The exercise path at Audubon Park is getting a makeover, and plans are in the works to refurbish two shelters at the park and install more playground equipment nearby.
The repaving of the 1.8-mile jogging path, which is available to runners, walkers and cyclists, is to begin Monday. It comes as part of a five-year improvement program at the park, according to the Audubon Nature Institute, which operates the park for the Audubon Commission and the city.
Crews will work on one quarter of the path at a time so patrons can use the rest of the path during construction. The full project, underwritten by the Goldring and Woldenberg foundations, is expected to wrap up in early September.
Following the repaving, the park plans to do work on and around the shelters near St. Charles Avenue and Walnut Street, fixing up and installing new playground equipment for children ages 2 to 12 and upgrading the landscaping and paths. For the Walnut Street shelter, that also will mean fixing up the roof and bathroom and making the path to the street compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Those improvements have yet to be approved by the Audubon Commission, which is expected to take them up at the end of August.
The five-year effort to improve facilities at the park draws on money from the Audubon Park Conservancy, a fundraising effort launched in 2012 to pay for maintenance and improvements at the Uptown park.
The conservancy’s first initiative, the Olmsted Renewed capital campaign — named for John Charles Olmsted, the park’s designer — has raised nearly $10 million from private donors to fund the improvement plan and boost the park’s endowment.
The improvements include the planting of 50 new trees, ongoing cleaning of the lagoon, new lighting at the St. Charles Avenue entrance, repaved sidewalks and new benches, and solar-powered emergency phones.
The conservancy continues to raise funds for day-to-day care and annual maintenance.
“For generations, Audubon Park has been a special and sacred place for residents of the metropolitan area and visitors alike,” Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman said in a news release. “Audubon Park belongs to everyone, and with continued help from supporters of the conservancy, we are committed to preserving its status as a unique urban oasis.”
With live oaks perhaps the most beloved aspect of Audubon Park, tree planting and preservation are top priorities of the fundraising efforts. Ongoing tree care includes installation of lightning protection, termite treatment, pruning and root aeration.
Thanks to the generosity of several donors, notably Kitty and Stephen Sherrill and the Chevron Corp., more than 50 new trees have been planted in the park over the past three years, including a pair of 1,400-gallon live oaks in the stately alley, or allée, extending from Newman Bandstand to the Hyams Fountain.
In addition, the conservancy has helped address long-standing challenges facing the park’s lagoon, named for New Orleans philanthropists Dorothy and James Coleman.
Once overwhelmed with duckweed, the lagoon is now serviced throughout the year, and the difference is clear to see, especially in the intense heat of summer.
Thanks to the support of Tom and Gayle Benson, soft ambient lights now wash over the St. Charles Avenue entrance to the park, including the Gumbel Fountain, Stern Memorial Gates and nearby live oaks. Sidewalks along the avenue also have been repaved.
Conservancy funding also has paid for installation of solar-powered emergency phones, increased trash and litter collection, replacement of park benches and the upcoming addition of new bike racks and trash cans.
The new exercise stations, sponsored by philanthropist Boatner Reily, soon will be followed by improvements to park playgrounds. Thanks to the Louellen and Daryl Berger family, the St. Charles Avenue site will get a new, rubberized safety surface and upgrades to the play structure. At the Walnut Street playground, the entire play structure and the rubberized surface will be replaced.
The Audubon Nature Institute annually funds an approximately $2.11 million operating budget for Audubon Park through revenue from admission-based attractions and private fundraising.