BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - BREC held a ribbon cutting at Howell Park Thursday afternoon for improvements made to the golf course there.
And with the cut of a ribbon, BREC leaders officially unwrapped the $3 million worth of upgrades at Howell Park, complete with state-of-the-art slides, swings, and perhaps the biggest draw, zip lines.
"People told us they wanted more place to recreate, to get out and to have fun with family," said BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight.
The Howell Golf Course closed back in September of 2016 after many public meetings and surveys. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) noted the course at Howell Park had the lowest play of any public course in the country. They recommended BREC repurpose the course to make it more available to the public. After the flooding in August of 2016, BREC began working to transform the course.
The newly transformed park provides many recreation opportunities, such as a multi-use athletic field, outdoor basketball courts, an adventure playground for kids, a children's zip line, an amphitheater, exercise track, and new lake for fishing.
Based on the smiles from the kids and the kids at heart shortly after the ribbon cutting, it was clear many people were excited by what they saw.
"Yeah this is my first time," said Courtney Boston.
WAFB's Scottie Hunter asked Boston what she thinks of the park. "It's really nice," Boston said. "It's really pretty for the kids."
The park took on roughly nine feet of water during the August flooding, and reopened to the public almost a year later.
Before flooding, commissioners decided to close the golf course at the site, based on a study. McKnight says the numbers just did not add up to keep the course open. "You have to have rounds and revenue and it just wasn't getting there," said McKnight.
McKnight says the renovated space can now serve more people, but golf enthusiasts like Stanley Thomas say the park is a slap in the face. "It's not a golf course anymore, so I'm not happy at all," Thomas said.
Thomas believes the public meetings did not capture all the desires of the community. "You find out a lot of stuff when it's too late and then it's nothing you can do about it and it seems like that's what BREC thrives on," said Thomas.
"I think that's where the community felt like they were left out," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.
Marcelle, who was also against getting rid of the golf course, calls it a teachable moment, but has since come around to the new vision for the park. "The question was how do we do all of it? And I guess this was the best answer. Sometimes you can get a partial win and that's okay," said Marcelle.
While he did not win, Thomas says his concern now shifts to safety. He says placing the new attractions so close to a pond could prove dangerous for small kids who may fall in. "One of them may wander into that area over there and drown and instead of waiting until that occurs, I would suggest that BREC have a grand closing of this fishing hole," said Thomas.
McKnight though, says they have clear signs posted around the pond and believes it's ultimately up to parents to keep a close eye on their kids. Overall, she's happy with the park and McKnight believes the community will embrace the change as well.
"This is an awesome, awesome opportunity for this community," said McKnight.
For more information about the renovations at Howell Park, click here.