Denham Springs — Despite sitting on the bank of the Amite River, Denham Springs can feel far from the water.
The city has no riverside parks, and boaters must travel to Port Vincent for the nearest public launch.
City leadership is hoping to change that with the construction of a new wildlife park on the Amite River. The mayor and council have an ambitious plan that includes walking trails, campsites, cabins, RV lots, an education center and a new public boat launch on 51 acres of land off 4-H Club Road south of the city.
“This is a pretty big deal,” Mayor Gerard Landry said.
Denham Springs began working on the project more than a decade ago, Councilwoman Lori Lamm-Williams said. However, the park will depend on grant money, and Hurricane Katrina washed away funding opportunities as the state focused on more urgent needs, she said.
Now the ball is rolling again. The city last year paid for a study to begin planning the proposed park, but chief engineer Eddie Aydell said construction likely won’t start until the end of 2016 at the earliest. Landry said it could take several more years.
“It’s definitely gonna be a long-term project,” Aydell said.
The first phase likely will include the construction of a road down to the river and the installation of an information center with bathrooms on one end and a boat launch at the other. The first phase also could allow for some primitive campsites. Aydell estimated it may cost somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000.
Further down the road, the city is looking for other features such as trails, a playground and RV campsites. There are talks of a possible fishing pier or a canoe and kayak rental site, though those items haven’t made their way onto the plan’s map yet.
The site contains “gorgeous” cypress and tupelo trees, Aydell said, adding that he wants the park to preserve the natural beauty of the area. He envisions an educational building that can teach children about the local ecosystem.
Because the land lies in a floodplain, its opportunities for development are limited, and Lamm-Williams said she is eager to put the site to use.
“We have a piece of Louisiana sitting right in our backyard that no one can enjoy,” she said.
In addition to securing funding, the city will have to jump another hurdle. While Denham Springs has owned the site of the proposed park for decades, the land is outside the city limits.
Landry said the city could annex the land to make it an official city park, or Denham Springs could enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with a private company to manage the day-to-day maintenance of the park.
The city had used part of the site as a landfill until the early 1980s, Aydell said. Landry said the area was studied a decade ago and determined it was safe for use as a park.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.