The St. Charles Parish Council has approved a new recreation master plan that calls for large-scale, strategically located community parks while eliminating some undersized, underutilized recreational sites in neighborhoods.
The planís purpose is to guide the park system for the next 20 years.
Currently, the park system includes 50 sites that encompass 317 acres of land. Of these sites, 28 are owned by the parish and 22 are leased from St. Charles Parish Public Schools, local civic organizations, private companies and the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The parish maintains all of the facilities it leases.
The park system in St. Charles dwarfs other parishes nearby. St. James has seven sites, while Ascension Parish, which has more than twice the population of St. Charles, has 17 park sites.
While the majority of the parkland owned by the parish has been developed to some extent, the 9-acre Ashton Plantation site in Luling, the small South Destrehan and Panther Run sites in Destrehan and a 3-acre site in Montz are considered underdeveloped.
Based on current needs, the master plan calls for the parish to identify at least one site to develop 10 to 12 acres of park land devoted to community recreation. Current opportunities include the development of the Ashton property in Luling, expansion of the East Bank Bridge Park in Destrehan and expansion of IMTT Park in St. Rose. According to the master plan, the parish will eventually require four to five additional large (10 plus acres) community parks.
Cory Savoie, who served on the committee who developed the park plan, said the parish has too many small parks that donít get much use.
"We need more medium-sized parks," he said.
To achieve an integrated system of connected community parks and open spaces, the master plan also calls for the creation of a network of pedestrian and bicycle paths and trails. However, forming such a network will be challenging because the only major trails that exist today are levee paths.
Other recommendations include instituting a citizen advisory board to guide recreational planning decisions, as well as coming up with a system to accurately track facilities usage. A report released before the master planís finalization identified the parishís biggest challenge as ensuring that all parks are integrated into a system that provides equitable recreational access to all residents.
Savoie said the plan serves as a wish list.
"This is merely to show us the way to get there in 20 years," he said. "This was a well represented committee and I think we put together something that we will hopefully use for 20 years."
Along with the committee, the parish also hosted several community meetings to gather suggestions for the master plan. Savoie said instituting a citizen advisory board will be crucial to make the goals outlined in the master plan happen.
St. Charles Parks and Recreation Director Duane Foret said his department has already been working on making improvements called for in the plan, including the installation of additional playground equipment, expanding walking and bike trails, establishing new parks where acreage deficiencies were found and assisting in planning a new parish-owned gym space in the Edward Dufresne Community Center, now under construction in Luling.