NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Reggie Ford is well known for his colorful artwork. For the last decade and a half, you could find him on the edge of Jackson Square exuding the spirit of New Orleans.
He works as part of the Dutch Alley Co-op.
But when the coronavirus pandemic shut down tourism, Ford knew he had to do something to make a difference and stay busy.
He set his sights on a long neglected and secluded area that’s been shut down for decades.
He began documenting his journey to clean up Lincoln Beach.
Ford says, “I just hear all this bad stuff happens in New Orleans East. And I heard about this beach out here. I said I need to go out there and pick up litter.”
What started as a plan for a quick pick-up turned into a several months long adventure.
The old summertime playground created during the days of segregation sits on 17 acres in the Little Woods area and after 37 years of neglect, to say it was a mess, would be an understatement.
Ford’s work didn’t stop with filling up hundreds of bags with trash.
“All this was trees,” he says. “I went to every bark, every tree and trimmed it so you can see the lake.”
“They also had boulders stacked up and I wondered why. People were using them to sit on, so I picked them up and threw them aside and I made benches from recycled pallets.”
Reporter: That was the fun part... The tunnel leading to the old amusement park and beach.. was filled with muddy debris and water.
Ford rented a pump and other heavy equipment and got to work.
“I cleared the tunnel of water and debris, knew it was going to flood again, but I wanted it to be easier for the city to come in and pump it so they could get trucks in here to take out the trash,” Ford says.
On the other side of the tunnel is unparalleled beauty inside city limits, what he calls a hidden gem.
”Man that’s amazing, I can see the shells and everything under the water,” says Ford.
Two long stretches of sand along Lake Pontchartrain are clean looking good again.
“A lot of people when they first see this say it doesn’t feel like it’s in America,” Ford says. “They this looks different from any beach I’ve seen in the country if they not from here. People from here, some are almost brought to tears by how beautiful and peaceful this is.”
The city makes it very clear that Lincoln Beach is closed to the public, although some people have been finding a way in to soak in the serenity.
People regularly climb over the wall on the Hayne Blvd. levee to get onto the property.
“It’s very unsafe, but you have to do what you have to do to see what you want to see,” says New Orleanian, Robert Gore.
He says he’ll take his chances with hopes the city sees the value of the property.
Gore says, “It would be nice for the community to open this back up so people have a place to go. Pontchartrain Beach is closed, Six Flags closed. There’s nothing for families to do.”
Which is exactly why Reggie Ford also took his chances and spent some of his own money to jumpstart the restoration.
“My goal is to keep this for the people, keep this property under the possession of New Orleans and help develop it,” says Ford.
This FOX 8 great neighbor is banking on the city working with the community to finally finish the job.
“A beach in New Orleans! If you got a beach in New Orleans, where else you gotta go?” asks Ford.
City officials say they have workers assigned to clean up the area as well in an effort to make it safe again.
“We want to see productivity at that place and want to see it open back up for the community but right now it is not safe, so we have to address that on the front end before we move forward,” says New Orleans City Spokesperson Beau Tidwell. “As I understand it, there’s no desire on the part of the city to sell that property right now.”
Mayor Latoya Cantrell warns people to stay away from the area, saying at least three live alligators have been removed from the water at the beach recently. Back in May, the city launched a study to explore the feasibility of reopening Lincoln Beach.
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