Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and State Sen. Ryan Gatti.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser shared his thoughts on the state of tourism in Louisiana at a luncheon hosted by State Sen. Ryan Gatti during a recent whistle-stop tour of northwest Louisiana.

Nungesser praised the state Legislature for allowing the establishment of the Louisiana Culture, Recreation and Tourism Foundation. He said this foundation is looking at ways to preserve Louisiana’s state parks system.

“We saw in the last eight years $54 million swept from state parks,” he said. “It left our state parks system in a horrible mess. The last two sessions I had to move money around or close state parks, which I pledged not to do.”

In studying other states, One thing the foundation is considering is forming public-private partnerships within the parks system. One possible partnership Nungesser cited as an example our be a privately funded resort conference center built on state-owned property on Lake Pontchartrain next to Fountainbleu State Park.

“They did one in a West Virginia state park, and brought $50 million to the state park system,” he said.

One similar public-private partnership already has begun in Louisiana, Nungesser said. About three months ago, the state signed a contract with a private horseback riding business to operate in Bogue Chitto State Park in Washington Parish.

“We charge him $2 for a half day, $4 for a while day, on top of what he charges,” Nungesser said. “Hundreds of people a week are going there and riding horses. Now that state park offers horseback riding, and in a short amount of time, we believe just off of that operation we will cover the cost of operating that state park.”

The lieutenant governor said the state is interested in hearing ideas for more public-private partnerships. But he added that any partnership had to benefit the local community as well as the state park system

“We’re not going to let something come into your community and complete with local business,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s a win-win for the community, and for our state, and for out state parks. We could see the day when we don’t have to ask you for tax dollars to fund our museums and state parks and we can make them the best they can be with these public-private partnership dollars.”

Nungesser also Louisiana had a fifth consecutive record-breaking year for tourism. One reason he cited for that accomplishment was the state’s people.

“Louisiana is truly blessed,” he said. “As I travel, now two years as lieutenant governor, to five foreign countries and about 30 states promoting Louisiana, Louisiana’s people are our best asset. Everything from something as simple as a waitress going to get a recipe for the bread pudding and the chef coming out and sitting at the table writing it out, or there was a couple trying to get to Poverty Point and they pulled into a gas station and asked directions. The gentleman said ‘Follow me.’ Thirty-five minutes later he pointed to the gates. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. It makes me so proud to be your lieutenant governor.”

By Scott Anderson

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