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Moncus Park in Lafayette, LA

By Charlie McCabe

A portion of the lake, which provides irrigation for the developed areas of the park, with native iris plantings

I'm long overdue in writing about parks and public spaces here. This spring has proven to be very busy with a lot of work that I initially expected to continue through November compressed into a short time frame, wrapping up by the end of June. In the next few posts, I'm going to cover a series of parks and public spaces that I've had the opportunity to work with and visit in several states in the past few months.

Pink Primrose in bloom

First up is Moncus Park in Lafayette, Louisiana. They are part of this year's cohort in the Partnerships Lab, which is a program of the Institute for Urban Parks at the Central Park Conservancy in New York City. I've had the good fortune of being able to work with the Institute's small but mighty staff since 2020 (and before that, participating in their programs since 2017). While the Conservancy will limit their focus to New York City as of July 1st, we're currently wrapping up work with the final seven-member cohort: three groups in New York City and four in other cities, including Lafayette.

Sprayground, with playscape and restrooms beyond

Lafayette is a city of 120,000 in southern Louisiana about two hours west of New Orleans. It's home to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), several medical centers, and a variety of industries. The park's origins are from when ULL owned a 100-acre horse farm close to the center of the city, which by the early 2000s increasingly became surrounded by shopping centers, neighborhoods of single family homes, condos, and apartments. In 2005, when the university announced they would sell the property for commercial development, two ULL students proposed creating a Central Park for Lafayette instead. The property, which boasted creeks, wooded areas, and rolling acres of grasslands, was long considered open space and in 2012, the city and university agreed to a sale to make that open space permanent. The city insisted, however, that the park must be developed and operated with private funds. The Moncus Park Conservancy was born.

Above and below: The tree house, which is ADA accessible, has a cargo net and evokes

the historic big barns from when the park was a horse farm.

As the nonprofit formed, grants were obtained and a public planning process took place. The park plan was approved by the city-parish council in 2014, and fundraising for construction began. The first phase of construction began in 2018, with a second phase beginning in 2021. The park opened in early 2022 and has been a hit with the community from day one. Half of the park is developed, providing amenities that include paid parking (free on Mondays), a dog park, an accessible tree house, playscape, sprayground, and a stage for performances, as well as a lake that provides storage for rainwater that then irrigates the park. The park sees between 5,000 and 9,000 people on busy weekends thanks to a growing farmer's market every Saturday. In the spring of 2023, the park implemented a shuttle system, working with ULL for farmer's market days. A pavilion to house the market has been funded through generous donations, and a botanical research center is under discussion with ULL.

Another view of the lake and plantings, with the open air stage beyond

Half of the park will remain in a more natural state with improved walking trails, as well as connections to other parks via an expanded hike/bike trail system. The park's operation is entirely funded by donations, grants, and earned revenue (rentals for events, programming, etc.). The staff is pleased with their success thus far and are looking to manage current as well as future efforts with continued growth and visitation. We helped them think through some of the possible solutions on a broad set of challenges that they are currently facing. We even held a transportation brainstorming session under the oaks where the farmer's market currently takes place during our visit. (Photo below)

Moncus Park is unique in many ways and its a pleasure to work with their staff and board of directors. It is one of a small number of public parks that are funded entirely through donations, grants, earned income, and memberships. Although it took more than a decade to come to fruition, it is now reaping many benefits for the community and surrounding area. The Moncus Park Conservancy reports that one of their most common remarks from visitors is: "I can't believe how nice this park is; we're coming back!" Thanks to its thoughtful design, location, and range of programming, the park provides both mental and physical health benefits for visitors. This model can work not just in larger cities, but smaller ones like Lafayette.

© Copyright 2023, Charlie McCabe Consulting LLC

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