BREC launches new round of ‘Imagine Your Parks’

East Baton Rouge Parish residents will get the chance in coming weeks to tell leaders what they want to see in their parks in the coming decade — a process similar to the one that led to the major overhaul of the system over the past 10 years.

The East Baton Recreation and Park Commission will kick off a series of public hearings later this month to gather input as it prepares to shift into a new strategic plan that will guide BREC’s growth through 2024.

BREC is winding down its 10-year “Imagine Your Parks” program that has spurred new recreational sites and upgrades throughout the parish.

Voters in 2004 approved a $70.5 million, 20-year tax that BREC has used to cover the costs of upgrades through immediate and borrowed funding that will be paid back through the tax stream.

During a Baton Rouge Area Chamber meeting Tuesday, BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight presented a 110-plus slide presentation touting the agency’s progress through “Imagine Your Parks” and outlining plans moving forward, including efforts to gain community input on the next strategic plan.

The cornerstone of “Imagine Your Parks” has been the creation of 12 new community parks.

“People out there are just raving about it,” McKnight said of the efforts.

Other upgrades have included the creation of five new dog parks, a new conservation area, Liberty Lagoon Water Park and a mobile playground unit, as well as improvements to existing neighborhood parks and other recreational offerings.

“I believe we delivered on the promise,” McKnight said. “We are doing many things in the community to make it strong.”

The drafting of the next strategic plan, which will be called “Imagine Your Parks 2: Better Parks, Better Living,” will be finalized at the end of the year, as BREC’s accreditation process requires a new strategic plan be drafted every 10 years, McKnight said.

The first public meeting on the new plan is scheduled for Jan. 16 at Independence Park Theatre.

An April election on a separate tax stream that BREC receives and is mostly used for operating expenses ultimately could impact the direction of the park system’s new master plan, especially if the 6.2-mill renewal isn’t approved.

The slate of master plan public meetings that will be held throughout the parish over the next three months also could serve as an opportunity to engage people and win supporters.

“I hope we get more and more people involved in what we do, because we are in the top of the nation,” McKnight said, citing a recent NerdWallet.com ranking that put Baton Rouge among the top 10 cities for recreational activities.

If voters approve the April tax measure, the funding will go to capital improvements and general operating expenses over the next 10 years. In 2004, when the millage rate last went to a vote, the measure was approved by 74 percent of voters.

“We’ve built several new park amenities and we will need to continue to make sure we can take care of those facilities,” McKnight said. “That money is necessary to keep your parks operating.”