History of Honey Brake at the Louisiana Delta Plantation
The Louisiana delta region is a vast wetland and swamp wildlife sanctuary that overall has been little disturbed by human contact. This began in ancient times with natural flooding of the Mississippi River and sediment buildup of rich alluvial soils deposited in the region from erosion that occurred throughout the Wisconsin glaciations period 10,000 years ago. The natural flooding that occurred on the Mississippi and other rivers throughout the region left natural levees or "ridges" as locally known that were the beginning of settlements by our ancestors. The first farms in the early 1800's were smaller tracts located near these natural levees. Naturally, the largest levee was along the Mississippi River and after WWII the development of roadways on top of these levee systems opened more opportunity for farmers to access more agricultural areas. In 1950, areas outside and between the levee systems known as valleys were largely undeveloped but beginning in the 60's development of these areas prospered with the removal of trees and partial wetland/swamp habitat to create agricultural farmland. Some of these areas that proved over time to be deficient for farming have now been returned to native habitat through Federal and State restoration programs.
The Louisiana Delta Plantation (LDP) began in 1964 through the purchase of a tract of land from the Barton family of Baton Rouge, LA by the Morrison family from the Nebraska/Kansas region. The first purchase of 60,000 acres was cleared and developed for farming and was in rough agriculture production by 1965. Continued development in terms of drainage ditches, levee, and flume systems allowed the LDP to regulate water flow both onto and off of the property to increase agricultural productivity. Another purchase from a family trust of the" Mississiana Properties" by the Morrison family in 1978 and an additional 8000 acre tract purchased from Prudential led to the Morrison family ownership of 96,000 acres making it one of the largest single owner row crop agricultural farms in the U.S.
By 1979 most all of the property was in agricultural production but much of the lowland area proved to be inefficient for crop production. In the late 90's, projects were begun to return much of the lowland areas to native wetland and wildlife habitat and by the mid 2000's many of the projects were completed resulting in some of the best waterfowl and wildlife habitats in the State of Louisiana.
Simultaneous to the Morrison family acquisitions the State of Louisiana and the U.S. Federal government were acquiring and planning major habitat projects in the same region. The State of Louisiana also purchased 60,000 acres from the Barton family that borders the LDP and established the Dewey Wills Wildlife Management Area that still exists as one of the State's premier WMA's to this day. During this same time, the Federal government began a water control project on Catahoula Lake in order to implement habitat management for waterfowl on this 60,000 acre natural shallow water lake. Construction of the diversion canal that drains Catahoula Lake into Black River and drainage structures that assist in the drainage of the LDP was all part of a master plan to manage the region for agriculture, water control, waterfowl and upland wildlife.
Brothers Ron & Michael Johnson having been raised in Chicot State Park, the largest of Louisiana's State Parks located in Evangeline Parish, learned valuable lessons at an early age from their father about respect and value of the land. Ron and Michael's grandfather, Mr. Edious Johnson, the first caretaker and Superintendent of Chicot State Park paved the way for his son, Mr. Dudley Johnson, to later assume the role as the Park Superintendent. Mr. Dudley Johnson passed on his ideas and ethics of land stewardship to his sons as they grew and began their path of education toward becoming engineers. Ron, elder of the brothers, earned his petroleum engineering degree and spent years with a major oil company before making the choice to change his lifestyle by becoming a farmer in order to spend more time with his family. Having spent the last 40 years as a farmer, Ron has developed a wealth of knowledge of the Louisiana Delta region and agricultural operations. Michael's education in mechanical engineering led him to a different path in life and eventually into ownership of an oil and gas exploration company in Corpus Christi, TX. Ron's experience with the oil industry and farming soon convinced Michael to consider investing in land in order to diversify his company assets. In 2005 when some of the Louisiana Delta Plantation (LDP) property became available Michael agreed to the initial purchase of 30,000 acres of agricultural land as an investment opportunity and for a chance to work closer with his brother Ron.
Upon learning of the increased value of property when recreation land is associated with agricultural land the Johnson's purchased another 8000 acre "Honey Brake" Wetlands Reserve Project (WRP) track, an additional 800 acres of farm land, and eventually additional property on Larto Lake bringing the total owned by LDP to approximately 40,000 acres which were all part of the original Louisiana Delta Plantation. The WRP land was contracted out to Ducks Unlimited for development of water control structures to support waterfowl making it the largest DU waterfowl project in the country. The purchase of LDP also included some 75 leased duck blinds on the property that required significant management. To further develop income from these leased blinds and other valuable recreation resources on the property, Mr. Ron Johnson hired Drew Keeth as the LDP Recreation Manager. Mr. Ron knew Drew as a young boy and became reacquainted with him in recent years. The vision of "Honey Brake" as it's becoming branded today was slowly born. It was not set out in an initial master plan but rather began to materialize as Mr. Ron, Michael and Drew began to realize the potential and diversity that the LDP offered as a viable recreation program.
As one of the top rated duck hunting lodges in the world, Honey Brake draws hunters from around the globe during waterfowl season. To compliment the waterfowl hunting, Honey Brake has developed into a multi-faceted recreational program which includes the 13,000 sq/ft "Honey Brake Lodge" with three connected duplex cabins, Honey Brake Gun Club with its' 15 station sporting clays range, 5 stand, and duck flush stations, and Honey Brake Pro Shop and Canvasback Conference Center to support the gun club and other recreational activities being developed. Construction is currently underway for the addition of The Camp which will be house 200 beds for summer camps and large group events. An abundance of waterfowl and other bird species provide ample opportunity to support a strong bird watching market and the pristine complex of Larto Lake and its' connected system of bayou's to Saline Lake offer excellent opportunities for a strong aquatics program and exceptional fishing sources.
The current owners have a love for this land. They have a continuing and long term commitment to making this property the best it can be, hopefully for the enjoyment of many generations. Together, the initiative of private, State, and Federal efforts have created a diverse region for farming, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation of this Central Louisiana region that is truly a geographical "Hope Diamond".