The public unveiling Wednesday night of BREC’s new 10-year strategic plan for East Baton Rouge Parish’s parks and recreation system, particularly for its walking and bike trails, was met with optimism from some residents and outright enthusiasm from others.
The Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks Commission’s draft plan, called “Imagine Your Parks 2: Better Parks, Better Living,” calls for more walking/biking trails and a host of other health-conscious initiatives residents asked for during community comment meetings held around the parish.
The 100-page proposal, now available on BREC’s website, includes more than $72 million in ambitious capital outlay improvements for the parish’s park system.
However, Stephen Hammond, of the Wallace Roberts & Todd planning firm, said BREC will need approximately $52 million in additional revenue to make the improvements happen.
About half of BREC’s operating budget and revenue for improvements comes from a voter-approved 6.2-mill property tax that generates about $23 million annually.
“This is not just about your typical ballparks and swimming pools,” Hammond told attendees at the public meeting Wednesday where the plan was presented. “This is about providing more cultural elements the community wants as well. (The plan) needs to have the voice of the community behind it so BREC is assured it’s doing what the community hired it to do.”
The draft revises BREC’s mission statement into one that contributes “to a healthier, more vibrant community by providing exceptional parks, open space and recreation experiences” for residents.
BREC’s accreditation process requires that a new strategic plan be drafted every 10 years.
Ted Jack, BREC’s assistant superintendent of planning, operations and resources, said the previous strategic plan spawned more than 100 projects over the past decade that were geared mostly toward maintenance and infrastructure improvements throughout the park system.
The public has until Oct. 15 to review the draft and provide additional comments before it’s presented to the commission for adoption in November.
Hammond said the draft includes nine strategic directions and itemized actions that are based on feedback the planning firm gathered from more than 30 community meetings and dozens of interviews with local stakeholders over the past nine months.
Scientific data included in the plan show that 28 percent of the households polled deemed walking and bike trails as BREC’s most important offerings.
About 27 percent of the households in the Baton Rouge metro area said neighborhood parks were important, with 21 percent ranking playground areas as a crucial element of the park system.
Over the course of the next 10 years, residents have asked BREC to concentrate on enhancing connectivity around the metro area through a network of multiuse trails at its 12 community parks and various city assets.
“People have been saying, ‘We now have a lot of trails that just dead end.’ How do we connect those?” Hammond said.
Donny Boudreaux, a Baton Rouge resident, said hearing the push for more trail connectivity leaves him optimistic about the plan’s direction.
“Hopefully the park system can follow through on some of those ideas,” Boudreaux said. “I also think they should consolidate some of their facilities and begin focusing their efforts on more of their highly used properties.”
The plan encourages BREC to host more community events at neighborhood parks, which residents said would entice the community to use facilities more, and expand water-oriented recreation activities on parish waterways.
The plan outlines how BREC should continue raising the standards for its parks and recreation facilities and increase its natural resource-related recreational opportunities — possibly through partnerships with local industry and businesses that could help supplement capital improvement costs.
And for the first time ever it includes a “Cultural and Historical Resource Plan” aimed at conserving, interpreting and complementing the parish’s historic and cultural resources.
Hearing that Wednesday night was music to Carolyn Bennett’s ears.
Bennett belongs to the Foundation for Historical Louisiana.
“That’s great news! I think BREC needs to do whatever it can for these treasures in the community,” she said.
BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said Wednesday that addendums to the draft — focusing on the Baton Rouge Zoo and golf courses — are still being worked on.
Those are expected to be completed by the end of the year, she said.
“Those are special services that we offer. We needed experts in golf courses and zoo management and operations to come in and give us advice,” McKnight said. “I don’t know yet what the outcome of those will be.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.