Talkin' Outdoors

It sometimes amazes me how some things are taken for granted. You know they’re there; you drive by them every day but you’re headed somewhere else and it never crosses your mind to stop by.

Lincoln Parish is home to at least two of those entities that we know are there but most of us fail to visit.

Lincoln Parish Park is located in the beautiful tree-studded hills just north of Ruston. Granted, the local community is generally supporting this mecca in the pines but if you check license plates of visitors to the park, most are from other states.

Bike trails, hiking trails, a beautiful lake for fishing and swimming, picnic areas and overnight camp sites are there for a modest fee for families to enjoy.

Last week we had three grandchildren visiting for a few days and at my wife’s suggestion, we decided to drive into town and see what the North Louisiana Military Museum had to offer, hoping the youngsters would enjoy the visit. They did and so did I. It pains me a bit to have been a resident of Ruston for 40 years and I have driven down E. Georgia a thousand times and I have never visited the museum until last week.

Ernie Stevens, Director of the North Louisiana Military Museum, is to be richly commended for the work he has done and is doing to make the museum one of the most fascinating places in this part of the country. Here’s how it all came to be.

“Our military history is very important to us because if we don’t remember what it took to get us where we are today, we’re in pretty bad shape,” Stevens said.

Actually, the museum began some 24 years ago as Stevens, a Vietnam veteran along with other members of Vietnam Veterans of Louisiana, began collecting artifacts from the Vietnam War and displaying them in an available building.

“In the process of doing this,” Stevens recalled, “the World War II and Korean war veterans started bring material from those wars to us. We were collecting all this material when the word ‘museum’ began cropping up.

“We weren’t planning a museum but as things started progressing, we began collecting artifacts from other wars. Some of us got together and decided to give the museum idea a try. If it worked that would be fine and if not, we’d enjoy ourselves in the process,” Stevens said.

Fortunately it did work and today, the North Louisiana Military Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of military artifacts you’ll find just about anywhere.

“One thing we try to do here at our museum is to pay homage to our veterans who fought for our freedom. We not only have artifacts all the way from the American Civil War down through Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we also have a good collection of artifacts featuring the enemies our troops faced. This way, visitors can get a sense of both sides of the conflicts where we’ve been involved,” he said.

Two floors of the building where the museum is housed are filled with hundreds of displays of uniforms, weapons, documents and just about anything else one could imagine relating to the military.

Stepping outside, you’re mesmerized by items such as a jet fighter plane, a tank, a Huey helicopter, anti-aircraft guns and even an anchor from a vessel used during the Civil War.

If you haven’t visited Lincoln Parish Park lately located four miles north of I-20 off Highway 33 or the North Louisiana Military Museum, located at 201 Memorial Drive in Ruston, you need to plan a visit soon.

Stevens offers a sobering fact that ought to make residents, like me, somewhat ashamed at not having visited our amazing museum.

“There is no fee for visiting. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of local people haven’t been here,” he said. “Ninety percent of visitors to the museum are from out of town; only 10 percent are locals.”

Having just celebrated Independence Day, I can’t think of a better time than now to pay this amazing museum a visit.