The message seems clear: Baton Rouge residents are striving to live healthier lives and they hunger for more opportunities to socialize at culture-driven community events.
At least that’s the prevailing theme throughout much of the working draft of BREC’s new 10-year strategic plan for East Baton Rouge Parish’s parks and recreation system.
After more than 30 community meetings and dozens of interviews with local stakeholders, BREC and consultants with the Wallace Roberts & Todd planning firm finally plan to present to the public on Wednesday a draft of the new strategic plan outlining the goals of the park system for the next decade.
According to the plan’s preliminary draft, called “Imagine Your Parks 2: Better Parks, Better Living,” Baton Rouge residents want BREC to concentrate on implementing more trail connections for bikers, runners and walkers, host more community events at neighborhood parks and expand water-oriented recreation activities on parish waterways.
BREC’s accreditation process requires that a new strategic plan be drafted every 10 years.
“Health and wellness wasn’t nearly as important when we did our last plan, but it’s No. 1 this time,” said Ted Jack, BREC’s assistant superintendent of planning, operations and resources.
“I think that’s because of the huge anti-obesity push we’re seeing right now,” Jack said. “Since our last plan, research has shown parks help people live a better lifestyle.”
Jack said BREC’s previous plan, “Imagine Your Parks,” contained more maintenance-oriented objectives that spurred new recreational sites and park upgrades throughout the parish.
Scientific data included in the new plan reveal 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.
Residents also said they want BREC to 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.
Jack said that for the first time there will be a “Cultural and Historical Resource Plan” aimed at conserving, interpreting and complementing the parish’s historic and cultural resources.
The draft says residents want to see the development of canoe launches at the Airline Highway Park, Plank Road Park and Frenchtown Road Conservation Area.
Evaluations on whether parks and recreation facilities meet productivity standards also are being pushed in the strategic plan.
If substandard parks and facilities can’t be improved in a fiscally responsible way, the proposed plan says, BREC officials need to either repurpose them or shut them down.
BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said that could mean making tough decisions that may not be popular with the public.
“The financial piece will be the challenge,” she said. “We’re going to have to make sure we clearly communicate what we can realistically achieve and what we need support to achieve.”
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.
After a meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Independence Park theater to formally unveil the draft of the 10-year plan, the public will have three weeks to comb through it and propose any further changes and recommendations.
A copy of the report will be posted on BREC’s website after the meeting.
The final version of the plan is expected to go before East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission members in November for adoption.
“I’m very encouraged by what I see so far,” Commissioner Davis Rhorer said about the working draft. “I’m liking the push for more trails because it shows there is a public interest in moving and getting out.”
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