president of the Friends of Joe W. Brown Memorial Park & Louisiana Audobon Nature Center
Written by Jenny Peterson
How did the organization Friends of the Joe W. Brown Memorial Park & Louisiana Nature Center form?
Right after Hurricane Katrina, we recognized that the park, like a lot of infrastructures, was in disrepair and so we began a grassroots effort. It began in Baton Rouge with displaced residents. It took a while to make a difference when we returned; the park had a padlock on it.
Why was it important to re-open the park?
The Joe W. Brown Memorial Park was central to the life of our community. It was a place of interest for families to have something to bring people together. It’s such a jewel, with Cypress trees, a lagoon and lake beauty. With youth and families who were coming back, we were yearning for entertainment for the family. We talked about it so much at city council meetings, that (former) Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson asked if we ever considered forming a “friends of the park” group. That’s when people saw an impetus for us to be a voice for the community. We all had the same desire for the future, and the padlocks came off in 2009.
What new things were added to the park?
A gymnasium and recreation center were renovated, and additional facilities have been built—the Victory baseball field stadium and concession area, Victory track and field area, a renovated tennis court and building and a natatorium run by the New Orleans Recreation Development Center (NORDC). There’s an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a retractable roof open year-round. There’s a children’s area playground, a new walking trail, and an enhanced bike trail. There’s a summer camp for the kids. A sundial in the park was improved, painted and fixed up by our volunteers.
How has the park served the community since it re-opened?
It has been a source of a lot of social interaction, entertainment, recreation and relaxation. I see a lot of seniors out there with fishing poles. It’s so natural and relaxing, there are places to sit on benches and observe nature and there are shelters for picnic lunches. The athletic facilities are second to none. There’s something for everybody.
What events are held at the park each year?
The Back to Nature Heart Walk is in February and is a brisk walk in the park and a festival with health screenings, door prizes and healthy food and snacks. We also have movies in the Joe Brown Park in late spring. The NOLA East Friends Fest in the fall brings our entire community together to celebrate diversity through the engagement of local musicians, food vendors, arts and crafts, school bands, church choirs, small businesses and children’s entertainment. We have a wonderful holiday celebration in December where we interact with businesses to promote a toy giveaway, have photos with Santa, a gingerbread workshop and games. The East NOLA Business Development District (East NOLA BDD) has supported these events for the past two years.
What are plans for the Audubon Nature Center?
The park and Audubon Nature Center are adjacent to one another. It became natural to partner with each other. The nature center focuses on the natural environment with wetlands. We need to preserve and conserve these natural resources through education, recreation, beautification, and community involvement. The historic greenhouse and the boardwalks are gorgeous, the facility is beautiful and we are working on bringing back the planetarium as well.
What do you credit with the organization’s success?
A shared vision. We got together with churches and community organizations and our wonderful volunteers helped every step of the way. Volunteers do landscaping and provide continual upkeep for the park. Building partnerships is a must to survive. The support of the East NOLA BDD has been significant in providing opportunities for increased participation of the entire East New Orleans community. This entire process taught us that we can all come together and achieve great things for the good of the community.