Update: June 26, 2017, 2:30 p.m: Jefferson Parish has rescheduled its grand opening of Parc des Familles for Friday, June 30 at 5:45 p.m. It had been postponed due to Tropical Storm Cindy.
Original story: The history of Parc des Familles, often billed as the West Bank’s answer to Lafreniere Park on Jefferson Parish's east bank, is one of fits and starts.
The 610-acre park, located in Crown Point just east of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve's huge Barataria unit, was conceived with much to-do in 2000. But like many public projects, it took a backseat to more pressing concerns in the wake of Hurricane Katrina a few years later.
Nevertheless, the parish opened Estelle Playground on the northern end of the property four years ago, and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office opened a $3.7 million substation in the center of the park in 2016.
Next week, the gates will open to the park’s newest section, a $3 million phase that includes a 2,000-foot elevated boardwalk, three gazebos, picnic areas, two paved parking lots and public restrooms.
Soon, contractors will begin work on a $550,000 disc golf course designed by John Houck, a Texas-based consultant who is considered the country’s leading designer of such courses.
The course, which is on the southern end of the property along the canal that makes up its eastern border, is expected to open this fall.
“This will give people the opportunity to start using our West Bank park,” Jefferson Parish Councilman Ricky Templet said. “What this part of it does is help people see and touch what’s happening.”
Like the boardwalk, the disc golf course will meander its way though the park’s landscape of cypress and oak trees and iris-filled marshes.
“It’s just a beautiful place for families and people of all ages to be able to enjoy nature in southern Jefferson Parish,” said Mark McLean, chairman of the park’s advisory board.
The land was purchased with the proceeds of a $10 million bond issue approved in 2000 by voters in Harvey and Marrero.
The park's master plan, which was designed in conjunction with the Audubon Nature Institute, called for a reception hall, walking trails, a conservation area and botanical gardens. There once was even a plan for a public school.
After Katrina, the parish found itself with a litany of other responsibilities, and the competition for state and federal funding got fierce. Progress on the park slowed down.
“There were just other priorities that took place,” Templet said. "We were in recovery mode.”
The Estelle Playground was a major step that began taking shape early this decade. Beginning in 2012, its first phase opened with a gymnasium, four baseball diamonds and other features. In 2016, a press box and concession stand were added, bringing the total investment there to $6.5 million.
In 2015, a 35-foot, $480,000 digital sign for Parc des Familles was installed at the entrance to Estelle Playground, and last summer the JPSO opened its substation just down the Leo Kerner Lafitte Parkway, which forms the park's western edge.
These days, the park's development depends mostly on whatever money officials can secure for the next phase.
Templet and McLean said that while the original master plan is still there to serve as a foundation, the park’s development is going to be determined as it goes along.
“We realize we’re now at a different place and going down some different paths, but still having the same concepts,” McLean said.
“Everything depends on funding,” Templet said.
For the newest addition to the park, officials will be holding a public fete from 5:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, June 23, complete with food and live music from Bruce Daigrepont and Rockin' Dopsie Jr.
McLean said designers are in the early stages of adding fields for soccer and rugby to Estelle Playground, and the parish will hire two rangers to cover Parc des Familles and nearby Rose Thorn Park and Gleason Park.
Regardless of how long it takes, Templet said, the parish will continue to bring Parc des Familles to life, one component, one phase at a time.
“This will be the West Bank’s Lafreniere Park in the future,” he said.
Editor's note: This story was changed on Monday, June 19, 2017 to reflect that fact that disc golf course designer John Houck is based in Texas.