A FEW MINUTES WITH … Carolyn McKnight

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight.
Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight.

POSITION: Superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission (BREC).

AGE: 58.

Carolyn McKnight took the reins of the parish’s parks system in 2012, and BREC commissioners in January unanimously renewed her contract, praising her work over the past two years. Recently, the Alabama native has been promoting the creation of a new 10-year strategic plan and the April 5 election to renew BREC’s 6.2 mills in property taxes. She’s also featured in BREC’s television commercials touting the parish’s more than 180 parks.

What has been the biggest surprise to you since you started at BREC?

The awesome reputation BREC has on the national level. I believe most people look at BREC as being one of the trendsetters, and we have to be very deliberate about staying out in front. On a local level, I have been very impressed about the public’s passion and use of parks and special facilities.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Working to educate the community about the health, safety, crime prevention and economic benefits a good park system can deliver. The other major challenge has been right-sizing the system to reduce the tax burden to the public while identifying and implementing value-added benefits to the people across the entire parish.

Imagine Your Parks 2 — the strategic planning process — is underway. What has been the response?

Attendance at the meetings has been mixed, and I would challenge the adults in Baton Rouge to show as much passion for the system as dozens of skateboarders and BMX bike riders did at the meeting held in January. They packed the recreation center at Perkins Road Community Park, voted on every question and even stayed after the meeting to fill in their ideas on a map of the park. I would love to see that type of passion from adults across the community as well.

Why should people vote in favor of the parks tax renewal April 5?

Working with the funding approved by taxpayers, we have transformed what was an aging system, and now we must maintain those great new facilities. This renewal is not new money. In fact, the millages are the same as those approved in the 1960s, and it comprises nearly half of BREC’s operating budget and all of our capital improvements for the next 10 years. A thriving parks system improves the health, quality of life and property values of a community, and the success of the Imagine Your Parks strategic plan is why BREC is able to help attract tourists to the area, contribute to economic development and offer vital green infrastructure to the community.

BREC has been trying to increase the use of its public golf courses. What is the latest on that?

There is no question that play is down on golf courses around the nation and the state over the past few years. Since I joined the BREC team, we have worked methodically to increase play by inviting the PGA in for an evaluation of our system, hiring a new golf director, improving maintenance and the teaching, promotion and programming at our courses. I was happy to see that rounds increased by 2,717 in 2013 over the previous year. We will conduct an even more thorough evaluation of BREC’s golf offerings with a consultant who will help us develop a separate business plan, master plan and strategic plan for the golf department.

Advocate staff writer Elizabeth Crisp