FOLLY BEACH REVISITED

Posted: January 1, 2016 in Uncategorized
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When I was in the seventh grade the gates of a quarter-mile long spillway were closed and the waters of Bayou D’Arbonne began to back up to form one of the largest manmade lakes in the Deep South.   By summer the waters reached pool stage and the novelty of a new sports attraction was with us.

Skiers were seen from the road leading to Ruston or the recreation area at the spillway.  Pleasure Island, Massingale’s Landing and D’Arbone Village opened and attracted the fishermen wishing to wet a hook.  Pontoon barges parked along the Ruston boat ramp and were docked like Navy ships at Mayport.  Sail boats could be spotted at the spillway.  The lake lived up to Louisiana’s nick name, The Sportsman’s Paradise.  What was missing was that unique element that would separate Lake D’Arbonne from other lakes that dotted the south.  A little imagination, a little creativity and some funding was required.

A year after the lake was flooded a barge was launched.  On board was a large diesel powered dredge.  It was moved into position and moored at the southwest corner of where the lake bordered the Ruston high way.  Soon the intake pipes were lowered to the bottom of the lake, the discharge hose was placed near the highway, the monstrous diesels fired up and the floor of Lake D’Arbonne was being pulled up and piled at the discharge point to form a beautiful white beach.  Robby Simms Construction partnered with Ben Post to build a magical place on Lake D’Arbonne.

There were many disbelievers in the area that felt the building of a large beach on the lake was pure folly.  Many referred to the project as Ben’s Folly; but Ben would have the last laugh as he dubbed the name of the amusement as Ben’s Folly.  Eventually a giant beach of white sand presented itself and rivaled the sandy beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Don Pope, a Tech student from Florida helped to develop the site.  Palms were brought in from Florida and planted around the beach, a fence was erected, a concession stand built and Folly Beach was in operation.

Then bands started showing up on Saturday night and the growth of a legend was in full bloom.  Joe Stampley and the Uniques were among the headliners.  Cars were lined up for over a quarter of a mile on both sides of the roads as teens flocked to Folly Beach for a taste of the Gulf Coast as they danced on the beach in the balmy summer evenings.   Summer days found high school kids mixing with college kids along the beach as they soaked up the rays of the sun.

Folly Beach held special memories for me.  For a free Beach shirt, embroidered at H Michaels in Monroe, and for all the cokes I could drink I became a bouncer at the Beach.  The Post family lived across the street from where I was raised and Steve was my close friend.  I SCUBA dove the Beach one summer day and went to bottom of the hole that had been dredged up years earlier.  When I hit bottom I went to my knees in silt, the water was extremely cold and so dark that I didn’t know if I was going up or down.  My wife-to-be ran the beach one summer and I slipped out there to see her without her or anyone’s knowledge that I was returning from Viet Nam.  With the diversion of a friend she was caught totally unaware until I walked into the concession stand door.

Over time things change; the dances stopped and the beach closed.  Then the Beach sold and the Sand Castle Restaurant and Lounge opened its’ doors drawing people from as far away as Little Rock for a great dinner.  That too ended with a fire and Folly Beach faded away in the mid-eighties.

Nature has a normal state of balance and much of the Beach slowly slid away into the waters of the lake.  Others bought the property and it was hoped that the lake would see a resurrection. These hopes were dashed; at least until recently.  Like the legendary Phoenix that rose from the ashes, Folly Beach has been breathed new life.  Kerry Hill and partners are rebuilding the beach in a manner that will justifiably dazzle visitors to the area. This is an example of what leadership coupled with government working with private enterprise can accomplish.

Ironically the future of Folly has returned to the original neighborhood.  Kerry was raised across the street from Steve and me.  A pretty good neighborhood.

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