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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Big Plan for Big Lake

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2007 at 12:03 AM

On a bright blue fall day with just enough cool air that locals were wearing long sleeves and jackets, a national conservation group broke ground Wednesday on a $2 million project in New Orleans City Park. Although it marked the official start of this park renovation, fundraising for the project has been underway for more than a year.

The Trust for Public Lands, (TPL) a nonprofit land conservation group headquartered in San Francisco, started seeking donations in 2006 when it announced that it would spearhead an effort to refurbish the 50 acres surrounding Big Lake Trail and Meadow, located just off the Lelong Avenue entrance to the park and near the New Orleans Museum of Art. When the project is completed in spring of 2009, the area will provide a walking and bicycle path, a dock with boat rentals and additional landscaping including more trees, a meadow and gazeboes for friends and family gatherings.

Larry Schmidt, TPL’s New Orleans field office director, says that this isn’t how his organization normally operates, but post-Katrina New Orleans presented a unique set of circumstances.

“Typically, we’d assist a city acquiring land for a park,” Schmidt says, “but we know in New Orleans right now the real need is to help our existing parks come back.”

TPL’s work in City Park also marks a change in the way the group usually arranges funding for a project. After brainstorming with Schmidt, Susan Hess, who is a member of the City Park board and is chair of TPL’s New Orleans Advisory Council, approached TPL with the idea of the nonprofit funding a project in City Park. Hess says that TPL not only accepted her overture, but also doubled the amount from $1 million to $2 million that TPL was willing to expend on it.

The organization typically receives funding from federal government agencies such as the Department of Transportation. However, because the renovation didn’t fit into the scope of federal financing, the project has forced TPL out of its “comfort zone,” as Hess puts it.

“So TPL is raising this money all over the country with parties, activities, mailings and the TPL Magazine (the Spring 2007 issue of Land & People featured City Park as the cover story).”

Felicia Marcus, TPL’s chief operating officer, attended the groundbreaking, and agrees with Hess that Big Lake is an atypical mission for TPL, but she adds that it does fit into the TPL overriding vision.

“Our whole philosophy is oriented around connecting people and land and they can connect in all kinds of ways,” Marcus says.

The organization is more than half way to its goal of $2 million and has received donations from a number of foundations including the Zemurray Foundation and the Coypu Foundation (founded by the estate of the late John S. Mcllhenney).

Even though the fundraising isn’t complete, City Park CEO Bob Becker says that Wallace, Roberts and Todd , a national urban planning and architectural firm that designed the park’s master plan, is already underway surveying the land around Big Lake Trail and should have a formal design sometime in late January of next year.


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