EBR residents share ideas for park improvements

About 50 people huddled around tables Thursday night, brainstorming what they want to see from East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system in the coming decade.

On bright blue and neon yellow sticky notes they scribbled suggestions, such as more lighting and greater accessibility.

The meeting Thursday evening at Independence Park Theater was the official kickoff for the public input portion of the Recreation and Park Commission of East Baton Rouge Parish’s efforts to develop a plan for the next decade of parks offerings.

“I’d like to see the offerings that we have continue, but of course, I’d also like to see it enhanced,” said attendee Sonya Bookter, 66.

After a 30-minute presentation from consultant Stephen Hammond of the Wallace Roberts & Todd planning firm, participants were sent to seven interactive stations.

At those stations, they were urged to give feedback on current park offerings with prompts asking them to describe the parish’s parks system in three words, rate the accessibility of parks, and place dots on a board to indicate which parks and recreation offerings were their favorites.

The Baton Rouge Zoo and the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center were popular among the crowd, quickly racking up several dots.

BREC’s accreditation process requires that a new strategic plan be drafted every 10 years. Thursday’s meeting was the first of about three dozen planned through March.

The new strategic plan, which will be called “Imagine Your Parks 2: Better Parks, Better Living,” is expected to be finalized at the end of the year, as BREC winds down its current, 10-year Imagine Your Parks program. The program has spurred new recreational sites and park upgrades throughout the parish.

“The point of these strategic plans is to think forward and not just where we are today,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he hopes to see more people attend future meetings.

“BREC really is recognized nationally for excellence,” he said. “I think it’s important to try to keep that bar high.”

In initial polling, Hammond said, parish residents have expressed interest in more offerings in aerobics, weight lifting, yoga, basketball, football, soccer, archery and biking, among other activities.

Nikita Parker, 28, said she came to the meeting to learn more about Baton Rouge’s parks and the strategic planning process.

“It’s interesting to find out what your tax dollars are going to,” Parker said.

She said she found BREC’s focus on neighborhood engagement to be the most interesting part of the meeting.

“I didn’t know what all parks could do for the community,” Parker said.

She said overall she is happy with BREC’s current offerings.

“I’m just waiting to see what great things they do next,” Parker said.