The St. Tammany Parish Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism is seeking public input on how best to use parish-owned land and how to make the most of existing attractions on such land.
About 20 people attended the first of three public meetings, held Wednesday in the Mayfield Elementary School cafeteria in Slidell. Additional gatherings were held Thursday at the Madisonville Public Library and the John Davis Recreation Center in Lacombe.
Each meeting featured a presentation on established and projected areas of growth in the populous southern half of the parish, followed by a question-and-answer session. Later, residents voted for the best use of parish-owned land, most of it mitigated, flood-prone properties. The survey focused on land that would potentially maximize outdoor recreational and habitat-preservation projects in St. Tammany.
The study was launched in May with the theme “Explore. Enhance. Enrich.” After data are gathered at the meetings and online, an implementation workshop will be held in November. The final plan will be presented to the parish in January.
Design Workshop LLC, of Austin, Texas, was awarded a $247,000 contract to create the strategic plan for the parish.
Parish Culture, Recreation and Tourism Director Wensel Conroy said the study’s purpose is to ensure that St. Tammany’s quality of life will continue. Among other things, the parish is looking for ways to improve access to the Tammany Trace, the 28-mile, east-west hiking, cycling and riding trail from Slidell to Covington.
“We’re looking for that connectivity, to see with their analysis from different studies, which of these properties we should develop, what we should use as preserve, what we should use for mitigation, what could possibly be a pocket park to connect with the Trace,” Conroy said. “We’re trying to take a good, broad view of what we have and the best uses of the things that we already have.”
Many of those who attended Wednesday’s meeting were seeking answers on which projects may be built and the potential cost. Design Workshop’s Rebecca Leonard, who led the presentation, told the audience that no decisions have been made and that the point of the meeting was to gather ideas about what types of controlled growth — or restoration and preservation — residents would like to see in St. Tammany.
Bridgette Burch and her sister, Piper Burch, who live in the Slidell area, said they learned about the meeting on the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany website. Both said they are worried about fracking in the parish, but after realizing that topic wasn’t on the agenda, they still wanted to know about the parish’s plans for property it owns.
“I’m just really interested in the whole area and what way our parish is going,” Piper Burch said. “As a business owner and a homeowner, I want to know: Is it worth staying, or am I going?”
Bridgette Burch said she feels that some of the amenities she came to the north shore to enjoy are disappearing.
“I moved over here for all the greenery and the beauty, and I feel like they’re taking it away,” she said.
“It’s about quality of life,” Piper Burch added.
Slidell resident Kim Bergeron raised concerns that the data presented Wednesday favored future projects in western St. Tammany rather than the more populous southeastern quadrant of the parish.
“When you already have 10,000 households (in the Slidell area), you have less green space,” she said. “We need to focus on what is economically feasible and what will have the biggest impact on the existing population.’’
Although job growth and population growth in the west are logical, because it has fewer people than Slidell, both sides of the parish need to be addressed, Bergeron said.
Those at the meeting acknowledged that growth will continue but stressed the need for more access to parish recreation spaces such as the Trace, the Camp Salmen Nature Park and the St. Tammany Fishing Pier, as well as other natural attractions.
“We’re growing so much, we’ve got to plan so everyone can enjoy what we’ve enjoyed,” Conroy said. “As we grow, we want everyone to experience the amenities the parish has.”
For more information on the department’s plan, or to provide input, go online to explore-st-tammany.mindmixer.com.