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Local government steps in to keep battlefield events going

January 5, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With the partial federal shutdown threatening to cancel Battle of New Orleans commemorations at the battlefield itself, local government has stepped in to keep some of the events going.

The battlefield in suburban Chalmette is part of the national park system, and its interpretive and educational rangers have been furloughed during the shutdown. The National Park Service has said events next week will be canceled if rangers aren’t back at work Monday.

A race Sunday had to be rerouted because, even though Chalmette Battlefield ’s pedestrian gates are open, the parish couldn’t get a permit for the race to run through the park, St. Bernard Parish tourism director Katherine Tommaseo said Friday evening. She said a wreath-laying Tuesday — the 204th anniversary of the battle’s final day — will be held at a nearby historical site.

Re-enactors who’d planned to be at the park next Friday and Saturday have been invited to a parish park for living history demonstrations, though whether school field trips scheduled Friday can be held will depend on how the groups respond, she said. The park said on its website in mid-November that all Jan. 11 field trip slots were full.

“We’re still trying to muster the troops. I might know a little more on Monday. We have to see what re-enactors are willing to come out and do,” she said.

Tim Strain heads a small group that plays a militia battalion organized and led during the War of 1812 by Jean Baptist Plauche, who later became Louisiana’s lieutenant governor. Other members became state legislators and city councilmen, Strain said.

“The reason we do this is to tell the story of these guys,” he said before the parish announced its plans. “The guys in this unit gave us things all around town ... Tulane University and the St. Charles streetcar line.”

He said he feels sorry for the furloughed park rangers: “They’ve been working on this for months. ... It’s my hobby; it’s their job.”

Park rangers were not available to talk to a reporter.

Strain’s wife, Charlene Strain, plays a camp follower in the Plauche battalion’s living history encampment, one of many usually dotted around the park for the anniversary celebrations. Others feature British troops, Native Americans, Free Men of Color, and people singing songs or demonstrating crafts of the era.

As camp followers, Charlene Strain said, “We’re cooking from scratch, do some laundering out there. Whatever we can accurately re-create.”

She also teaches music to the 520 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Chalmette Elementary School, near the battlefield. The school’s 170 or so third- and fourth-graders have a field trip scheduled Friday, because it fits beautifully into Louisiana and U.S. history, she said.

“It’s one of the few chances to say, ‘Here it is — this is what your textbook says, and you’re standing here in that place,’” she said.

Last year, Charlene Strain said, budget constraints kept the park from running the school tours, though it did hold a public day with living history groups.

This year, she said, the parish helped reopen the school tour day.

She said she worried that canceling the tours this year could hurt chances of field trips next year.

“Our children need to know something positive — not just, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re the only community that completely flooded in Hurricane Katrina,’” she said.

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