BREC is one of the best parks and recreation systems in the country. It has been named a finalist for the highest award, National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Gold Medal, three years in a row. BREC has competed against large cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago, and for Baton Rouge to be amongst the best larger communities in the country definitely says a lot.
Superintendent Carolyn McKnight says what she sees here in Baton Rouge’s park system you don’t see in many communities across the country. “We have so many unique facilities like an observatory. I don’t know if there is another system in the country that has this. We have a horse park, nature centers, and water parks, and we have a zoo. In many communities the park and recreations are not managing the zoo directly,” said McKnight.
Healthy active options are available for the Baton Rouge community with its 6625 acres being utilized for parks. There are 181 parks, 135 playgrounds, 59 miles of trails, 59 rec centers, nine conservation areas, four fitness centers, 13 outdoor fitness stations, five dog parks, an observatory, extreme sports complex, and a swamp nature center. This is just to name a few of the imprints BREC has within the parish.
McKnight says BREC’s hope is to have the people in this community get up, get out and get active. “We want them to be healthy. We know that a healthy community is one that involves people are working out and doing something to relieve stress and mental illness. BREC has many of those options for people to take advantage of,” said McKnight. There is more to come in McKnight’s vision she has laid out for BREC.
It has always been McKnight’s plan to create the vision and plan for the park system and have someone else run it. When she signed the last extension of her contract she knew that was going to be it. January of 2019 McKnight is going to retire because it would simply be time and on her own terms. Before she transitions into the next phase of her life, she will make sure BREC is set to continue down the right path.
Carolyn McKnight has led the way for BREC over the last six years.
It is all about caring for McKnight. Caring for the parish’s parks, its nature, its economic development, and most importantly about its people. She has made an impact on this community during her tenure with BREC and on August 13 during a press conference at the Press Club McKnight announced her retirement after 30+ years from the parks and recreation profession. She has decided it is time to be there with her husband, family, and especially her grandchildren.
McKnight has had many wonderful years in Baton Rouge and with BREC she says. If you ask what her favorite part of the job would be, she will tell you the community and the ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
“When we are out in the community and about to cut the ribbon on a new park, or facility, or park amenity and I have all the kids around me.” “They run, laugh, and scream, and they have fun,” said McKnight. “That is my favorite part and keeps me getting up and coming back.”
Under McKnight’s leadership, BREC has won the coveted Gold Medal twice and has been named a finalist in the largest category of the competition a total of 15 times, achieved an unprecedented fifth accreditation in 2014, completed the Imagine Your Parks 2 strategic plan, had two successful tax renewals, completed the anticipated Knock Knock Children’s Museum, expanded air-conditioned recreation centers, expanded Liberty Lagoon, added additions to all community parks, launched a first boat launch system at Highland Road. The list goes on and on of the growth BREC has seen over the years.
Winning awards is one thing McKnight is proud of but witnessing the passion and compassion is really the real reward said, McKnight. She recalls her most memorable memory being the time of the 2016 flood where her team stepped up to help and provide support for the community through their services and dedication to the community.
“The way we responded to the flood, the emergency camps we brought to parents so that they can go back and work on flood work or their homes and clean, the way we offered parks for people to put debris for quick clean up, the way we offered recreational opportunities for kids at shelters with our mobile playground units- BREC on The Go.,” said McKnight. “I was so proud of this organization,” said McKnight. “What was so amazing, we had people that don’t handle recreation, doing recreation. We had accounting people, marketing and communication people doing recreation and camps. We had people doing anything that they saw they could do they did. It was amazing to see the passion, caring, and concern in action.”
The last couple of years has brought some tough and challenging times from the 2016 flood to the proposed move of the Baton Rouge Zoo, McKnight has remained poised and dedicated to making Baton Rouge a better community all the way around with BREC’s park and recreation system.
McKnight hopes Baton Rouge folks understand that she and her team at BREC take what they do very seriously. “We will do everything we can to balance the needs and desires with the resources that they entrust us to manage. I want people to know that we take it very seriously and that people know that we are not wasting their money or playing games with their money. We do have controls in place. We are doing what we need to do to spread the resources across the parish from north to south, and east and west. I believe that if people give me a fair review they will see that,” said McKnight.
McKnight describes this city as caring and what she loves most about the city is the heart of the people and their care in wanting to help their neighbors and those less fortunate in their community.
Being over all of the parks and recs in the city, she pretty much knows all of the hidden gems. McKnight said that would have to be Cohn Arboretum out by Central and Baker. “People don’t know about it, but it is incredible and breathtaking. There is so much more we can do to create garden and spacing,” said McKnight.
As McKnight prepares to pass the baton to the next superintendent, she hopes that the person will continue to carry out the vision of managing the living infrastructure of Baton Rouge. BREC does more than impact human lives, but animals’ lives and nature as well, says McKnight.
Her advice to the next person is, “keep moving forward. Don’t look to the right or left or backward. Look forward, look up and keep going because we have a number of wonderful things in the plans that this community will go crazy for.”
To the city of Baton Rouge, McKnight says she appreciates the community and “the support they have given to us (BREC) over the years. The trust they have given us to manage the system. It has been one of my highest honors in my career to be trusted to do what we do here in this community.”
What’s waiting for the new superintendent to carry on?
Some new things we can expect to see from BREC in the next couple of years include: Reimagination of the Zoo and Greenwood Community Park, trail systems spanning the entire parish and connecting people from one end of the parish to the next, safe rooms at three new locations, new community park at Airline Highway, renovated and additional dog parks, and improving the Lakes area.
One of the more interesting and vital of the new amenities will be the safe rooms that were created after the 2016 flood. The parish received a large sum of funds from FEMA, said McKnight. The city was looking for ways to make it better in the case of another disaster. BREC immediately asked how they could help. “It would be a great community partner,” said McKnight.
The next time you are looking for an outing, check out the array of programs and facilities offered by BREC. Baton Rouge has amazing resources right at their fingertips. You just have to get out and get active!
For more information on BREC and what’s to come, visit www.brec.org.