Briarwood deserves much greater acclaim, though, as an outstanding destination spot for visitors who are interested in forestry, botany, horticulture, and back-to-nature experiences.

Unlike state and national parks, Briarwood Nature Preserve is managed as a non-profit foundation and depends solely on contributions from individuals and organizations. Among its many goals are the protection of its old-growth forest, wildlife, and rare and endangered plants there, as well as continuing quest for ecological and biodiversity education.

The Interpretive Center at Briarwood was completed in 1993 through grant funds and contributions to its foundation. Annual basic membership in the Briarwood Foundation is $25 for individuals and $35 for families, and there are higher levels of annual or lifetime contribution plain to this foundation. The preserve is open to visitors for guided tours on weekends from March through May and in October and November. Special tours for groups of five or more and off-season tours are available by appointment only. Currently tour admission is $5 per person.

Just a few of the tour attractions include Caroline Dormon's log cabin built in 1950 as her dream home, the Grandpappy Pine, the Wing's Rest Pond, the Bay Garden, and the Cypress Swamp.

The log home serves as a museum now and is preserved as it was during Dorman's later years. The huge, long-leaf, native-growth pine that she called "Grandpappy" is estimated to be over 300 years old, and its reflection can be seen in the Wing's Rest Pond. The Bay Garden is a bog-like area of the preserve where Dormon planted and experimented with native and hybrid iris and other flowers.

Plans are underway to build soon a wooden boardwalk over a part of the Cypress Swamp there.

Two generations of the Richard Johnson family have dutifully served as caretakers for the preserve since Dormon's death in 1971.

Caroline Dormon was a visionary with a vast depth of knowledge about natural resources of the state and an iron-willed determination to preserve Louisiana's native forests. She was born in 1888 at this Briarwood site which was a summer home for the Dorman family who lived in Arcadia. Her father was an attorney who loved nature, and Caroline as a child shared his passion and would often accompany and learn from him on their outdoor adventures at Briarwood.

Caroline attended and graduated from Judson College in Alabama in 1907 with a degree in literature and fine arts. Her particular talent was drawing and watercolor painting which she later displayed so well in her many books and articles on native trees and flowers.

Dormon has been credited as the first American woman to serve as a forester and was a conservation educator for the state's Department of Conservation. She developed Louisiana's first program for conservation education that served as a model for other southern states. She led lobbying and other efforts for over a decade to protect tracts of virgin timber land and surrounding areas to be included in a national forest. Unsuccessful in her battle to preserve these virgin timber tracts, Dormon was able to get these cutover and reforested lands officially included within the Kasatchie National Forest in 1930.

She honored the indigenous people who had long inhabited those parts of the state with the name of this national forest.

Caroline Dormon received an honorary doctorate from LSU in 1965 for her many contributions to botany and forestry education, her accomplishments as an author and artist in her drawings and paintings, and her furtherance of the cause of conservation through reforms and legislation.

Dormon's life and many accomplishments are described in detail in several books, including The Gift of Wild Things (1990; Center for Louisiana Studies) by Fran Holman Johnson. The Briarwood website and Facebook pages also present much more information and colorful photos displaying the beauty of the preserve.

Special dates at Briarwood for the spring of 2017 are Saturdays on February 25 and April 1. The first date is Tom Sawyer Day when volunteers meet in the morning to tackle some work projects at the preserve. The Spring Fundraising Picnic for the preserve in April offers good food, music, and fellowship.

Foundation members get periodic newsletters about various preserve activities. New or returning visitors can contact the Johnsons at briarwood@gmail.com or by phone at (318) 576-3379 to schedule guided tours. I would particularly recommend Briarwood Nature Preserve for families with school-age children who are looking for an interesting weekend excursion with many types of learning opportunities.

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