EBR residents give planners feedback on park system

“We’re looking at the entire operation of BREC. Our biggest challenge is to make sure we have enough supply for the demand we get.” Carolyn mCkNIGHT, brec superintendent

East Baton Rouge Parish residents want improvements to neighborhood parks, athletic fields and trails and expanded aquatics offerings, based on feedback gleaned through BREC’s efforts to develop a master plan for the next decade of park offerings.

At a meeting Thursday night, consultant Stephen Hammond of the Wallace Roberts & Todd planning firm presented information on what local residents are looking for from the park system. About three dozen people attended the event, which included participants providing instant feedback by answering questions through digital remotes.

“We’ve been trying to talk to as many people as we can,” Hammond said.

Hammond said there isn’t a firm timeline, but he expects to have early master plan documents ready for community feedback likely by the end of July.

“Based on that input, we will begin drafting the plan,” he said.

The final version of the plan could go before East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission members by November.

“This will be done by the end of the year,” Hammond said.

BREC’s accreditation process requires that a new strategic plan be drafted every 10 years.

The new strategic plan, which will be called “Imagine Your Parks 2: Better Parks, Better Living,” will take over as BREC winds down its current, 10-year Imagine Your Parks plan that spurred new recreational sites and park upgrades throughout the parish.

BREC held 34 community meetings and 31 focus group meetings with recreation groups in recent weeks.

A formal survey was used to get a broader picture, and more than 2,000 people have gone to BREC’s online survey tool, MindMixer.

“We have been all over the community talking to people about what they want,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said.

Hammond said trails — the need for more and the need to improve the existing ones — emerged as a high priority in discussions with residents.

“Obviously trails are on people’s minds,” he said.

The most popular parks among residents have been BREC’s 12 community parks, including City Park and Independence Park. Residents also identified the Baton Rouge Zoo and Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center as key offerings.

Last month, voters overwhelmingly approved a renewal of BREC’s dedicated property tax that funds most park system upgrades.

Among the key trends that residents want BREC to focus on are emphasizing parks as tools to improve public health and serve as learning environments.

“We’re looking at the entire operation of BREC,” McKnight said. “Our biggest challenge is to make sure we have enough supply for the demand we get.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow our City Hall blog at http://blogs. theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.